Buying a Car is as Easy as a Conversation at Edmunds.com
We released a new feature called “Text a Dealer” which allows the customer to start a conversation with the dealer through text messaging. On the surface, the idea seems to already exist. Anyone can send a text message as long as you have a number. But consider the process to get that phone number. You have to drive to a dealership, find a salesperson, talk about the cars you are considering, and then finally get their number. All of this takes time and effort just to start a text conversation.
We created a platform that streamlines the process and connects customers to dealers at every stage of their car buying process on their own timeline. The customer can reply back to the dealership when they are ready, much like texting a friend; and the conversations can now take place between the customer and the dealer over an extended period of time, unlike the paradigm such as a chat function. If a chat session ended, the dealer doesn’t have a method to reach back out to the customer and customers can’t go back to the session after additional research. Texting gives customers the ability to control the pace and longevity of their car buying conversations.
The concept of using text messaging to communicate isn’t new, but there has never been a platform for the customer to seamlessly correspond with the dealer via text messaging. When the customer texts their friend, they don’t use a shortcode or download an app. They text a phone number. We tried to use all the native methods to help individuals feel like they are texting another individual. We evaluated all the technologies that allow users to text and decided to provision phone numbers from Twilio, then built technology around the feature to manage the compliance to opt out, routing for individual users, CRM integration, etc. Our goal is to allow the customer to initiate the conversation effortlessly and not force them to download an app. As a brand, we didn’t have to advertise, but rather just present a seamless and easy call to action.
Our feature consideration extends to dealers, as well, because the concept has to work on both ends. If you look at what really started to get dealers moving, it’s conversion. Dealers have become more sophisticated in measuring their conversion; they realized when customers have the power to text a dealer, they can track a significant increase to their conversion rates.
With this seemly simplistic platform, We can now bring the conversation between customer and dealer earlier into the car shopping process. With this feature, Customers can take a car photo and video to the dealer for a trade-in value without having to schedule an appointment and drive their car to the dealership for that same information. We are excited to explore the platform to create additional opportunities for conversation between the customer and dealer, thus eliminating the time-wasting steps because all the work has been done upfront.
With only 4-5 people on our team, it’s tough to create all the products we know are possible with our SMS feature, so we are making an effort to make it into an API platform. Everything is currently API driven. We “test” our own work because the API is exposed to our team first to create the experience, then the API is exposed outward to the rest of the Edmunds.com community. And it was a good architectural decision. Exposing our API to our internal community allows other teams to develop the same capability on the wired site, thus increasing the experience for the customer on all Edmunds.com platforms. As an additional benefit, we are already seeing our internal product development create interesting ideas we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own. This enables our team to focus on the core components and take the purchasing process beyond that experience.
The technology we have developed challenges all previous assumptions in car buying. Just putting someone in touch with a dealer isn’t sufficient anymore. From Edmunds’ perspective, we’ve never seen anything beyond the customer submitting a lead, and our lead system has not significantly changed in the last 10 years or so. Our new platform changes the conversation and challenges the way we have worked. We’ve even seen a growth in our reach to the customer in unexpected ways. Customers are using the text messaging to schedule car service and that’s just the start. Our possibilities are limitless.
Authors: Nick Gorton, Sharath Gowda, Gina Shaw Editors: Kelly Stacy, Heather Tipple Yang