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When Selling Cars, Know Your Customers or Lose Them

A woman sits behind the wheel of a car at a dealership: trends in automotive
Bringing customer and vehicle data together increases opportunities to build trust and brand loyalty. [Praetorianphoto / Getty Images]

Having years of customer data and history is clearly an advantage when it comes to closing a deal. Our new research shows how the industry is investing in data and connected vehicles.

Here’s a cautionary tale for automakers and car dealers: Vanessa, a loyal customer of an iconic car brand, expressed interest in a new model online. She received personalized, automated emails from her dealership about the car, but wanted to narrow down her options. She began corresponding with a salesperson, but they didn’t seem to know her as a customer and were too busy to give the information she needed. After this disappointing experience, she began considering other brands and didn’t make the purchase. 

Customers expect better, more personalized experiences online. In this case, the dealer lost a sale that should have easily been closed with consistent engagement. Uninspiring customer experiences are not only a business risk for dealerships and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — they can actively push customers away. It costs less to retain a customer than it does to acquire one, so loyal customers should be a priority.

There is a disconnect between auto companies’ perception and customers’ reality when it comes to the digital car buying experience.

Using years of customer data and history is clearly an advantage when it comes to closing a deal. With a full view of Vanessa’s profile, purchase history, and even financial data, the salesperson would have seen how loyal of a customer she had been. Unfortunately, many businesses keep customer data siloed in separate systems, rather than on one main platform, and salespeople cannot easily access it. 

There is a disconnect between auto companies’ perception and customers’ reality when it comes to the digital car buying experience. Our new Trends in Automotive report revealed that 73% of companies believe they are overperforming in the digital space, but recent research from McKinsey shows in-person shopping (and unsatisfying interactions) still dominate the buying experience. Direct-to-consumer platforms are becoming a popular option for customers who want to avoid spending hours at the dealership. 

Salesforce surveyed 500 employees of original equipment manufacturers, captive finance companies, and retailers worldwide to gain insight into the automotive industry. Here are two more trends in automotive revealed in the report that directly affect the customer experience.

Auto companies are having trouble collecting and using customer data. Only 46% of companies say they have enough customer data and 58% say their data isn’t completely accurate and updated. They can solve that with a unified data platform that gives employees a full customer view and the ability to make changes in real time. Having the customer profile, purchase history, and vehicle data can improve and personalize the experience. 

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), auto companies can connect diverse data into actionable insights and personalized recommendations that help the customer feel more valued and make the dealership experience more appealing. OEMs and dealers can even share data on the same platform, merging the online and in-person experiences to create a meaningful customer journey.  

With the help of AI, we can connect diverse data into actionable insights that help the customer feel more valued.

Let’s continue the story. After more consideration, Vanessa ended up buying a used luxury vehicle from another dealership. Three weeks later, they sent offers saying, “Time to upgrade!” Vanessa was annoyed they didn’t realize she just bought the used car and was not the original owner. She began to lose trust in the brand after that. She started to feel that both the OEM and the dealership didn’t know her as a customer. Both the OEM, who created the brand, and the dealership can suffer when data is not integrated and used in a way that improves the customer experience. 

In this example, the marketing team didn’t have access to her purchase history, which is key to landing future sales. Marketing and sales teams (in fact, all stakeholders in the car buying experience) must have access to the same data to avoid these pitfalls. Even when the sale is finalized, unified data is still important in nurturing the customer relationship. Both the dealer and OEM want to keep in touch with Vanessa and engage with her about maintenance, recalls, and new offers and innovations. Future sales may be more successful if they can see how she interacts with the brand and dealership over time. 

Bringing customer and vehicle data together increases opportunities to build trust and brand loyalty. Connected vehicles that link to devices or services over the internet are another important source of data. Half of companies surveyed said they are investing heavily in activating first-party data from connected vehicles to improve the customer experience. 

One way connected vehicle data can build trust in a brand is by providing vehicle health information and proactive maintenance recommendations to the owner. This data has opened doors for a host of subscription opportunities. It has also helped customers save money on insurance based on safety metrics and alerted them to road conditions like potholes. 

With a 360-degree view of the customer, we can deliver an integrated vehicle ownership journey and facilitate data-driven decision making.

OEMs are already collecting millions of data points from their vehicles, with 68% investing in connected-vehicle applications that utilize the Internet of Things. In the future, the data could indicate ways for drivers to reduce their carbon emissions or encourage other behaviors. All of this data can be converted to actionable insights by a unified solution that connects the customer, vehicle, and dealer information. This provides an integrated vehicle ownership journey and facilitates data-driven decisions.

The better the experience, the more likely a customer is to stay loyal to a brand and recommend it to potential customers. Automotive companies should be building their businesses toward these types of capabilities. Connected vehicle data lights the road ahead!

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