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Is Seat’s options cull the right road to simplifying customer experience?

Jed Mole, vice-president of marketing, Acxiom

Seat’s recent decision to limit options for dealers to upsell optional extras on its range is an interesting one; mainly as it is seemingly flying in the face of current personalisation trends when it comes to the in-car experience.

The ‘Easy Move’ service is supposed to be in response to consumer trends and to make it easier for millennials to buy ‘off the shelf’ options.

It will almost certainly make the purchase process a simpler one. And yet, research has shown that in general, car brands are heading down a much more tailored and experience-led approach when it comes to brand experiences – not an off-the-peg one.

EY research has found that dealerships are expected to move away from a product-led offering to more customer-centric approaches as they attempt to engage with an ever more demanding potential customer base.

One way this is evolving is through a more tailored, app-led in-car experience. Rather like a smartphone, the car hardware could be off-the-shelf, but the services and software options people choose to allow in the car with them could be entirely bespoke to the driver.

App-led personalisation

Apps are not new to the automotive sector, but while we’re well used to apps for navigation, insurance and the like, it seems we’re set to change up several gears.

The potential to tailor an experience could be limited only by our imagination. From restaurants linking offers to locations, to partnership offers for drivers loyal to particular brands and even dashboards becoming gamified, the displays resembling anything from a federation spaceship to a vintage car, marques have a range of potential opportunities to make the in-car experience for customers more personal.

It may just be that the simplification of the choice of ‘hardware’ by Seat makes perfect sense as consumers shift their consideration and evaluation more towards ‘software’ aspects of the experience.

Of course, when tailoring the in-car experience becomes an important element in brand selection, it also becomes imperative for brands to really understand customers, existing and potential.

This information will inevitably become increasingly important to OEM brands and dealerships alike in ensuring any interaction enhances the customer’s relationship with the marque.

Auto Trader announced last year that over 4-in-5 used car owners and over three-quarters of new car buyers go on to buy the same brand again.

The benefits of keeping customers happy and engaged are clear, especially for such a high value and infrequent purchase.

It places the focus for automotive manufacturers and their dealerships firmly on selling an experience or service, and how that can be tightly optimised to individual drivers’ broader needs beyond the myriad of trim options. Again, it may be Seat are thinking straight.

Focus shift towards dealerships

This personalised, digital, mobility as a service approach will require a shift in approach and focus, from head office and dealerships.

It’s often the on-the-ground sales people who manage the closest relationship with the drivers themselves, the real people who handle face to face interaction with real customers.

On the other hand, the auto brand must be able to understand their customer base en masse and create innovative customer-first data-driven marketing programmes and capabilities that help keep customers coming to dealers.

Working together, OEM and dealerships, have always been a challenge in the industry and going forward, it risks being the Achilles heel to the owner experience. Now is the time for both to come together in the interest of the customer experience.

All of this, one way or another, for OEM and dealer alike, comes down to data.

A service-led approach rather than an offer hinging mainly on physical options will prove a step-change for automotive.

Savvy brands can capitalise on this evolution, deepening relationships with their customers and nurturing them as they move through life stages; always a goal for manufacturers.

If car selection criteria become based on value and service propositions, there’s no reason why brand loyalty shouldn’t increase as drivers shift from a city run-around to executive saloon or people carrier.

Dealers and OEM brands alike are recognising that their proposition is no longer just about fancy options, but about being able to connect with the driver around what matters to them, from the car’s status and navigation, to entertainment, safety and more.

Today, the table stake is a good ‘car product’, the battle lines reach beyond that to providing a total ownership experience including researching, buying, financing ‘whether buying or borrowing’ and then getting the most out of the second biggest monthly outlay most of us have.

Expectations are climbing, so the total car and brand experience must rise with them, or sales will fall.

Seat’s decision is bold move but perhaps a logical one, shifting emphasis from a smaller range of core ‘hardware needs’ as customers increasingly make their decisions based on a wider range of experience factors.

Author: Jed Mole, vice-president of marketing, Acxiom

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