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Guest opinion: Connected automotive maintenance - an emerging reality

We all know the feeling. Getting out of bed early on a Monday morning to head into the office for an important meeting and jumping into the car, only to find it won’t start. It’s frustrating, and for most people, being without their car is a huge disruption to their daily lives.

However, the frustration doesn’t end there: for many, the experience of getting a broken-down car picked and then repaired can be a difficult one. After the car is picked up, customer representatives are often unable to tell their clients exactly what repairs are required and how long it will take. In today’s world where every consumer is armed with a smartphone and mobile internet is ubiquitous, this kind of experience is no longer good enough.

Increasingly, consumers are buying experiences rather products or solutions. However, the automotive repair industry has not evolved in the same way, failing to offer the kind of experience that many customers are seeking.

At the same time, the industry is suffering from several other issues that are affecting profitability, including poor asset utilisation, repeat jobs and cost and time gaps. In an industry that is fast-paced but overserved and under-differentiated, it’s critical that automotive repair businesses start adopting new models that allow them to both overcome these profitability issues as well as engage their customers in rich and transformative experiences. The way to do so is through Connected Automotive Maintenance.    

In essence, it describes a set of automotive aftersales business processes which are reimagined and redesigned through digitalization and connectivity and cut across the touch points of customer, service repair centre and the vehicle manufacturer. Connected automotive maintenance gives businesses within the sector information visibility right across the value chain, allowing them to disrupt this entire value chain and offer better cost and quality of service.

For example, the system can glean information from the vehicle as it running, and link it to back-end systems in the cloud. When there is a fault with the car, intelligent cloud-based platforms can then analyse the vehicle history data and rules database to then build a preliminary diagnosis. This automated diagnosis can then be can be augmented by human experts to give a time and cost estimate and, thus, provide upfront information on the repairs.

Even before a fault occurs, the same system can use analytics to derive insights about the state of the car and alert the customer of potential issues. In this way, car breakdowns can be avoided altogether.

A connected system like this also means that some issues can be resolved by pushing secure over-the-air firmware updates to the vehicle. In future, DIY enthusiasts will also able to carry out repairs themselves with the use of augmented reality applications in which remote service technicians demonstrate to customers how to carry out simple maintenance and repair tasks. Both of these measures will dramatically reduce customer visits to service centres.

A more connected approach will also allow automotive repair businesses to move away from their current asset heavy – and therefore expensive – operations. Once customers report an issue through a mobile application, an automated diagnosis system looks through the vehicle history, current health and builds a repair job plan. For parts replacement, the warranty of the identifi­ed components is checked and a claim is processed. Analysis of historical warranties and parts sales also helps build a stock plan for the parts. Afterwards, the customer is notifi­ed and an appointment is scheduled at the desired location, for example at home or at work, through a mobile app. a service van with compact facilities and cross-skilled personnel is then despatched to the location. In this system, automotive repairs do not require large infrastructure, allowing them to disburse of expensive equipment and premises. What’s more, repairs are carried out at the time and place specified by the customer, saving them the hassle of having to book their cars in to the garage and being without their cars for a potentially lengthy period of time.

Augmented reality-based tools also guide the repair process and reduce the risk of job failure. At the same time, technicians located at a central hub can answer queries from the on-site technicians about more complicated issues, through the use of video conference. Post repair, the customer inspects the vehicle and pays through a mobile application.

This kind of tailored, end-to-end approach will allow automotive service centres to digitally transform their businesses, benefi­ting existing customers as well as OEMs. For these centres, progression from the current asset-heavy legacy infrastructure to asset-light and resource-heavy setup will free up locked-in capital and minimise fi­xed costs substantially. It will also improve repair job visibility, leading to improved resource usage.

For OEMs, the benefi­ts will create greater loyalty, which will result in reduced customer retention cost, higher Life Time Value (LTV) and a stronger brand. For customers, fewer visits to automotive centres and work done instead out at a place of their choosing, carried out in reduced time and at lower repair cost represents a quantum leap in terms of customer experience. 

Amit Holey, principal consultant at Wipro Limited. 

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