When my husband and I traveled to Italy several years ago, the souvenir he brought back was not pasta, a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa or Murano glass (my choice), but rather, it was a Fiat t-shirt.
So when the iconic automaker announced they would begin selling their 500s here in the United States, he quickly stopped by “just to look” when the dealership opened in Austin. I like to think that resulting new car purchase played a part in making Fiat of Austin the top fiat dealer in the US in 2011.
But recently, as we stopped by their new location to move him up to the 4-door 500L, I was excited to see how Dell is also playing a part in their success. There on each salesperson’s desk was a Dell Latitude 10 tablet running Windows 8.0 Pro with a docking station and keyboard.
“Technology is vital, as the web drives 95 percent of consumers to the dealer now,” Lisa Copeland, general manager of Fiat of Austin, told me when I sat down to ask her about their new Dell solutions. “It makes everything about the car buying and service business more transparent, which builds trust with customers and makes the entire process easier and more fun than ever.”
That transparency even translates into the physical. Large monitors and desktop computers, even laptops, all create a barrier between the sales representative and their customer. With the small form factor of a tablet, they are that much less withdrawn from the people who visit the store and they are better able to make a connection that leads to a good customer relationship.
Those customers now come with their own technology, as well.
"Even in just the last five years, everyone walking into a dealership has a smartphone. They can take a picture, go on the Internet, check the price on any comparable car or check out all the features, all while they’re standing there at the dealership," Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association recently told The Sacramento Bee.
The result, Maas said, is that ultra-informed consumers have "adjusted the burden to the salesperson on the sales lot. In some cases, (the customer) is more knowledgeable than the salesperson."
That’s something Copeland wanted to see more balanced.
“With the tablets our sales people can easily appraise cars for trade-in, search around the country for the exact car the customer wants in other dealers’ inventory, and even pull up crash ratings and other information on the competition right there in the lot,” she said.
Even her service team leverages technology for more transparent interaction. Rather than someone simply looking under the hood, customers’ cars are connected to a laptop that presents them with a complete report on the condition of their car.
“Customers can make decisions about what service needs to be done without worrying that someone is trying to sell them something they don’t need,” says Copeland.
Fiat of Austin is part of the Nyle Maxwell Auto Group of dealerships and when their Dell sales representative, Gabe McGuinness, began working with their IT Director Jimmy Oliver, he says “[Oliver] mentioned that he didn’t want customers to come back to the salesperson’s desk and have to stare at the back of a big monitor. With the tablet solution their employees are able to walk the lot and take their tablets with them on test-drives, then return to their desktop docking stations to close deals.”
Fiat of Austin are the first dealership in Nyle Maxwell Auto Group to have the tablet set-up, although the others are anticipated to follow the lead.
Initially, employees were bringing their own devices, Copeland said, but concerns about security and a desire to make technical support easier led them to invest in the mobile solution when they began to set up their new location.
“Having worked with many dealerships across the country, I think it is fitting that we have one of the most technologically forward-thinking groups right here in our backyard,” McGuiness says.” Most dealers are just concerned with the bottom line, but they really want to invest in technology that empowers their salespeople to include their customers in the buying process as much as possible.”
It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off.
Fiat of Austin was the first Fiat dealer in the United States to sell 100 cars in a month which brought them to the attention of Chrysler Group LLC chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne who visited the dealership in June 2012.
And they’ve since broken that record!
I won’t try to say Dell technology is entirely responsible for that success, but I’m proud to know that our solutions are providing them with the tools that let them make the connection with their customers that ultimately drives their business.