Redefining the Automotive Industry Through Customer Centricity
The automotive industry has found itself at a crossroads. Buying a car is no longer just about the car; it’s about the entire experience. It’s about what happens before the purchase, during the buying process, and long after. To provide that experience, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and auto dealers need to become customer-centric. They need to focus on what customers want and need when they want and need it. To do that, automotive companies not only require data, but they must also rethink how they approach the customer experience as a whole.
This was the core focus of two events Treasure Data participated in recently, The Digital Shift: Exploring the Transformative Power of Customer Data and Reuters Automotive 2021.
Whether it’s a luxury SUV, an economy car, or something in between, the customer demands a high level of personalized experience and service.
So, what are automotive companies doing to become more customer-centric?
It’s Not a Data Shortage; It’s About Being Data-Driven
The first step in customer centricity is to understand your customers. To do that, you need data, and the more, the better. Automotive companies do not have a data shortage problem, but they are challenged witha bringing it together.
Angela Zepeda, CMO with Hyundai Motor America, said there is no shortage of data during the session, “Building a Data-driven Organization: Insights from the Innovators,” at the Digital Shift event. Sometimes there is too much, she said, and it’s hard to distill it down to figure out what to do next. But becoming a data-driven organization is critical for automotive companies.
Zepeda said the most important thing a company needs to become data-driven is executive sponsorship. For a long time, Hyundai was focused on collecting leads to pass on to sales and the number of leads was a key performance metric for marketing. Although they were filling up a large part of the marketing funnel, many weren’t converting to high-quality leads. So they switched the measurement from leads to search (which is the first thing someone does when they are interested in buying a car) and built a dashboard of KPIs that shows how their search-based efforts were really driving sales. Zepeda said it took someone in a senior position to say they would use the dashboard and the new list of qualifiers to change how the company worked.
How do you measure the success of data effectiveness? It’s always about sales, Zepeda said, which was why moving to search as a leading indicator was key. They were having a hard time quantifying what the marketing spend was used for. They implemented new tools, platforms, and innovative technology to help them understand what to spend and not overspend.
The amount of data automotive companies collect, whether it’s an OEM like Subaru or Mercedes-Benz, a retailer like Pendragon PLC, or a digital automotive marketplace like TrueCar, is vast. Data from the vehicle, customer, ownership, service, contact center, social, and more is combined and analyzed to provide automotive companies with the insights they need to create more relevant personalized customer experiences.
Karen Donovan is the Senior Manager, Customer Data Platform Program at Stellantis. Stellantis is the merger of Fiat Chrysler organization (FCA) and Peugeot organization (PSA), owning fourteen automotive brands, including Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, RAM, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati. Donovan talked with Treasure Data CMO Tom Treanor about bringing data together to drive intelligence and improve the customer experience in the Digital Shift session, “How Unified Customer Data Fuels Customer Retention and Revenue Growth.”
Donovan’s team spends a lot of time thinking about the customer experience and how they can apply the data and intelligence they have to improve the experience. She said they work closely with IT on use cases for marketing, after-sales, and anywhere there is customer interaction to improve the journey.
Breaking Down Silos—Data and Teams
Hyundai wanted to establish an enterprise-wide global platform. The company had already leaned into data and platforms in the North American region for many years, but other regions were just getting started. Zepeda said it was a process of level setting and getting the best out of the tech platform. It was hard for the North American region to go backward and unravel some technology platforms to be on one enterprise platform. But the executive leadership pulled it together and built the roadmap to make it happen. Everyone may not get there at the same time, she said, but they will get there.
For Stellantis, the answer to breaking down data silos was a Customer Data Platform (CDP). About three years ago, the company wanted to reinvigorate its thinking around customer-centricity. Like most automotive companies, Stellantis has no shortage of data, but it was siloed. They needed to think about the entire value chain, including dealers and partners, and they needed a way to bring that data together.
In the last 18 months, Stellantis has developed nine classes of machine learning (ML) models in the Treasure Data CDP that helped them define things like who is in-market, who’s likely to buy (from the nameplate down to the VIN on a dealer’s inventory), and what services they want from dealers. These ML models currently support 25 different use cases across marketing, after-sales, and more.
But it wasn’t just about data silos; it was also about team silos. From the onset, Stellantis put together a cross-functional team from a leadership and working team standpoint, which helped everyone think more broadly than their individual silos.
Stellantis wasn’t the only automotive company rethinking the organizational structure.
Buying a Car Is a Cross-organization Affair
In the Digital Shift session, “Customer Centricity Goes Beyond Marketing,” Beth Mach, Chief Consumer Officer for TrueCar, shared how customer-centricity influences organizational changes. She said if you want a seamless and easy experience for your customers, you need to work and think in that capability. For TrueCar, that required changing not only the org structure but the organization’s mindset.
Mach said they put together enterprise teams that pulled people out of department silos, giving each team an enterprise perspective and responsibilities to ensure a consistent point of view. For example, they pulled research and insights, and the contact center out of marketing. In doing so, it changed the way people interacted, but also the product and the output, Mach said.
Donovan said that, like everyone else, Stellantis is also working on fostering the digital experience. But, at the same time, the dealers are still an essential part of the relationship with the customers. So they are working on how to bring the right experience forward and nurture the dealer experience.
To do that, Stellantis used the CDP to tie online and offline data together to help them understand the entire experience. With this unified view of the customer they were able to better understand why people were engaging and adjust how they interact with them.
Rethinking the Approach to Online Sales
In the Reuter’s panel discussion, “Push Marketing Boundaries,” Natanael Sijanta, Director Marketing Communications for Mercedes-Benz AG, said that old OEMs need to transform. He also said that some OEMs try to build experiences based on what worked in the past, and it’s not working. Instead, they need to focus on customers and their needs.
Dr. Gilbert Heise, Head of Brand Strategy at Volkswagen AG, made an important point: OEMs need to change from car producers to mobility companies. It’s not about the car anymore, it’s about the customer, and automotive companies need to rethink how they work.
Heise said OEMs are tech companies. Everything is now about software and data; you use data to improve the experience, which is especially true for new services like apps, activating features on demand, etc.
To help Mercedes-Benz AG align its messaging around the customer journey, Sijanta said they brought together press and marketing communications and started working with one global agency for all their needs. He also spoke about the need to store customer data securely.
TrueCar looks at the customer like the conductor in an orchestra. It’s critical to understand how they are navigating and not leave it to the consumer to guess what’s next. That, Mach said, requires a different dialog. She said they wanted the voice of the customer heard in surround sound through the organization. When working to create a frictionless experience for the customer, the dealer, and partners, this surround sound helped people ask questions before making assumptions on what to build.
Kim Costello, Chief Marketing Officer, Pendragon PLC, said in the Reuter’s Marketing Panel, retailers have great OEM relationships and both sides want the same things. But it can be challenging to align the messaging. The key, she said, is for everyone to work together to make it easy for the customer, whether they shop online, in-person, or using a hybrid approach.
Personalized messaging will be a necessity, and Costello said Pendragon is working to serve up specific messaging on their devices at exact times to drive better uptake. During the same Reuter’s Marketing Panel, Treasure Data CMO, Tom Treanor, talked about the need to share data. He described how Subaru’s marketing team was able to personalize messages and get a better response rate, while its sales team built ML models that determined propensity to buy, improving sales. Subaru was able to do these things because they built a data foundation powered by a smart CDP.
Redefining the Aftermarket Relationship
Costello said that the experience doesn’t end with the purchase. Her company, the second-largest motor retailer in the United Kingdom, engages the buyer and continues to help them throughout their ownership, including when they are ready to change vehicles.
Engagement after the sale was a common theme with all speakers and with the automotive industry overall. Stellantis developed use cases that focused on after-sales, including:
- Engaging with customers after the sale to establish the dealer relationship for service and maintenance requirements (e.g., what services are needed and when to maintain the vehicle).
- Designing go-to-market approaches to bring the customer back into the purchase process when they are ready to buy another vehicle.
Volkswagen AG provides in-car features on-demand, allowing the customer to test new features and then do a one-time purchase or subscription. For example, a driver is in a traffic jam and is drumming on the steering wheel, getting nervous. Leveraging data about the car, the traffic situation, and the driver, a message appears to test the ACC (automatic cruise control) system.
Sijanta explained that Mercedes-Benz AG alerts customers when they need to do something, like fix the brakes. They also provide showroom signage messages that get customers to think about other services they might need while waiting during a service call.
Another use case Donovan shared involved changing the amount of dynamic content in some communications when a customer is returning to the market. The team at Stellantis built models that helped them understand who to target and with what messages. Their CDP generates audiences and different treatments (one program has 1,000 variations in the messaging alone) to do this at scale.
Building a Connected Experience
Buying a car for many is the second biggest purchase after buying a house. For some, it’s the biggest purchase. It’s no small decision, and it’s no longer just about the car itself.
Treanor said consumers are buying more on experience than on the car, so executing a great experience—during the sale and long after—is critical. That experience is very much digital, but it’s also often in-person. It involves many players that must work together—OEM, dealer, partners—to deliver that experience.
Customers demand relevance; they don’t want to feel like a number. Data is going to help build that connected experience, whether it’s digital or in-person. It enables OEMs, dealers, and other industry participants to flex their creativity muscles and create moments of connection that customers crave across the entire customer lifecycle.
For more on how OEMs and dealerships are predicting and personalizing the car buying experience, watch Build Customer Centricity with Your Connected Vehicle Data.