Short-sighted car dealers have been told they need to embrace new technology after it emerged that they are neglecting customers who use online services.

A recent report from CarGurus found that 50 percent of consumers who emailed dealerships regarding a new car purchase complained of a “woeful” response.

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This is despite the research showing that around a quarter of car buyers try to make their first contact with a dealership using email.

In comparison, 28 percent said they would use the phone to make their first contact with a dealer, while a third said they would not make any contact before visiting the dealer’s site.

Car dealer showroom empty manager's desk and computer

According to CarGurus, many potential buyers who used email to contact dealers said responses “weren't quick enough” and that any replies they did receive were often “unhelpful”. The study also found that many would-be customers were irritated by “spam messages” cluttering their inbox after they contacted a dealership.

Wendy Harris, vice-president of European sales at CarGurus, said the dealers needed to make sure processes were in place to prevent customers receiving poor service.

Car dealer salesman working in car showroom

“It's really obvious that first impressions count,” she said. “In an age of instant gratification and immediacy, dealers need to make sure they have the processes and people in place to respond in a timely and accurate fashion.

“Regardless of how the customer has chosen to engage for the first time, the dealer needs to be structured to respond accordingly. Ironically, they've done the hard part in intelligently pricing the vehicle, but too often let themselves down at the first point of contact.”

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According to digital lead management firm Rapid RTC, car dealers will have to accelerate their adoption of new technology to meet the expectations of increasingly tech-savvy customers.

The firm says customers are now more demanding, and cars are becoming “less differentiated”, causing consumers to use customer service as a reason to buy or ignore a vehicle.

Car sales

Glen Demetrioff, the president and CEO of Rapid RTC, said: “We’re witnessing a digital revolution in the automotive retail market. Not only are customers using multiple channels to research and evaluate new car options, but digital experiences are increasingly changing the purchasing decision too.

“As a result, in an era of on-demand expectations, dealers need to be able to offer a timely response to all enquiries, while providing the relevant content across every digital touch-point. Even with large, highly trained employee teams, such a task can be increasingly difficult without the right technologies in place.”