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Guest opinion: CRM more important than ever after records registrations

Debbie Nolan, Arvato UK.

Driving customer loyalty and repeat business is the hallmark of success in any commercial organisation – and it’s a particular challenge in the automotive industry.

According to IHS Automotive, a global provider of critical information and insight into the sector, in 2014 most car brands lost more customers than they kept, despite an overall increase in customer loyalty within the industry.

This is an issue that is likely to deepen following this year’s emissions scandal, which has severely dented the reputations of various car manufacturers among consumers.

It’s therefore critical for automotive manufacturers to protect or increase their market share and profit margins by maximising revenue per customer and maintaining customer loyalty. 

The range of customer relationship management (CRM) technologies available to car manufacturers can help to achieve this by delivering a unique brand experience and identifying commercial opportunities at each step of the customer life cycle, across various channels.

A 2015 report ‘The Future of Automotive Retailing’ – carried out by Ernst & Young – suggests that the automotive sector is seeing a shift from physical retail environments to digital, particularly at the first stages of purchase.

Simply put, the customer journey no longer comprises one or two visits to a car showroom to test drive a vehicle. Many consumers begin their purchase journey via their mobile phones, iPads or laptops, way before they pass through the doors of a car dealership.

With this in mind, car manufacturers are increasingly recognising the importance of a multi-channel retail approach, to enrich customer experience and increase brand loyalty, while also providing valuable data for targeted CRM strategies.

A well-managed social media platform or online forum can help to drive customer loyalty. By providing a platform through which customers can discuss topics related to car models and share experiences and technical advice both with their peers and company representatives, it can help to create a sense of community associated with the brand.

Digital service channels, such as live web chat, can complement telephone and email engagements to support strong customer relationships before, during and after sales. For Renault, web chat is a particularly popular contact option for customers, which now delivers 60 per cent of all sales leads.

Video chat, while less well established than web chat, is also becoming popular. This innovation has proven valuable during financial transactions, such as payments or financing arrangements, whereby it can provide reassurance to a customer. Likewise, the technology can also be leverage in dealerships to provide customers with a real-time peek at the model they’re thinking of purchasing, which can help to seal the deal.

Car showrooms are also now becoming increasingly digitised as companies look to incorporate technology to make their dealership more interactive. Technology is now available that enables customers to design a 3D visual of their car and download the design and specification information to take away with them.

It’s important for automotive manufacturers to remember that a multi-channel approach is only effective when the customer’s preferred channel is being used. Likewise, a channel preference may change depending on the customer’s environment, for example at home or in the office the customer may prefer webchat via a laptop, but when travelling they may prefer email or SMS to be accessed via smartphone.

By using automated analysis, information on individual customers, including their contact situation, can be analysed and used to ensure brands communicate with their customers via the most appropriate channel at that time.

While the desire to deliver a multi-channel customer service has led firms to focus on technology, the human side of the customer contact operation is still critical to delivering an excellent customer experience.

On-boarding staff as part of an ‘immersive brand experience’ programme, including test drives, product demonstrations and on-going training, will help employees to effectively live the brand and pass their knowledge on to customers.

Knowing the cars inside out will enable the customer service agents to have richer and more effective conversations with customers, whatever the channel of engagement; from resolving queries at first point of contact to offering additional services and value-added products such as finance, insurance and warranties.

Small, tailored details can have a big effect on customer loyalty. Combining them with employee know-how and a robust, dynamic CRM function that streamlines processes, will help to ensure that the customer journey is truly enhanced. 

Author: Debbie Nolan, Business Development Director, Public Sector and Contact Centres, Arvato UK.

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