Connected Customer Experiences Define the New Automotive Industry Customer Experience in 2017

Digital Marketing

In a way, auto­mo­tive tech­nol­o­gy has long served many of the same func­tions as today’s mobile-first social media. For a cen­tu­ry or more, cars have con­nect­ed peo­ple across great dis­tances, mak­ing it easy to come togeth­er around local events, and to move quick­ly from one stage of a jour­ney to the next. Per­haps, then, it’s no sur­prise that social media and auto­mo­tive cul­ture have always been close­ly inter­twined.

Still, evolv­ing tech­nol­o­gy has also dis­rupt­ed many tra­di­tion­al aspects of the auto­mo­tive world. Today’s cus­tomers per­form inten­sive online research before pur­chas­ing a vehi­cle, and the fac­tors they base their pur­chas­es on are rapid­ly chang­ing. The clas­sic sell­ing points of speed and han­dling are giv­ing way to an increased empha­sis on fuel econ­o­my, con­nec­tiv­i­ty, and own­er­ship cost.

Mean­while, new com­peti­tors like Uber, which doesn’t man­u­fac­ture vehi­cles at all, have forced many automak­ers to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves not only as man­u­fac­tur­ers, but also as ser­vice and mobil­i­ty providers. In all these ways and more, cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is tak­ing the driver’s seat.

To find out how auto­mo­tive brands are focus­ing on cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in 2017, I caught up with Axel Heyen­ga, Adobe’s indus­try strat­e­gy direc­tor for the auto­mo­tive indus­try in Europe, the Mid­dle East, and Africa (EMEA). An inter­na­tion­al man­age­ment expert, Axel has more than 20 years of sales and mar­ket­ing expe­ri­ence with­in the media, retail, sports, and IT con­sul­tan­cy indus­tries. Pri­or to join­ing Adobe, he served as direc­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing at Val­tech, unit direc­tor at Sapi­ent­Ni­tro, and direc­tor of busi­ness devel­op­ment at BTD New­me­dia.

JB: Axel, how do you define cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in the auto­mo­tive indus­try?

AH: In the auto­mo­tive indus­try, cus­tomer expe­ri­ence involves a lot more than the driver’s expe­ri­ence with his or her vehi­cle, although that’s obvi­ous­ly a cru­cial part of it. All the inter­ac­tions cus­tomers have while shop­ping online, nego­ti­at­ing at the deal­er­ship, and even bring­ing their vehi­cles in for repairs or main­te­nance are equal­ly impor­tant parts of the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence.

JB: Auto­mo­tive cus­tomers have begun tak­ing much more proac­tive roles in shop­ping and research­ing, haven’t they?

AH: Absolute­ly. We call this “the rise of the dig­i­tal auto­mo­tive expert.” Poten­tial buy­ers start research­ing vehi­cles a full six months—sometimes as much as 12 months—before they intend to pur­chase. A full 73 per­cent direct­ly fac­tor social media com­ments into their pur­chase deci­sions. That’s also impact­ed the nego­ti­a­tion process at the deal­er­ship. A few years ago, cus­tomers were tak­ing an aver­age of sev­en deal­er­ship trips before mak­ing a pur­chase. Now they take an aver­age of 1.5. In oth­er words, cus­tomers are doing much more upfront inves­ti­ga­tion, which means they already have a fair­ly pre­cise idea of what they want—and how much they’re will­ing to pay—before they ever show up at the point of sale.

JB: What do these cus­tomers want? How have their expec­ta­tions changed now that they’re doing more of their own inde­pen­dent research?

AH: They’ve become much more inter­est­ed in mobil­i­ty and con­nect­ed ser­vices, and much less inter­est­ed in tra­di­tion­al sell­ing points like looks, per­for­mance, and speed. In that way, the auto­mo­tive indus­try is real­ly turn­ing upside down. What’s more, the tra­di­tion­al assump­tions that every­one wants to own a vehicle—and that every­one aspires to own a high­er-end vehicle—no longer hold true, espe­cial­ly among younger demo­graph­ics. Today’s shop­pers are very con­cerned about how much it’s going to cost in the long run to own and oper­ate a vehi­cle, in terms of fuel econ­o­my, main­te­nance, sched­uled part replace­ments, and so on. They’re also increas­ing­ly inter­est­ed in connectivity—how accu­rate­ly the built-in GPS works, how intel­li­gent the road­side sup­port and assis­tance will be, and what options they’ll have in terms of dig­i­tal radio.

JB: It sounds like cars are trans­form­ing into deliv­ery sys­tems for dig­i­tal offer­ings.

AH: In many ways that’s true. The expe­ri­ence of the brand is mov­ing beyond the vehi­cle, the deal­er and the ser­vice cen­tre, and is focus­ing much more on the dig­i­tal side of the expe­ri­ence. In fact, as we start to see dri­ver­less cars become more com­mon in some cities, we’re ask­ing our­selves whether the future of auto­mo­tive may be the “car as con­tent deliv­ery sys­tem.” When car own­ers no longer have to dri­ve, their atten­tion is freed up to answer phone calls, browse for near­by des­ti­na­tions they’d like to vis­it, and even check in on the con­di­tion of the vehi­cle. In the near future, cars may become much more like self-dri­ving com­put­ers, in which the user sim­ply taps the action they’d like to take—messaging a friend, dri­ving to a restau­rant, or pulling in for an oil change—and the car han­dles the actu­al exe­cu­tion of those com­mands.

JB: That could open up whole new fields of dig­i­tal inter­ac­tion! But for the moment, let’s focus a bit more on the here and now: What are auto­mo­tive com­pa­nies doing cur­rent­ly to deliv­er more con­nect­ed expe­ri­ences to their cus­tomers?

AH: One good exam­ple of a for­ward-think­ing automak­er is Renault, who recog­nised the need to keep cus­tomers around the world engaged with per­son­alised, tar­get­ed, one-to-one com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The com­pa­ny adopt­ed a stan­dard­ised plat­form to make sure its inter­na­tion­al, region­al, and local cam­paigns were all using con­sis­tent mes­sag­ing and brand­ing, and to help for­mu­late more per­son­al, tar­get­ed mes­sages across web, mobile, and oth­er chan­nels. The result of this stan­dard­ised cam­paign­ing was a 20 per­cent boost in con­ver­sions on its own­er por­tal, which has already giv­en Renault a lot of new oppor­tu­ni­ties to con­nect with those cus­tomers.

JB: So, rather than dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing them­selves on the basis of vehi­cle fea­tures, as auto­mo­tive com­pa­nies might have done in the past, more automak­ers are recog­nis­ing that con­sis­tent cus­tomer expe­ri­ences need to be at the cen­tre of their mar­ket­ing.

AH: That’s def­i­nite­ly the case. In fact, the vehi­cle man­u­fac­tur­er Lin­coln recent­ly dis­cov­ered that its web­site vis­i­tors were actu­al­ly turned off by vehi­cle fea­tures they per­ceived as “gim­micky.” The com­pa­ny adopt­ed an entire­ly new mar­ket­ing plat­form to col­lect more pre­cise data on cus­tomers’ loca­tions, brand famil­iar­i­ty, and pref­er­ences; and to deliv­er per­son­alised web­site con­tent to each vis­i­tor, adapt­ing in real-time to empha­sise the aspects of the vehi­cle that most inter­est­ed that cus­tomer. This raised vis­i­tor engage­ment by a stun­ning 99 per­cent, and gallery inter­ac­tions on their web­site by 27 per­cent, with­in just 10 weeks.

JB: I hope that as more automak­ers realise those kinds of quan­ti­ta­tive ben­e­fits, they’ll con­tin­ue to push for the kinds of con­nect­ed expe­ri­ences their cus­tomers clear­ly want. I appre­ci­ate you tak­ing the time to share these insights with me today, Axel.

Thanks for join­ing me for this five-part inter­view series on cus­tomer expe­ri­ence in 2017. In case you missed them, here are the pre­vi­ous inter­views on tele­com, media, and enter­tain­ment; retail; finan­cial ser­vices; and trav­el and hos­pi­tal­i­ty. And when you’re ready to upgrade your organisation’s cus­tomer expe­ri­ence, we at Adobe are here to help.


Digital Marketing
Jamie Brighton

Posted on 06-02-2017


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