The speed of change in the automotive / mobility is dazzling, due to trends such as electrification, car connectivity and anti-collision devices.
In an earlier article, Guillaume Langle, Comdata’s Global Automotive and Mobility Practice Leader, explained the key trends and changes in consumer behavior. Now we follow up with him on what this means for the future of customer management in the sector, and how brands can maximize the opportunities.
IMPROVING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
You said that manufacturers must look at delivering greater customer experiences if they want to continue attracting demand. What do you mean by that?
Currently, the experiential aspect of buying and owning a car can be painful. It’s expensive, there’s a lot of hassle involved (buyback of your old car, financing, insurance, registration …), and studies done a few years ago show that going to a dealership for service was seen as the second worst experience after going to the dentist!
With the buying experience, at least you have the excitement of getting something new, but it can still be frustrating. For example, there’s a breach of experience between the digital one offered by car manufacturers and the physical one at the dealer.
Can you explain that break between the digital and the actual experience?
The digital experience is usually based on the emotional aspect, brand positioning, great pictures and colors, offering you additional specs. You spend 2-3 hours on a website, choosing the different specs, discussing the color with your family etc. You make up your mind and you’re excited.
Then, when you go to a dealer, owing to Covid and the semiconductors crisis, they may tell you that your choice doesn’t match their stock, and either you take a car in stock (with a good discount), or you will have to wait, but still need to make your order now. And you may need the car quickly, so you buy the model in stock, not the one you exactly had in mind, but with a sense of disappointment. The retail experience doesn’t deliver to the website standard. And that is when the dealer follows up with you. I recently experienced visiting 4 brands to buy a car from stock, 2 never called me back.
NEW ROLES IN THE NEW ECOSYSTEM
You’ve also suggested that the role of dealers is changing?
Traditionally car ownership has relied on an intermediary network. The manufacturers coordinate the dealer-customer relationship, but the dealer network is the transactional operator and problem-solver in the relationship. They manage the sales contact with the customer, appointments, complaints and so on.
Then, further down the customer journey, other intermediaries have a role like financing, maintenance, roadside assistance, repair and so on. And there is a lot of competition with each of these players, so customers are choosing the car brand in the first few years of ownership, and then tend to seek cheaper services and insurance as the car value reduces.
But with the future of mobility, the model relies more on personalized customer care and support through OTA (over the air) updates and new services made available through access fees. For example, ‘Pay as you drive’ insurance and car services as you drive and no longer follow the owner’s manual, or software upgrades to customers’ devices or the connected car itself.
When manufacturers have direct access to the car (and therefore the customer), the role of the dealer as an intermediary will change towards more execution. Manufacturers will have the opportunity to deliver after-sales customer care or e-commerce sales directly to the customer, thanks to the car data capture, via traditional communication channels and the new platform which is the car.
What do dealers do after that?
In Europe, we currently have a separation between dealer sales and after-sales departments. As customers expect more personalized interactions, I see a huge opportunity for the sales staff to become ‘customer advisers’ responsible for taking care of the customer from end to end, securing sales, and after-sales appointments – as it is the case in Japan already. So dealers need to review the way they handle customers, especially as most customers walk in the showroom knowing what model to buy. The role of a car salesperson must change.
Secondly, dealers have the power of covering a geographic area, so they can increase the offering around charging wall boxes, energy contracts, car rental or managing new offers such as mobility based subscriptions. And, of course, they would still deliver the physical aspects of the relationship, with an emphasis on customer retention and loyalty, not just the sale.
And what about the other players in the ecosystem?
It’s complex, and I won’t go into it in detail. But yes, you will still have the traditional players such as finance and insurers and road assistance providers. There’ll be some changes in their role due to electrification – safer cars mean fewer accidents, and car connectivity means more data. But on the other hand, because cars are getting more expensive, I believe the car parc average age will increase, giving additional after-sales opportunities due to increased breakdowns, and therefore the need for better customer service support.
Then you also have new players in the ecosystem such as software companies working on anything from car hailing services, car-sharing apps, multibrand EV charging cards to parking management. And you have EV charging point operators working on customer services, online payment, and even vehicle to grid charging capabilities.
All will have opportunities to build retention and long-term customer value through good customer management and understanding the role of the other players in the ecosystem.
As you see, we move from a traditional vertical approach of OEM > Dealer > customer & car, to a more complex relationship, where the car can enable manufacturers to reach customers directly.
How do manufacturers and dealers and others in the sector get to this point – it’s a big change!
The key thing to understand is that the automotive / mobility ecosystem is changing, as is the role of customer service.
Each time we talk about a change of role or a new opportunity, the customer support and technology expertise needs to be in place to support that. It’s not just about having a phone line! It’s about listening to what customers say on social media and owners’ forums, and anticipating trends (whether a positive trend or an emerging crisis) to support clients in their tactical choices.
THE NEW CAPABILITIES NEEDED
What new expertise will manufacturers need?
I talked about connected cars giving manufacturers the data needed to drive predictive maintenance messages, gauge customer satisfaction following the dealer visit, and support additional paid services through e-commerce. The more they engage with customers directly to provide these services or access, the greater their need for high-quality customer management services to support that: the right people, the right systems and the right processes.
They need people that can work on data management from the connected vehicle, they need the right analytics and AI capabilities to work on the predictive maintenance aspects, they need specialists in e-commerce and online payment capabilities, and so on and so forth. They’ll need the right balance of automated support and agents, with the right skills, knowledge and empathy. Externalizing this activity enables rigorous execution in a consistent manner, with clear reporting and trends follow-up.
Does the same apply to dealers and others in the ecosystem?
Yes. They’ll need new capabilities and new levels of coordination with the customer management operations of different players. Think of a couple of scenarios from the customer’s perspective. For example, if a customer has a problem with a stuck cable in the car after having charged their car, how do they know whether the fault is due to the car or to the charging point, and how do they get seamless resolution of the problem?
There’s an opportunity to work in tighter collaboration: on the one side, the car manufacturers’ customer service and on the other side the dealership, keeping the focus on the face-to-face customer experience. To support that, some dealers are already outsourcing their inbound phone calls to Comdata as a way to increase the precious time their employees spend face to face with their customers, avoiding incoming calls interruptions.
Can the automotive sector learn from other sectors – such as e-commerce, insurance?
On some elements, such as e-commerce, yes, they can. Data management and predictive analytics capabilities are also transferable. But there’s a level of complexity with cars that is pretty unique. You have the high cost of purchase and ownership, and also the life cycle of a car; and therefore the customer relationship is quite long and counted in years.
Manufacturers need support from providers who understand all this and the changes happening in the sector.
Another must-learn for manufacturers and dealers is omnichannel too?
Yes. In the past, they might just have had a phone number to call, or just visit the dealer in person. Now of course like every sector, people want to communicate via any channel, so all players in the sector must offer that.
I’d also make a point about social media. Inbound and outbound:
With inbound social media, people don’t just communicate to the manufacturer – they also communicate to other customers about the brand; and they communicate to other brands about your brand. It’s 360 degrees. So, this also gives an opportunity to use social media and social listening to intercept and engage with customers, generating leads and anticipating potential problems or crises.
Outbound social media managed by marketing in conjunction with customers’ voice and trends enables storytelling and brand engagement.
Again, the sector needs external customer management support to deliver this professionally.
Any final advice and takeaways?
This is a complex territory because customers are changing from wanting to buy a car, to wanting mobility. The passion for cars still exists, but increasingly, the passion for customers is a reality. The key point is that the role of customer service is changing fast as the ecosystem is transformed. So there are massive opportunities like the ones I’ve mentioned.
Comdata is here to support that transformation, thanks to our suite of digital tools and the Innovation Lab which continuously supports the creation of a new customer experience.
Automotive and mobility is a passion, so I am more than happy to exchange with anybody on that topic! Reach out to me on LinkedIn!