COVID-19 Dealer’s Digital Defense Guide

COVID-19’s impact on the automotive industry took everyone by surprise. Many statistics indicated that March 2020 was shaping up to be a banner month. 

As we all feel the impact of COVID-19 many Dealers are in a defensive position. But, together we will get through these difficult times. 

At Leadbox, we are working hard to keep our Dealer Partners websites, digital advertising, communications strategy, and software working optimally. As we work through the huge amount of requests for website changes, and as we make recommendations and provide suggestions and support for our Dealer Partners, we have compiled this list of recommendations for all of you. 

For example: 

  • Health and Safety Plan – Add a clear health and safety message to your website.
  • Ensure your Google My Business profile is up to date with hours and closure updates and enable GMB messaging as a new option to communicate.
  • Update your SEM Ad descriptions to reflect communications options with customers and in-store and OEM relief messaging or offers. 
  • Engage vehicle and service shoppers remotely by leveraging Social App platforms to do product walkarounds, answer customer questions live, and demonstrate technology and features.
  • Test lead response to deliver an effective response to consumer inquiries, with an emphasis on quality and timeliness. Make sure all autoresponders are up to date and accurate, with correct business hours and COVID-19 messaging.

As we work through this unprecedented time together, please make use of any of these suggested tactics and strategies. Also, if you need help to apply any of these strategies, do not hesitate to ask any Leadbox team member for assistance. Regardless of the type of work we support you with today, we are happy to help you with other aspects of your business.

Dealer Websites

Health and Safety Plan – Add a clear health and safety message to your website. This message should cover any significant changes to your business operations in Sales, Service, and Parts. Also, be sure to include any additional precautions and cleaning efforts that you have put into your store’s daily activities. 

Clearly communicating your dealership is open (or closed) for business with accurate hours of operation for parts, service and vehicle sales.

Regularly update the notice on your home page if there are changes or upcoming changes to business hours, processes, and services offered by your dealership during the impact of this event.

Provide your customers a flexible list of communication methods available at your dealership e.g. phone, email, text, chat, video, messenger, etc. In some cases, this may require that you set us some form of call forwarding to other phone lines such as mobile phones or home office lines. If you cannot call forward or manage voicemail from a distance, be sure to have the existing numbers changed on your site. 

Leverage managed chat tools to support always-on chat assistance. Many chat providers are ramping up teams to support increased levels of managed chat. 

Keep Dealership and OEM messaging, incentives and new/used inventory information accurate for online viewing.

Emphasize and promote Digital Retailing and eCommerce if you have an eCommerce tool on your website. If you do not have an eCommerce tool on your website, this is the time to explore adding the right solution for you. There are many options in the marketplace so if you are unsure what will work best for you, please speak with your Leadbox Account Director.

Google My Business

Engage with customers on Google for free with your Google My Business Account, your free Business Profile lets you easily connect with customers across Google Search and Maps. You can post photos and offers to your profile to show what makes your business unique, and give customers reasons to choose you. Your customers are ready to connect – by calling, messaging or leaving reviews. Now, with more ways to transact, you can do more business. Build customer trust by responding to reviews. According to consumers, businesses that respond to reviews are 1.7x more trustworthy than businesses that don’t.

It is important to communicate your business hours and updates clearly through your GMB posting with updated, hours, staffing, and enabled messaging (instructions here)

As you are making or working through the tough decision of temporarily closing your dealership(s), the question about how to deal with that on Google My Business has come up repeatedly. The process is simple, however, no bulk option exists at this time; so you’ll have to do this one-by-one. Please follow the steps outlined here. Note that the “Manager”, “Owner”, or “Primary Owner” will be able to complete this action. 

Google My Business Messaging

Your customers can get in touch with you in real-time from your Business Profile on Google. You can answer questions, tell your story, and interact with customers. Messaging works best as a conversation between your business and your customers. To ensure the best experience for your customers, follow the messaging guidelines.

Response time requirement

The following requirement is for any business that uses messaging on Google My Business.

When you receive a new message, it’s important to reply within 24 hours. This may promote trust and encourage engagement with your business. To support timely responses, we may deactivate messaging for your business if you don’t respond within the time frame. 

How it works

Once you turn on messaging, customers will find a “Message” button on your Google My Business listing and be able to message you at any time.

  • Messages will appear in the Google My Business app, and you’ll receive notifications for incoming messages. 
  • You can customize the automated welcome message that customers will get when they message you.
  • You can share photos with your customers through messages.
  • If multiple people own or manage your Google My Business listing, each one can message with customers.
  • Customers may find your name and profile photo from your About me page.

Instructions for enabling messaging can be found here

Search Engine Marketing 

Search Engine Marketing is an important part of the advertising mix as it is an intent focused traffic source, which means customers are looking for you with these types of campaigns. We recommend dealers look to keep SEM ads enabled during this period as the most effective engagement and lead driving activity.

  • Update your SEM Ad descriptions to reflect communications options with customers or in-store and OEM relief messaging. 
  • Update ads with any relevant in-store or OEM offers and programs. As an example Ford is offering 6 months of payment relief for customers, this is a great place to add that messaging.
  • If you offer video options, customer delivery, virtual tours or other types of communication options this can be added in the ad descriptions.
  • Update call extensions or disable them if no one is available to pick-up the phone.
  • Update callout extensions to reflect COVID-19 readiness.
  • Update sitelink extensions with your COVID-19 readiness page.
  • Ensure landing pages are up to date and align with the content of your SEM ad messaging. 

Service Campaigns

If your service department is still open, ensure to clearly communicate your service hours and service plan, delivery or pick up methods, COVID-19 readiness, and any other options. 

Display Ads

If you are reducing digital ad spends most likely your website traffic will start to diminish. This will reduce the size of your retargeting audiences over time. Take this opportunity to leverage your own site traffic with dynamic display remarketing to ensure your vehicles and offers stay in front of those interested shoppers. 

Unless you are still offering aggressive deals and offers, move display ad copy towards more awareness and engagement types of softer messaging.

Social Media and Video Best Practices:

Dealers can engage vehicle and service shoppers remotely by leveraging Social App platforms to do product walkarounds, answer customer questions live, and demonstrate technology and features.

  • Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube all have “live” capabilities. This can be used to broadcast to live audiences at specified times. 
  • Make sure to respond to the customer’s preferred method of communication. Ie: if they contact you via FB messenger, reply on that platform, don’t call or email them back. 
  • Facebook Messenger – 1:1 video chat with customers for product demos, consultations, and showroom demos.
  • Platforms such as WhatsApp, Text, WeChat, and others can also be used to communicate with customers on their terms. 
  • Message via the Google My Business app. 
  • Ensure you are available to customers looking at your information through Google search who have questions regarding your dealership operations and Services.
  • YouTube Walkarounds – Create videos highlighting vehicle features, test drives, comparisons, and share with clients via unlisted links.

Digital Tools for Lead Follow Up

Ensure you have a tested lead response to deliver an effective response to consumer inquiries, with an emphasis on quality and timeliness. Make sure all autoresponders are up to date and accurate, with correct business hours and COVID-19 messaging. 

  • Create a “Walk Around Video” introducing the vehicle of interest using Facebook, YouTube or another video platform as part of your response.
  • Offer virtual showroom appointments between sales staff and consumers.
  • Set an appointment to Facetime with your client for a video vehicle walk around.
  • Offer remote test drives and/or remote vehicle delivery.
  • Offer appointment-based shopping options to enable social distancing.