One of the most complicated things to buy is a good used car. The whole buying process broke down sometime in the last century, leaving the used car business like a stranded motorist in need of roadside assistance. Enter: Carvana, a trailblazing tech startup based in Phoenix, Arizona with a fun, online way to shop, finance, and trade-in cars on their website.
Carvana has focused relentlessly on using technology to bring back the joy of the car buying experience. The company’s website provides 360 degree views of the interior and exterior of each car so customers can inspect dozens of potential cars from the comfort of their living room. In their determination to create more fun for their customers, Carvana also created something entirely new: a giant car vending machine. The company came up with the idea early on and partnered with design firms in Germany and the United States to make it a reality.
In 2014, Carvana introduced the first one of these machines in Atlanta, Georgia to rave reviews. The structure provides a signature experience for customers who, after going through the purchase process online, show up and drop a one-pound golden coin into the vending machine that delivers the customer’s car. As you can imagine, tech-obsessed consumers have been beating a path across the information superhighway straight to Carvana’s incredible vending machines. The resulting fast growth has been amazing for the company but it hasn’t come without challenges.
“Carvana launched in 2013 and at that time we were very much a startup — we didn’t even have a CRM,” says Janette Blatz, Product Track Lead at Carvana. “So we just relied on our employees to text, email, and call each other. They all had to work really hard to create a good customer experience.”
That initial homegrown approach to customer relationship management had Carvana’s leadership team doing a U-turn shortly after the giant vending machine launched. Customers were given the choice of home delivery of their car or, if they lived in Atlanta, they could go to the vending machine to pick it up. Carvana’s new vending machine proved so popular that people would travel from neighboring states just to have the experience. The company implemented a new service called Fly and Drive where customers could fly into the airport and Carvana would pick them up and bring them to the vending machine so they could more easily experience the unusual apparatus firsthand.
“We had no CRM at the time so everything relied on our Phoenix and Atlanta offices texting, calling, and emailing each other — and it wasn’t too long after we launched the Fly and Drive program that we started running into problems,” said Blatz. “When we left a customer stranded at the airport we knew we needed a CRM solution — and Salesforce was the obvious choice. We had to have something that was easy to set up, easy to maintain, and could really scale with us.”
In addition to the challenges managing Carvana’s Fly and Drive program, the company was seeing too many customers abandon the online shopping process halfway through. Employees realized that customers need updates at each stage of the car buying experience in order to have peace of mind and ultimately complete the sale, especially when financing is part of the process. Without a CRM, Carvana couldn’t organize and track those kinds of communications — and there was no effective way to start building lasting relationships with the company’s customers.