3 Effective Remote Working Strategies for the Automotive Industry

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Written by Simon Porri

In the era of social distancing, remote working has become a common occurrence. However, this shift to working from home has not been without challenges. Effective remote working requires overcoming barriers related to communication, collaboration and data access. Addressing these issues means finding solutions for how you will:

  • Collect and share information
  • Align priorities across your business
  • Retain regular contact and communication amongst team members
  • Communicate rules & work from home (WFH) policies
  • Track outcomes effectively

In automotive retail, these challenges are particularly acute. The franchise models that dominate most of the industry naturally lead to distributed data and disjointed workflows. The COVID crisis has also hit the industry’s profit margins, and auto retailers are required to manage a transition to remote working while simultaneously shrinking and consolidating overall networks.

In the face of these challenges, the auto industry must make some significant improvements to the way it works. In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at three effective remote working strategies. Let’s get started!

1. Put customers first and think long-term

Customer-first thinking is a simple and age-old concept. Everything that businesses do must come back to the customers.

But in practice, this ‘simple’ concept is always a bit more complicated. For auto-retailers, embracing customer-first thinking means understanding how the circumstances that have generated remote working demands are also impacting customer habits. Predominantly, that means online shopping.

Move towards online sales

E-commerce is growing across the board. Its share of UK retail sales rose from 20% to 31.3% between the first and second quarters of 2020. For many consumers, online car shopping is simply more convenient than making multiple trips to view cars in-person at dealerships. Of course, the dealership still plays a critical role in the customer journey, as the majority of people will still want to test-drive at some point before they buy. However, moving towards a more robust and user-friendly online presence and facilitating easier online sales opens up dealerships to new opportunities.

What should you do?

It’s important to note that COVID has caused a number of short-term changes. However, these will likely transform into long-term trends, and many are simply accelerations of ongoing changes. Remote working and online shopping easily fit within this category. There are three main things dealerships should consider to better align with these:

    • Change sales methods: The old sales methods are unlikely to give you the results you want in the new normal. Specifically, you’ll want to update your sales attributions to better align with online sales journeys. After all, understanding how your customers interact with your marketing across channels is key to your sales success. For example, an increasing number of consumers are doing research online — in 2019, 76% of customers did online research before a purchase, and in 2020, that figure grew to 84%. For dealers, this might mean turning away from single-touch attribution and pivoting towards a more holistic solution. In addition, remember that the dealership is increasingly part of a wider buying journey (as we’ll discuss in the next point). Customers want dealer representatives to provide in-person support and help them understand things, not pressure them into a sale.
    • Embrace omnichannel sales: Today’s customers expect omnichannel flexibility, and they’ll continue to expect it throughout the coming decade. Some customers want to perform all of their research ahead of time and only show up at the dealership to close the deal. Other shoppers might start their search in the dealership, go home to do research and then close the deal online. Respecting these differences requires you to keep up in a whole new way — customers want to be recognised, and they definitely don’t want to hear, ‘Who are you again?’ at each step. Maintaining consistent data on each of your customers, no matter the trajectory of their journey, will ensure that their experience is personalised and friction-free.
    • Consolidate networks in a way that makes sense: In the new economy, dealership networks will inevitably need to consolidate to increase profitability. However, this isn’t a straightforward process. Specifically in the context of online sales, it’s not always clear which physical dealership leads to each sale. To make the right decisions, brands must have the insights necessary to understand which dealerships are most visited and which add the most value. Clear access to business information is key here — we’ll return to this idea in point #3.

2. Create clear channels of communication

In many ways, healthy communication is the number one thing you need to ensure your business’s WFH success. If you aren’t already using a business collaboration platform, you’ll want to start now — Slack, Teams and Zoom are all popular options. Of course, the particular features and functions vary slightly from platform to platform, but all of these tools enable team members to send messages, hold video meetings and share files.

In addition to embracing tech tools, communicating effectively is about:

      • Ensuring clear lines of authority: This means formally establishing lines of communication and delegating roles and responsibilities — Who are your key decision-makers? Who should be talking to whom? Who is responsible for what?
      • Creating ways to capture informal communication: The importance of day-to-day conversations amongst employees is often overlooked in remote workflows. As much as possible, you want to replicate the type of communication that occurs naturally in-person, particularly with teams who used to work together in the same physical office space. After all, informal communication boosts creativity, innovative thinking and team connectedness.
      • Maintaining a positive culture: On a similar note, it’s essential to maintain an upbeat atmosphere. This means encouraging flexible work arrangements and a healthy work-life balance for remote workers, recognising employee achievements and setting aside time for team-building. To build team spirit, try organising light-hearted, non-work-related activities and keeping things fun. Think game nights over video conferencing software, coffee mornings in which two employees are randomly matched for an informal video chat, or a monthly lunch delivery and team catch-up.

Pro-Tip: Some business intelligence tools can help with targeted communication. The right BI software not only enables managers and employees to visualise performance, aiding in transparency, but they also have features that allow team members to communicate, assign tasks and track outcomes.

3. Centralise access to information

Understanding your data is a key challenge of remote working. So is communicating actions based on that data. But before you can even begin to make sense of your data, you need to ensure your team has centralised access to it. Working on a franchise model naturally means a lot of decentralised data and endless challenges with managing and communicating brand standards across locations.

For your data — including records, performance and other business information — to be useful, it first needs to be digitised and easily accessible, forming one singular source-of-truth. Digitising data makes it possible for auto retailers to promote consistency, centralise their analysis and gain both a granular and high-level view of the entire operation.

Centralising information for easy access and analysis is especially important in the current context. Even before COVID hit, the average UK dealership profitability as a percentage of sales stood below 1%, and Baine estimated a 1.2% reduction in return on sales (ROS) for European car dealers by 2025. Lockdowns have squeezed margins even more. However, this highlights the competitive value of transformation and disruption for smart brands.

Realistically, seizing this opportunity means deploying business intelligence software to your advantage.

Action-orientated business intelligence can make your life easier

Using a business intelligence (BI) tool enables you to centralise your data and use analytics to identify both areas of success and areas that require improvement. BI can empower you to understand your data, communicate the right actions to the right people and generate results.

To really get the edge over your competition, you’ll want to harness the power of actionable insights, which BI can help you deliver. Taking this approach is often described as being ‘data-driven’. Of course, it’s important to remember that data cannot stand on its own. It needs to be contextualised, transforming it into insights you can actually use to make a tangible difference to your business outcomes.

Actionable insights should:

      • Point toward practical next steps.
      • Focus on what happens when something occurs.
      • Be measurable and trackable — making it possible to hold individuals accountable for actions.
      • Make use of the right people to study the right insights and deploy the right actions.
      • Go beyond decision-making and include exploration and problem definitions.
      • Be supported by communication channels that can help guide outcomes.

Suggested reading: What Are Actionable Insights? Buzzword or Important for Business

Bridging the gap between analysis and action

Of course, there are many ways to reach the action-oriented outcomes your business needs. But when it comes to BI software, there’s all too often a gap between analysis and action. That’s why we designed our tool, Loop, to bridge this gap and transform data into actions. Best of all, Loop is specifically tailored to the outcomes of the auto industry.

Suggested reading: Check out our case studies with leading brands, including — Honda and Volvo.

When it comes to remote working, we believe it’s essential for your team to focus their attention on the things that matter most to your business. To that end, our BI tool features KPI tracking and communication capabilities, allowing you to streamline access to information and effectively communicate goals and actions to the right people.

Fundamentally, the right BI tool should facilitate effective remote working by enhancing customer-first thinking, smooth communication and centralised data. But the right BI tool can’t do everything — your success still demands the right people and a good work culture. Combined, these characteristics will inevitably lead to positive business outcomes — no matter the distance.

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