Buying a car - the personal touch

3 November 2013

The more you know about your customers, the better you can target them with personal services and products that will tempt them to buy. It’s a key lesson for any industry, but especially true for the automotive industry, where profit margins on new cars are now tissue-paper thin and their customers are hanging onto their vehicles for longer.

Judicial use of technology can help solve the personalisation problem.  Big data, and applying analytics to that data, can bring the desires and needs of each individual customer into sharper focus.

Big data refers to data held in your CRM system and other internal databases, but also data outside your company, typically from social media, which isn’t structured. It’s big, and getting bigger, with IBM claiming that 90% of the world’s data was only created in the last two years.

To paraphrase Douglas Adams’ description of the space, the amount of data out there is big, vastly, mind-bogglingly big. The irony is that that vast amount of data is brilliant at prising out small, detailed information about individual customers.

Manufacturers and small dealerships alike can use big data to make their customer relationships feel more intimate, and from there influence purchasing and loyalty.

Big data Catch-22

Personalisation and big data are locked in a Catch-22 situation. Without data about customers, it’s difficult to personalise their experience and without personalisation, you cannot get hold of the data to make that personalisation happen.

Manufacturers and dealers can learn a lot from Amazon. When you go on the Amazon site, it will usually welcome you back by name, it will make suggestions about items you may like and when you’re ready to pay for an item, it has all your credit-card details and often multiple delivery details in there already. It may be one of the biggest organisations on the planet, but those personal touches make it feel more like a corner bookshop, making recommendations.

But most companies have a long way to go before they reach Amazon’s standards. Nine in 10 consumers expect a personalised customer experience, but only 32% of companies feel they are highly effective at engaging individuals.

While customers want a personal approach and want to be remembered, there is a fine line between personalisation and annoyance. Finding out that Google is reading your email in a bid to sell you better advertising isn’t helpful, it’s creepy.

So if you ask customers something, in a bid to get to know them better, there has to be some reason. How will it help customers to tell them your income bracket?

Missed target

Then there’s the infamous example of Target, who thanks to some fancy statistical analysis, worked out when women were pregnant based on their purchasing habits. The organisation learned the hard way - particularly in one case where their new-mother offers actually tipped off a father to his teenage daughter’s concealed pregnancy - that dealing with that information required the right timing and sensitivity.

Making a follow-up service call is great, but being too attentive can be counter-productive – just as a waiter asking if you’ve enjoyed your meal for the fifth time tends to actually make you feel angry rather than pleased they care.

What could it mean for the car industry? Using analytics effectively could mean that your car mechanic could tell you that your fan belt will need replacing in 2,500 miles (and perhaps persuade you to have it done now at a reduced cost). But it can go too far, for some people in the car industry too. Consider in-car devices that will tell your insurer how many long trips you take or how often you slam on the breaks and from that offering you a personalised insurance deal.

Personal attention is great, but no one wants a stalker.

About the author

Tom Cregg has been in the automotive industry since 1983, having started with Mercedes-Benz at its UK headquarters.  Since then, Tom has occupied a number of senior regional operational and management roles including with Daimler-Chrysler and SAGE Auto Group in the United States. 

Passionate about connecting automotive manufactures with their customers, Tom has been involved in developing some of the industry’s most intelligent business tools and e-commence systems designed to provide sales, marketing and services teams with a single view of customers.

Tom is a sought after industry expert, helping clients develop business strategies and technological capabilities to better identify and convert new prospects into loyal customers.   He believes the industry has much to learn from retailers including how to engage consumers across multiple touch points and channels including the internet, showroom and service centres. 

Tom is currently spearheading the development of an industry-wide business intelligence tool to connect multiple systems including customer relationship management (CRM) to change the way dealers create and manage sales and service customer experiences so brand loyalty drives sales.  

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