Dealers accelerate and pivot during COVID

If I were to summarize the retail technology trends of the past six months, I’d use two words: accelerate and pivot.

The coronavirus pandemic has sped up retailers’ use of technology to help them sell and service cars, and companies that provide those tools quickly changed course to build products that would help dealerships operate in a sudden and unexpected shutdown.

I wrote this week about another example of that: dealership management system giant CDK Global Inc., which developed a process to remotely install its DMS products and other tools to accommodate retailers once COVID-19-related business restrictions kept the company from sending teams into some dealerships.

Before the virus, CDK employees would visit dealerships as they went live with a new DMS to help them work through the conversion. There are benefits to being on-site, John Akalaonu, the company’s senior vice president of customer delivery, told me. Among them: being able to observe the dealership’s setup in person, and the comfort level for store employees that comes with getting help quickly should a problem arise in the middle of closing a car deal.

But there are benefits to being virtual, too. For instance, Akalaonu said, CDK employees can spend more time on training when they’re not traveling to and from a store. And, he added, a customer shared that the remote model forced dealership employees to learn the system faster by working with it for longer before they raised their hands for help.

CDK adjusted its process as time passed, Akalaonu said, incorporating feedback from its customers — such as the need to offer the same training multiple times a day because it was difficult to get an entire department on a video call at the same time.

“COVID had to force us kind of to think differently,” he said. “It was one of those, it’s always been that way, so that’s what everyone’s used to. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way.”

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