Auto Industry Insights—How to Deliver the Ultimate Customer Experience

Auto Industry Insights—How to Deliver the Ultimate Customer Experience

2020-12-10 Thursday Blog: Auto Industry Insights—How to Deliver the Ultimate Customer Experience

The auto industry, like others, is undergoing a revolution in customer experience. Digital technologies are changing how consumers interact with car companies—and how auto brands understand and engage their customers. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed this transition into overdrive in 2020, with both OEMs and dealers racing to adapt to dramatic changes in customer behavior.

To explore the impact of these changes, we brought together four automotive CX experts for Treasure Data’s recent webinar, Deliver the Ultimate Customer Experience. The panel included:

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at AutoTrader, hosted the discussion about the challenges in CX today. Rafael Flores also joined to provide his insights as Director of Product Management at Treasure Data.

So how can your business build experiences that will win customers, now and tomorrow? Here are five key takeaways from the automotive leaders—and a glimpse at an industry shifting toward a seamless, customer-centric digital experience, powered by advanced technologies such as customer data platforms (CDPs).

#1. Serve Risk-Averse Customers by Committing to Digital Experiences

As pandemic-conscious customers remain wary of entering physical locations, both OEMs and dealers have stepped up their efforts to provide safe, remote alternatives to in-person shopping and service. In a recent Frost & Sullivan study, 72 percent of dealers reported a decrease in physical traffic, while 54 percent of OEMs reported an increase in their digital traffic. This shift has only sped up the industry’s ongoing effort toward new digital-first experiences.

Honda, for example, was already grappling with the challenge of selling to customers online before the pandemic. Dealers were being forced to tackle the problem themselves, and Honda was struggling to assist them with the customer experience. In response, Honda set out to create its own online sales channels for its car brands, Shop Simple with Honda and Acura Precision Purchase.

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When COVID-19 struck, Honda was ready. The company moved up the rollout of its new platforms by six weeks, enabling it to adapt to rapid shifts in buyer behavior. Customers can now conduct nearly every stage of car-buying remotely, only coming into the dealership to sign the final paperwork.

By embracing digital sales and services, Honda and other auto industry leaders have been able to adjust to the pandemic’s near-term effects on customer behavior. Meanwhile, they are also positioning themselves to serve a rising generation of car buyers who have grown up entirely in a world of smartphones and ecommerce.

#2. Make First-Party Data More Actionable

A customer-centric, digital experience requires data-driven interactions that engage customers as individuals. However, third-party customer data is losing its usefulness because of privacy regulations and technological changes (such as the looming demise of online cookies). As a result, businesses have had to become more adept at harnessing their own first-party data.

For example, FordDirect has aimed at helping Ford and its dealers serve more relevant messaging to customers at every step in the buyer journey. That’s a hard task when customer communications are splintered among so many different touchpoints and organizations, from the OEM to dealerships. This fragmentation also leads to disconnected messaging—for example, sending the same offers before and after a sale.

To address this problem, FordDirect has built up its ability to tie first-party data to user identities and track users across multiple channels (such as paid media, CRM systems, and web properties). In this way, Ford dealers can deliver more cohesive communications, so every customer receives the right message at the right time.

#3. Break Down Internal Silos to Understand the Customer

First-party data can provide a rich understanding of the customer, enabling greater personalization and truly customer-centric experiences. The problem is that these resources are often siloed within the business, so each unit only sees one piece of the puzzle. Such divisions make it hard to gain the unified perspective that enables businesses to anticipate and respond to customers’ needs.

The problem is especially acute for large automakers such as Honda, with multiple functional teams, legacy systems, and independent product lines such as cars, Honda Powersports and Honda Power Equipment. Honda has tackled this challenge by breaking down information silos within its organization. Leaders from Honda’s various business units work together on CX strategy, and Honda has created a customer experience office that reports directly to the CEO. Honda is now better able to develop unified, seamless experiences—and also to identify redundancies and streamline communications with customers and dealers.

Similarly, Porsche North America needed better information to provide customers with personalized experiences—but the necessary data was scattered across the automaker’s North American dealer network. Rather than mandate a single solution, Porsche has integrated its own global CRM system with dealers’ systems, drawing on the data to build a stronger understanding of its customers. Porsche then funnels this information back to dealerships in easily digestible forms. Dealers can thus engage customers more effectively at each stage of the relationship—for example, by knowing when to reach out to owners who may be ready for their next vehicle.

#4. Personalize Outreach with Real-Time Interactions

To deliver personalization at scale, auto industry firms need to understand the customer experience. But they also need the technical ability to interact with customers one on one and deliver customized experiences in milliseconds. That means segmenting audiences across different touchpoints in real time—and then engaging individual customers with messages and campaigns that fit their identities, interests, and behavior.

In pursuit of this goal, FordDirect has invested in helping dealers deliver real-time experiences to their customers. For example, FordDirect has been creating a platform that enables engagement with audiences in real time through paid media channels. This platform can take data on users’ website activity and group individuals into high- or low-propensity audiences for targeted ads. As a result, dealers can deliver the right message to the right customer, while directing their media spends more effectively.

Meanwhile, FordDirect is using other forms of real-time data (such as call logs) to personalize customer interactions across channels. For example, let’s say a customer fills out a website lead form asking about a Ford Escape, but when the same customer calls the dealer, a salesperson persuades him or her to consider a more upscale Ford Edge.

Through natural language processing, FordDirect’s system can immediately analyze the phone transcript, note the customer’s interest in an Edge and display the correct content when the user returns to the website. Such real-time personalization makes it easier to serve customers with relevant, contextual messaging.

#5. Reduce Customer Friction with Data-Driven Automation

Customers want fast, effortless transactions, whether they are buying a car or seeking support from a dealer. Even the most efficient analog work processes, however, fall far short of this expectation. The solution is to automate those processes, using a combination of hardware, software, and data.

Auto dealers, for instance, face many bottlenecks when customers come in for service visits. Initiating service, writing up work orders, assigning courtesy loaner vehicles—all of these tasks can cause lines to form, especially when customers come in for unscheduled services at peak times.

To help dealers, Dealerware has built a platform that automates and streamlines fleet management, using data gathered from the software and its enabling hardware devices. For instance, Dealerware works with partners such as Treasure Data to enable dealers to manage loaner car service through a single screen and provide easy customer pickup and delivery.

Dealerware’s technology matches vehicles with drivers by connecting data on service patterns, fleet utilization patterns, vehicle geolocation, and the dealer’s operational journey. In this way, Dealerware can cut the average service time from half an hour to just two to three minutes.

How Data Unification Ties the Customer Experience Together

Two key factors predict whether auto OEMs and dealers report high satisfaction with their digital marketing capabilities, according to a recent Frost & Sullivan survey sponsored by Treasure Data. One is their ability to provide a seamless customer experience across touchpoints through Customer Experience Management (CEM). The other is their ability to unify customer data across channels—that is, to combine the data gathered from every touchpoint and system into a single, comprehensive view of the customer.

In fact, data unification is the ultimate key to providing the customer-centric, digital experiences that the auto industry is striving for. By uniting all their data with a CDP, companies can create accurate profiles of individual customers and their behavior across channels, from OEM and dealer websites to call centers and service centers.

Perhaps the most important insight—both for auto-industry execs and for decision makers in other industries—is the impact of being able to understand customers and automate personalized buyer journeys.

What does unified customer data change, regardless of industry? In a word, everything.

Through unified customer data, auto leaders can break down the barriers that keep data siloed within organizations. They can more easily understand their customers, unify the customer experience across business units, and translate their valuable first-party data into action. And both OEMs and dealers gain a new ability to provide personalized, relevant experiences in real time—from the moment customers start researching vehicles online to long after they drive a new car off from the lot.

For more insights on the auto industry, watch the entire webinar, Deliver the Ultimate Customer Experience Driven by Data.

Steven Tsao
Steven Tsao
Steven Tsao has led digital marketing initiatives since 2002 and has transformed customer engagement at Fortune 500 companies and start-ups alike. He has an MBA from Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, and a fourth-degree black belt in Aikikai Aikido. With a fine balance of data analytics and creativity, Steven has spearheaded modern marketing practices in industry-leading brands. Connect with Steven on LinkedIn.
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