Buying a vehicle is probably the most costly purchase any of us are likely to make, after buying a house. It’s also an emotional experience. People are swayed not just by the practical features and capabilities of the car - or indeed the price - but the branding and the lifestyle they are buying into.
They are also heavily influenced by the way they are treated by the manufacturer or dealer. Poor service at any point along the buying journey, from initial research on the website to negotiating at a dealership, could well send customers scuttling off to a competitor.
Attention to service shouldn’t end when the car leaves the forecourt. Treat customers well after a purchase, then you can potentially keep them coming back year after year and car after car. Creating a good customer experience and from that, loyal customers, is increasingly being recognised as being as vital a tool to business success for manufacturers and dealers as CRM.
It’s not surprising then that customer experience management (CEM) market is forecast to grow from $2.68bn in 2012 to $6.61bn by 2017, at just under a 20% CAGR, according to market research firm MarketsandMarkets.
Traditional CRM focuses on internal transactional improvements to the sales and service environment, seeing everything from the organisation’s eyes. CEM puts customers in the driving seat, viewing the whole process through the eyes of the customer. This change of perspective on the business can be illuminating. All too often, businesses are so centred round a product or new innovation that they lose sight of what customers really want.
There are a few key steps to changing your business to truly customer focused.
Large car manufacturers should have someone responsible for the complete customer experience, backed up by a customer experience team. This team should be made up of people picked from all different areas related with customer experience - loyalty, satisfaction and process improvement - to ensure the whole customer journey is covered. At the dealership level it’s up to the manager to own the customer experience and communicate that to staff.
Review your processes
With the team in place, then you need to review the existing customer experience. Check and keep checking the whole vehicle-ordering process for any glitches or barriers that could slow it down. And then sort out those problems pronto! Taking things further, you need to proactively think about designing the perfect customer experience and planning how you can deliver that every time.
So, talk to your customers through online surveys, customer interviews and monitoring feedback from social media to find out the size of the gap between your perfect customer experience and what’s really happening in practice.
Visit the front line
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos not only makes managers do two days of call centre training each year, he does it himself. He believes that it’s only through front-line experience that you’ll understand why customers are frustrated and identify new ways to keep them on side. So you need to ensure that managers and leaders sit with service people and see what’s really going on.
Whatever channel your customers interact with your company: whether its email, call centre, online chats or tweets, their experience needs to be consistent. Everyone from the car manufacturer chief executive to the dealer sales rep needs to understand their customer.
You can’t expect to create a good customer experience if your customer-facing sales or service employees are unhappy. So, hire the best you can, pay them a decent wage and make sure they understand the company’s mission. A demotivated employee is unlikely to provide a great customer experience.
Integrity has to be at the heart of your business. Being open and transparent with customers and employees will build trust. If customers trust you, then they will keep coming back to you. So every customer interaction - and not just those when they are buying something - has to be open and helpful. So, at the dealership level, that could involve keeping customers updated on everything you are doing with a service, and admitting when you have got something wrong.
Use CEM tools such as web analytics, text analytics and speech analytics to track and understand every interaction a customer has with your organisation, not just through traditional channels such as call centres, but Twitter and Facebook as well.
Digital media presents an amazing opportunity to personalise customer experience, but the increased number of touch points makes it essential to create an integrated and coherent experience across all channels. That means having one central resource of customer information.
This is easier said than done. Siloed technology platforms, data, systems and processes were singled out as the chief challenges to implementing customer experience programmes according to research published by Econsultancy and CACI in October 2013. It also found that most organisations (58%) only have an embryonic customer experience strategy.
There’s a lot of work to be done on improving the customer experience. Despite the improvements made to car dealerships - making them more women-friendly, for example - there is still a long way to go. In particular, to deliver a truly seamless service to customers, there needs to be better integration of data between manufacturers and dealerships, so that there truly is just one view of the customer. There’s huge potential for increasing customer retention, brand loyalty and customer sales and therefore increasing profits, whether you’re a big manufacturer or a small dealership.