Tom Knighton said it best,
Customer experience is the next competitive battleground
Customer Experience - the term is everywhere in business and even in society now. As with many business practice movements, the term has been misused and misrepresented. Over the past few decades, business has used and practiced the art of Customer Satisfaction, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Customers for Life, Customer is King and even more mantras. They have all been attempts to put focus on the customer. But they often based those concepts on technology or a belief that there were tools that make this happen for a business.
Customer Experience (CX) is not the same as Customer Satisfaction. Customer Experience is an emotional attachment and value that the customer owns. I would explain it using something we all understand. Ever have a meal and say "that was satisfying"? Simply asking this to yourself meets basic criteria but does not create a lasting memory. Now if you have ever gone out to eat, no matter how typical or fancy the restaurant and had a great table, fun company, excellent service, fantastic food, tasty beverages and overall enjoyed the event, that becomes an EXPERIENCE. You will likely continue to talk about it and treasure the experience, not just the food.
I would also push the concept further that Customer Experience is not the new business practice, technology, department or business function we simply build. In fact, Customer Experience is not something we as a business own at all - it is also personalized and individualistic. The customer owns it. The customer experience is what they think, feel, and believe they experience as a holistic interaction. We as a business can merely build and align the business processes, technology platforms, channels, training and metrics against a good customer experience. We must do it one customer and one experience at a time. We need to stop measuring and driving the industry on a transaction focused Customer Satisfaction score. We must begin to really understand, align and deliver against personalized customer expectations and needs to deliver a holistic experience.
In auto retailing, it is true that all the horror stories of the past and the bad image perception have scarred the current thinking about buying and servicing a car. Perception is reality. You will often hear people get excited about the prospect of the new car, followed by a sigh that they have to make a trip to "the dealer." In recent research, it has been conveyed that the Millennial generation would in fact rather go to the dentist than visit a dealer. According to several Consumer Reports articles, the main dissatisfiers with the retail process (despite vast improvements) continue to be:
Now, compare that with experiences we have all had in other industries. The pandemic itself has highlighted and accelerated the ability of many businesses and industries to become more customer experience driven. Many are offering curbside pick-up and drop off, mobile delivery, omni-channel access, more virtual agents and self-help options and more personalization to suit the customer needs.
I always like to share one simple CX example from an industry we can all relate to in our lives - pizza delivery. For a $5 pizza order from Domino's, or almost any pizza chain for that matter, you begin a customer experience journey. The full experience can include:
All of this for a $5 pizza. At IBM we have a saying, "The last best experience you have, in any industry, becomes your standard going forward across all industries." So we all carry these experiences and increased expectations from recent events and business service levels into the auto retail environment. The stakes have now been raised even further for auto retailing.
In my last article, I wrote about the possible future outlook of 2030 in the industry and auto retailing. The fact is that it is quite unknown. Will retailers become less relevant? How will service and parts business be sustainable in the current footprint with more electric and autonomous vehicles in the sales mix? What will be the new car sales levels in the next few years with the pandemic effect and more at-home workers (less commuting)?
These are unknowns but the constant for the industry, or at least the shifting of the industry from new car vehicle transactions to a mobility enabler will be the customer. Traditional new car sales will not sustain the industry forever. The customers will. Customer expectations and customer needs will continue to shift, but we must adapt and be the provider of the experience. If you follow the customers, you will follow the revenue and profits. Their needs and their journey are what the industry will transform around. Auto retailers must build and become a "Customer Network Platform" for mobility, providing access, services and experiences... whatever they may be. An engagement, a bond and connection must be fortified between retailers and customers to transform together and not focus on the product, or the transaction, but on delivery of a mobility experience. That will secure the sustainability of a retailer in the future.
As mentioned in the opening quote by Tom Knighton, "Customer Experience is the next competitive battleground." Businesses who deliver upon an experience, will find the right products, services and value bundles to offer and deliver to customers. The customers value the experience and they will drive their needs into the industry, or others will come in and deliver upon it.
I don't want to paint a total doom and gloom picture here. Many retailers have taken great strides to improve customer processes, customer engagement and the overall experience. Much work has been done by many to improve system integration and data availability to help support a holistic customer experience. More focus has been placed on this issue and that is a good thing.
Here are 5 areas I suggest be constantly focused on to continuously improve and keep customer experience the driving mission in your business. The recommended actions are:
The Customer Experience will be what defines the future of our industry. The product, the transaction, the specific service will matter less. Why will they come and do business at your dealership? It cannot just be because of price or product availability, it must be more holistic and meet the customer's needs. Build and deliver a customer experience on each engagement, with each specific customer, over and over each time. This experience will define your dealership as being relevant and differentiating to a customer's mobility needs. This experience will sustain your business through unknowns of the future of the industry.
MBA Marketing. Innovative Marketeer. Over 27 years of experience driving brand and customer strategy into market and profit realization. Director and VP level positions in world-class organizations including IBM, General Motors, JD Power, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Dennis has led multi-million engagements in go-to-market approaches, e-commerce strategy, revenue growth, and business transformation at blue chip clients, multiple industries, and successful start-ups.
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