Thanks to the Amazon effect, consumers now expect a seamless end-to-end experience when choosing, buying and owning a car; so how can automotive brands transform their businesses to ensure they deliver the right customer experience (CX)?
A new car is expensive; only a new home costs more. And yet, even with such large sums of money at stake, many car companies often have little choice but to continue offering a transactional, product-centric approach.
“Due to the massive size of their organizations and due to the cost of research, development, testing and manufacturing new products, car companies have found it hard to make the investments needed to embrace digitalization in all aspects of their business,” begins Sitel Group’s VP of Business Development Matt Fry. “They’re already taking steps to be ready to offer end-to-end services and experiences when cars become autonomous pods, but unless they can put the customer at the heart of the business now, they’re going to find it difficult to connect with them in the future.”
This gap is why in Forrester’s annual Customer Experience Index, only two mass market automotive brands managed a rating higher than OK on its CX scale this year.
Brands such as Ford and Buick that have invested heavily in improving how they engage with their customers via digital channels have climbed from the bottom to the top half of the rankings. But the industry is struggling to connect with consumers due to the fact that historically, companies have taken a siloed approach.
“Consumers are already digital and without meeting them where they are and being able to understand their needs, automakers will continue to struggle in delivering customer experience,” Fry says. “And the stakes are getting higher. OEMs need to start taking steps to let data flow from other channels and dealer networks into their business. They need to focus on transforming their organizations as well as their products and services.”
For example, according to the 2018 Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study, 59 percent of consumers say they were never contacted by the manufacturer after buying their vehicle and 26 percent of customers never hear from the dealership after the initial purchase.
“A sale starts, not ends with the purchase,” Fry warns. “Providing ongoing support and letting that person know you value their personal experience is crucial for building brand loyalty and advocacy. The more expensive an item, the more likely a customer is going to reflect on the purchasing decision afterward. You need to make sure they know they’ve made the right choice. More importantly, reaching out opens a channel of communication – one where valuable insights can flow.”
When shopping for a car, consumers give the dealership the same level of scrutiny as their desired make and model. Over half (57 percent) of U.S. car buyers have checked a dealership review on Facebook alone and 64 percent of consumers have decided to go with a different dealership based on an online review according to the Digital Air Strike Automotive Social Media Trends study.
“Buying a car demands a personal touch,” says Fry. “By picking one dealer over another even though both sell an identical product, customers are actively searching out positive touch points. They’re highlighting the importance of human interaction and a memorable customer experience. Don’t forget, as cars become more and more technologically advanced, consumers will rely more and more on another person to help them make sense of all of the features and equipment.”
Indeed, the Deloitte study shows that 80 percent of consumers put interacting with a real person to ask questions as the most important reason for going to a dealership to buy a car. An attentive and informed sales assistant, who already has the customer’s details and preferences to hand will be able to close the sale and make the customer feel empowered. However, car companies still face a huge challenge in getting consumers to this point of the customer journey.
The average car buyer spends 10 hours over three months researching which car to buy. In that time, they’re likely to switch from online to offline channels four times and expect a seamless experience each time they do. Yet, just 55 percent of U.S. consumers feel that car companies’ websites meet their customer expectations. When asked to rank how much influence a manufacturer’s website has on the purchasing decision, it comes third after advice from friends and family and the salesperson at the dealership.
“Car companies need to take an omnichannel approach,” Fry explains. “Being able to follow the customer on the path to purchase gives you valuable insights that, for example, a sales assistant can use to be proactive but not pushy when the customer visits a dealership.”
Considering the value of a new car, the path to purchase is relatively short meaning that time is of the essence for those brands that want to be front of mind when a consumer moves from the consideration to the purchasing phase.
“A test drive is still a crucial element of the customer journey and waiting times for one are a major pain point on the customer journey,” Fry points out. “Being able to push digital invites and reservations to customers via the web or social channels can solve this problem and reduce the amount of time a potential customer will need to spend at a dealership to complete a sale.”
Connecting these dots can also remove the pain points related to a dealership. According to Deloitte, 42 percent of U.S. car buyers think that the actual purchase process takes too long and 57 percent say that the worst thing about going to a dealership to buy a car is all of the paperwork.
“With all of the customer’s data already gathered in earlier stages of the customer journey, documents can be completed in advance, electronically, and information could be forwarded to the captive finance provider,” Fry suggests. “By embracing digitalization, the consumer could even obtain the financing ahead of the initial visit to the dealership.”
Once the deal is done, maintaining this connection is crucial for brands that want to build loyalty and advocacy. For example, every time the vehicle is due for servicing is also an opportunity to engage, but there are easier ways of keeping in contact and continuing to provide services to a customer.
“An online community is a very simple and very effective way of bringing your customers together and making them feel valued,” Fry explains. “It’s a forum where car owners can share their experiences and offer help and guidance to each other. It’s also a space where a brand can continue gathering valuable insights that can be channeled into marketing efforts or even into the development of new vehicles.”
From customer journey mapping and the identification and elimination of pain points to implementing and optimizing an omnichannel approach to customer relations and building and maintaining online communities, Sitel Group can help your business overtake the completion and get on the road closer to your customers.