Customer Experience - Wooing The New Age Auto Buyer

As automotive OEMs strategise how to woo this new Gen Z buyer, they are looking to use tools that can create a digital experience for every step of the auto buyer’s journey

As the automotive sector grapples with multiple headwinds of rising input costs, inflation, competition, and supply chain woes, a larger challenge awaits them- the new age auto customer. Today’s automotive buyer is far more discerning, demanding, impatient and above all- tech savvy. In the new digital age, the entire customer journey from vehicle purchase to service is going virtual, with “over-the-air” updates fixing problems that used to require a trip to the mechanic.

Indeed, customer preferences are increasingly shifting from the vehicle (product) to the experience (journey). As automotive OEMs strategise how to woo this new Gen Z buyer, they are looking to use tools that can create a digital experience for every step of the auto buyer’s journey — from research to purchase to aftersales service. This is no longer a choice, it is an expectation.

Many customers are excited about buying a new vehicle — very few are excited about shopping for it. They value their time, and they don’t want to spend it driving from dealer to dealer. Mobile-enabled digital tools allow them to do their research efficiently, anywhere, any time. Bringing digital innovation to the later phases of the customer journey can be even more powerful, because negotiating a price/lease and finalising the paperwork is one of the top frustrations customers have with the process.

Clearly, the demand for shopping and comparing vehicles digitally is on the rise. This presents a huge opportunity. OEMs can understand customer needs better, becoming proactive or even predictive with their outreach, by utilising customer data and insights gathered through digital listening, demographic and psychographic data, purchase and service history. Armed with that understanding and the right tools, they can accelerate buying decisions by efficiently moving customers deeper into the research and consideration process, quickly narrowing their search, determining their personalized payment plan, etc. Likewise, content and reviews can be leveraged to build the customer’s confidence in their purchase. According to a Google survey on automotive consumer trends, “18 per cent of auto shoppers would purchase a vehicle sooner if there was an online option”. Industry leaders are reading the writing on the wall. People are changing their buying habits, and Online platforms are as important as brick and mortar. In short, the absence of easy-to use online shopping tools will soon become a deal breaker for customers.

But even when things change, they stay the same. As OEMs work to digitise the auto buyer’s journey, the journey still needs to build an emotional and human connection. Their digital showroom should leverage engaging multimedia technologies to simulate an in-person shopping experience — from video reviews to video tours to augmented and virtual reality experiences. Dealers are investing in digital tools to walk customers through their purchases live, and utilising valet services for test drives, vehicle deliveries, etc. This brings us to the overall need to dramatically improve the alignment of OEM touchpoints with dealer experiences.

Nurturing customer relationships post-sale is critical to build loyalty and long-term stability. Therefore, it’s imperative that customers are effectively transitioned into the service stream after the sale. According to a Cox Automotive Service Industry study, 70 per cent of customers who purchase a vehicle from a franchise dealership do not return to the dealer for service during the first year. Plus, those who use dealer service centers mostly do so only while under warranty. In other words, there’s plenty of room for improvement — and the rewards will be greater than ever, because if customers are hanging on to their cars for longer, they’ll spend more on service. Meanwhile, OEMs can use the service relationship as a platform to build loyalty. Customer data insights around purchase history, service history, financing preferences, vehicle preferences, etc. can enable OEMs to craft reassuring, timely, omni-channel messages, focused on proactive service reminders, emergency financing offers, etc. It goes without saying that all of this benefits both the OEMs and the dealers, earning service revenue throughout the life of the vehicle and forging a bond of familiarity that will heavily influence the customer’s next purchase.

As businesses and markets reopen and beyond, the collaboration between OEMs and dealers will become increasingly important to facilitating digital purchases and building customer loyalty. Of course, that means aligning on on-premise safety and sanitation measures. But it goes far beyond that.

OEMs and dealers must work together to address what is currently a somewhat disconnected customer experience. In many cases, pricing and promotions are inconsistently communicated across hundreds of dealers. OEM advertising and dealer advertising aren’t achieving synergy. Local dealer inventories aren’t meeting the promise of vehicles specified through OEM site configurators. These factors damage consumer confidence and slow sales under ordinary circumstances. Digital innovation can unify the experience to carry customers through the journey smoothly, no matter where they begin the process. Furthermore, digital innovation can help OEMs and dealers communicate better, enabling them to share knowledge more efficiently, through a single platform, with dedicated communication portals. Better collaboration will result in better lead management/acquisition by better identifying qualified leads coming in through OEM touchpoints and smoothly transitioning them to dealers. Having a platform that functions as a dealer one-stop shop can help both OEMs and dealers reduce cost and increase productivity.

Online shopping needs to be engineered to be faster, easier, and more intuitive. Loyalty needs to be built more intelligently, with marketing messaging that resonates with customer needs. Automotive life cycles need to be tracked effectively — enabling timely, relevant “next car” sales messaging. OEMs need to utilise intelligent analytics and insights to gather and understand data that lives across organizations, powering more informed customer communication, sales and lead management.

Within the last year, millennials surpassed Gen X to become the second-largest consumer cohort. Catering to the different expectations and behaviours of this growing segment is critical. OEMs will need to digitally transform their customer journeys to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape.

The article has been written by Gourav Ray, Regional Vice President of Auto & Manufacturing at Salesforce India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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