Aswin Mannepalli, Global Director of Industry Strategy and Marketing for Automotive at Sitecore, met with Retail Technology Insider to discuss the lessons the rest of the economy can learn from the automotive industry when it comes to adapting to changing to customer needs and expectations. Here’s what he had to say:
Retail Technology Insider (RTI): What shifts are taking place in the automotive industry?
Aswin Mannepalli (AM): The challenge of the moment is incredible. The automotive industry is experiencing more disruption now than it has felt in the past 100 years. The car is now what the smartphone was in the mid-to-early 2000s. Vehicles are now mobile interconnected computing platforms. Customer centricity is a megatrend in the automotive industry because of demographic changes and faster innovation.
Younger customers’ minds are being trained on great digital experiences. If a brand fails to adapt to change, it will be old and more than likely become obsolete by not connecting with the newest generation of consumers. This is a generation that is trained on video games. If you look at a vehicle configurator in car racing games, you will see how high the quality bar is compared to what brands likely have on their website. This also impacts how brands conduct commerce. Customers can now buy a vehicle in a couple of clicks without going to a dealership. That forces the automotive industry to rethink the way vehicles are marketed and distributed.
If automotive companies become tech companies, they need to move much faster while ensuring safety. One way to do this is to place the customer at the heart of your organization by developing solutions and understanding customer data. Survey after survey reveals that customers are likely to share their usage data, provided they gain material value in return.
The real danger is not that the Millennial or Gen Z customer will go to a traditional competitor across the street. The real issue is that they don’t see value in purchasing a depreciating capital asset that sits idle for 95 percent of the time you own it. What happens when they decide to consume mobility as if it were a commodity. Imagine how much damage that threat can do to the existing business models of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers. So, the challenge is to deliver those stand-out experiences.
RTI: How can companies ensure they are meeting the needs of customers?
AM: The first stage of any automotive customer journey begins with understanding what they want. There are two ways for brands to hear what their customers require. One is to ask them through surveys and find this stated intent. But while stated intent might tell you some things, it might not show the whole picture. Additionally, capturing stated intent is expensive and obtrusive since it requires hurdles like filling in surveys. The other way to identify customer needs is to build a profile of your customer based on their actions. This “expressed intent” is backed by what they are actually doing. Which sets of assets are they consuming? What sorts of vehicles are they configuring? Having a data infrastructure that can capture this in real-time and predict what they need is a powerful tool.
Personalization, to me, is serving the right message to the right person at the right time, usually in a way to generate a positive business outcome for a brand. Achieving personalization can be a tall order if the brand hasn’t used the data to identify what the customer needs and optimize what we know about them. The other part of this equation is to create and orchestrate the relevant content to generate those messages. Once you have that in place, by marrying what you know about a person with your engaging content, you can start personalizing in a way that automotive customers will respond to.
It used to be that the dealership was the primary nexus between the car buyer and the vehicle. Today, OEMs are confident selling directly to customers. Others are happy with vehicles sitting on their balance sheet until it’s time for delivery. Then, we have the rise of agency models where dealerships work intimately with the OEM. The customer wins when an OEM can embrace these new customer-centric, personalized commerce experiences. Imagine going into an OEM’s experience center instead of a dealership, and the staff knows exactly what your mobility desires are.
As consumer needs and wants change, it’s important that legacy businesses, like car manufacturers, adapt to new business models. We have some incredibly exciting developments in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), but there are equally promising developments in other areas of the automotive industry. For example, suppliers are making upwards of 80 percent of vehicles, and you could see white label manufacturing. Think of what Foxconn did for smartphones happening to the automotive industry. What kind of customer experience needs will present themselves in this new world?
To learn more about the transformation in the automotive industry, click here.