Direct messaging, online bookings and home deliveries are key to Covid communications strategy

yell survey

With news of a Covid-19 vaccine giving the battered economy a glimmer of hope, a survey of automotive businesses carried out by directory firm Yell Business has revealed how businesses have adapted their customer communications during the coronavirus crisis, with online communications an increasingly used tool.

The survey, entitled ‘Who’s getting the message?’, covers all forms of automotive-related businesses including garages and dealerships, as well as rental companies and taxi firms, and compares them with other key retail sectors. In particular, the Yell survey found that 96% of automotive businesses have introduced new ways of communicating with their customers as a result of the pandemic, with 73% of automotive businesses stating that instant messaging has become a key business tool in the lockdown.

Additionally, 43% of automotive businesses have introduced online booking services as a result of Covid-19 and a surprisingly high number – 83% – of auto-related business owners are optimistic about the success of their business in 2021. Conversely, 17% of automotive firms surveyed said they would not be able to survive another lockdown.

The study reveals the scale of the challenge business owners have faced in recent months with three quarters (76%) of all Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) surveyed introducing a new service as a result of Covid-19. The automotive industry was found to be one of the most adaptable sectors in the report, with 98% of automotive businesses surveyed introducing a new service.

Of those new services: 

  • 43% started taking online bookings
  • 42% started doing online video consultations
  • 37% started home deliveries/visits
  • 35% launched online video tutorials
  • 34% launched online video events

Half of all automotive businesses that introduced a new service said it was crucial for them to be able to survive the pandemic, with 83% stating they plan on continuing the service post Covid-19. Almost two-thirds – 62% – that introduced home delivery services said it was crucial for them to survive the crisis, and more than 80% said they would continue to offer a home delivery service post-Covid. A similar figure – 65% – said contactless payments had been vital, and not one respondent said they would not continue to offer these.

The research also identified how the global pandemic has accelerated changes in the ways businesses are communicating with their customers. Of the 96% of automotive businesses that introduced new ways of communicating in 2020, 34% have started emailing customers, 27% have started using WhatsApp, 26% have started calling customers and 25% have started texting customers.

Interestingly, alongside WhatsApp, a real surge in the use of other instant messaging services was highlighted within the automotive industry. Social media use is also growing: 21% of automotive businesses have started using Twitter, 20% of businesses started using Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers and 19% had started using Instagram.

While a phone and email are still ingrained as the most popular communication methods for automotive businesses and consumers alike, when it came to increasing sales during the pandemic, paid ads on Facebook were found to be the most effective, with 33% of businesses stating they had seen an uplift in sales from using them. Instagram direct messaging was found to be the most effective tool for increasing website traffic.

Instant messaging tools such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and other social messaging platforms were found to be vital communication tools for automotive businesses. Nearly three quarters (73%) of businesses surveyed said that instant messaging is key for business success post Covid-19, while 42% stated they had seen an uplift in enquiries thanks to using instant messaging services during the pandemic. 41% said that they had seen an increase in customer satisfaction from using the service and 39% saw an increase in sales.

Choosing the correct channel to communicate with customers was found to have far reaching benefits for automotive businesses too. Yell’s research revealed that over a third (36%) of consumers would be more likely to buy from a business that communicated with them on their preferred channel. 28% of consumers would be more likely to recommend the business to a friend and 24% would be more likely to spend more with that business. Conversely, if an SME communicated with a customer on the wrong channel, 37% of consumers wouldn’t use that business again and 18% would even leave a bad review for the business.

Despite the challenges brought on by Covid-19, automotive businesses remain positive for the future. 83% of business owners state that they are optimistic about the success of their business in 2021 and, on average, 75% said they were more prepared to deal with another lockdown.

Claire Miles, Chief Executive Officer of Yell, said: “It’s heartening to see that the majority of the sector remains optimistic in the face of adversity. Our research highlights not only the sheer adaptability of businesses but also their ability to find the right way to communicate change to their existing and potential customers. It’s clear that during these uncertain times, instant messaging services have been a real lifeline to businesses who have had to adapt and adjust their models quickly.”