Over the last year, I’ve been documenting my own personal car-buying experience within the context of other consumer experiences. Now I’d like to take a step back and provide sort of a ‘State of the Union’ for the automotive industry based upon what I’ve learned.
The idea of a state of the union is simple: let folks know how everything is going. In actuality, though, it’s not that simple. Often in politics, what politicians say they’re doing and what the people feel is actually getting done are quite different. This is the difference between perception and reality, which is a good starting point for this discussion.
In general, I don’t believe the auto industry realises it has a problem. Time and resources are focused merely on branding with little concern for the customer’s actual experience when interacting with that brand. The reason I believe this is that, despite the auto industry’s efforts to improve the customer experience within specific silos, there doesn’t seem to be any real impact on the overall customer journey.
Customers feel like the information available during the discovery phase is unstructured and overwhelming, while OEMs are doing very little to make it easier for people to figure out the best solution, based on their unique circumstances.
OEMs seem to take little ownership over the relationship between the customer and the dealer, and this has detrimental effects on both. Visits to the dealer, test driving a car, and other contact points are seen as stressful for the customer, creating a growing sense of distrust that extends beyond the dealer directly to the brand.
At the same time, dealers feel the OEMs are not giving them enough support so they can provide a truly first-class experience. While OEMs pride themselves on sophistication in the engineering of their product, they are woefully behind in the adoption of modern digital marketing techniques and advertising practices. Their large IT infrastructure can be an obstacle to implementing a dynamic approach to the customer, and a culture of taking risks needs to be promoted over making siloed investments within the status quo.
The data captured by the OEMs during the information discovery phase isn’t leveraged and shared with the dealers to create a better experience, yet the dealers don’t have the resources to capture it themselves.
The after-purchase wait for delivery is perhaps where the OEMs are most failing the customer. This should be a time of growing excitement and continuous customer contact that culminates in the delivery of the car. Instead, OEMs are putting their customers through a personal purgatory. This phase has become a time of increasing disappointment and growing apprehension.
OEMs are literally sending out product advertisements without even knowing that the customer has bought a car, leaving customers confused and wondering if they should have even made the purchase in the first place. The potential to turn the customer experience around in this phase is staggering, yet OEMs are doing nothing to address this glaring gap in the experience. Dealers need to be leveraged as a contact point to enhance the customer relationship and drive new opportunities for the OEM.
Finally, post-delivery experience is failing, both at the OEM and the dealer level. OEMs are dis-incentivizing customers from purchasing after-market accessories through official channels with poor advertising and delayed delivery timelines. This means they’re missing out on the critical long-term relationship-building that would allow them to capture that customer’s next purchase, or purchases over a lifetime.
Now, while this state of the union may seem depressing, things aren’t all that gloomy. Luckily, digital advertising and marketing is somewhat easier than figuring out how to manufacture a luxury performance vehicle, and there are businesses out there that are best in class at it.
OEMs just need to listen to their customer’s needs and provide them with the car-buying experience they are truly looking for. They need to bridge the gaps between their siloed optimization efforts and focus on improving the customer journey as a whole. They need to democratize data across the organization and ensure that all touchpoints within the customer experience are being driven by the same insights. This will normalize tone of voice, and enable the targeting of specific customers with optimized offers and messaging. Committing to this customer experience in the same way they commit to the customer experience when driving the vehicle will go a long way toward allowing the business and the dealers to take advantage of modern advertising and marketing techniques.