Part 2 of a conversation with Marti Eulberg, Director of Brand Management, Sonic Automotive

In a two-part interview, Marti Eulberg, Director of Brand Management for Fortune 500 Sonic Automotive, shares her own opinions with ChannelNet. She talks about the evolution of agency relationships and about how technology data/data analytics can help brands enhance customer relationships.

The blog, Marti Eulberg Talks About Agency Relationships and the Omnichannel Experience, is the first part of the interview. She stressed content has to be relevant to the customer’s specific needs and how a brand needs to focus on consistency. In the second half of her interview, she gives her personal take on the important customer retention role that technology and data can play.

Q: How are you using data?

Eulberg: Data is unbelievably relevant. Data is a great resource, a great reference, but you have to learn to use data — not as a sound byte — but as information to make informed decisions.

You have to understand how to respond to customer comments. For example, an individual customer comment may be something that needs to be taken offline and discussed privately or the content may be relevant to our entire digital universe, or to our entire customer base. We may want to share via Twitter or Facebook.

When we planned new facilities recently, we didn’t just look at automotive facilities. In order to understand how customers interact, we looked within the complete retail space across a number of industries. In this same way, we also look at how consumers research, buy and shop on-line and apply that to our space. We want to understand what is relevant in all retail spaces—offline and online.

The data helps us understand how people interact with our brand, how people interact with other brands and ultimately how people may interact with our brand at the new place.

Q: Are there any particular marketing automation tools you are interested in now?

Eulberg: The technology that is super relevant has to do with customer retention. Retention is huge.

We are bombarded with proposed solutions, but so many are only transactional solutions versus solutions that enable appropriate follow-up conversations and give backs to the customer that are relevant and at the right time and touch point/channel. While Sonic doesn’t use a ChannelNet solution, I suspect it must make a good marketing automation tool because so many of the OEMs use it. The key is the communication needs to be a dialogue versus a transactional contact.

Q: Can you give an example of how technology is helping you?

When we ask for something from the customer, we also think it is important to give them something back. It is a two-way street. We don’t just ask how you would rate your experience on a scale of 1-10. We want to know how you are using your vehicle. One of the ways we do this is to put RFID chips on the cars we sell in Denver. RFID technology enables us to provide meaningful services to a customer and learn at the same time—without being intrusive. Vehicle owners can come back to see us on a weekly basis for a free car wash. The RFID chip allows customers to come through our car wash and then we know how often they use it. Without having the customer do anything, it answers a host of questions. Is a car wash a service they want? Is this something that is relevant to them? Does it enhance our customer relationship? Do they buy another car from us? If the data says they frequently use the car wash and our other services, we know this incentive is something that we might want to offer when we open future stores. It’s good for customer retention. I think technology should enable our actions, our conversations, whether it is a real conversation with me talking to you, or by you showing up to use the car wash once a week.

Q: Are you looking for predictive analytics or instituting the use of present tense marketing, or any of these types of marketing automation?

Eulberg: Yes. Let’s say there are 10 questions that always come up, and we have a series of responses already prepared. We wouldn’t want to use those responses in a way that if the customer asks this, we only say Z or send X. Or, they ask Y so the answer is A. You still have to have personalization because people see through a standard corporate response.

Q: People providing customer service over the phone typically have a script. Is that any different than a fully automated system?

Eulberg: Scripted responses can create issues too. Sometimes the way a rep responds, you might as well just have an automated response system, right? That is really a different issue. The important point is you have to recognize some people want human contact and some want automation. Both have to be done right. I also think it is important to offer multiple levels or interaction. For example, you can research cars online and get answers to frequently asked questions. You can book an appointment online. If online is not your preference for interacting with us, you can use our call center. The technology has to be there, the automation has to be there, but you still need call centers to serve everyone’s different needs. We cannot force everyone into the same box. The key is personalization, which technology facilitates both in a call center and online. As a consumer wouldn’t you want relevant information tailored to your needs? That is what brings customers back.

Marti Eulberg is Director of Brand Management at Sonic Automotive. Prior to joining Sonic in 2012, she was Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing at Fisker, President and CEO of Maserati North America, and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Jaguar North America. She has also held executive positions with Ford, Volvo and BMW. Marti’s opinions are her own personal thoughts and are not the views or opinions of Sonic.