Why customer experience is key to success in the auto industry

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By: Hassan Salie

JOHANNESBURG – The opportunity for brands in building long-term customer relationships, is to create offerings that encourage loyalty by accommodating the changing consumer trends in the market. This builds an enhanced customer experience and supports business results as well. Building customer loyalty is more important now than ever before.

Within the motoring industry, the premium automotive market is a case in point. As new vehicle sales deliver lower volumes than a few years ago because of various market and economic conditions, consumers are holding onto their existing premium vehicles for longer periods of time. This presents unique opportunities in the automotive aftersales business, where brands can look at new ways of accommodating an extended customer ownership cycle, through enhanced customer experience.

For all other brands and businesses also faced with a new market dynamic, this has led to innovation around service offerings and products that suit customers’ changing circumstances, while also ensuring that the consumer experiences the best of what the brand has to offer, to build the kind of loyalty that will persist.

Business cases in point

An example of this would be an initiative by Vodafone, the mobile network operator in the UK, which developed an interactive, online and graphic version of its network to communicate planned outages to affected customers. It was a self-service tool that told users exactly when their service might be affected and why, at a time when new consumer trends were emerging. Innovative design and development did away with hours of call-in queries and enhanced the customer experience, without any sales emphasis whatsoever. The result: increased customer loyalty.

Hassan Salie, Head of After Sales and Dealer Development at Audi South Africa.

Another case of enhancing customer experiences to build loyalty was a programme by a regional UK airline. After realising that business travellers were a viable consumer audience, the airline surveyed this audience about their real needs against what the organisation could meet. The airline found that their business customers were not looking for budget prices but reliability, clean aircraft and friendly staff. The airline then set out to deliver just that. In doing so, they enhanced the customer experience and boosted loyalty without any need to invest in expensive bells and whistles.

There are many ways a brand can express this kind of customer-first approach, but it’s essentially about understanding the new needs and behaviours of your customers and finding ways to fulfil them.

How car companies can adapt

For brands in the automotive space, there are many such opportunities. At Audi, we know our customers are delaying new car purchases. We also understand that this means more focus on the service and maintenance of their existing vehicles as they hold onto them outside of the standard service and maintenance periods.

To cater for this, we have designed a portfolio of service and maintenance options tailored to the consumer need, either from a short or long term perspective. The standard Audi Freeway Plan is sold with every new Audi and ensures coverage for 5 years and/or 100 000 kilometres. Once this passes, consumers looking for long term cover can turn to the Audi Freeway Plan Extension which provides assurance for up to 10 years and/or 300 000 kilometres. However, the latter is designed for a particular customer need in mind – long term cover and extensive peace-of-mind for servicing and maintenance. On the other spectrum, the newly launched AudiSmart Service plan attracts a broader audience who are looking for short term cover with more of basic service need.

It is this type of customer-centric approach towards loyalty which has led us to introduce a comprehensive service and maintenance portfolio that can suit almost every Audi customer need at a different stage of owning and caring for an Audi.

The short term service plan we recently designed is affordably priced and covers two oil change services over two years or 30 000 kilometres, whichever comes first, at an approved Audi Dealership. The AudiSmart Service plan, which also includes comprehensive roadside assistance as a valued added service, can be purchased for Audi models between 6 and 13 years old. It’s a well-positioned product to drive customer loyalty and the experience that I have been referring to.

We’ve seen significant interest in the new offer, which keeps Audi customers within the Audi After Sales ecosystem, giving them the full, premium service experience from Audi-trained technicians using custom-designed Audi technology.

At the same time, we’ve been able to provide affordability without compromising the premium quality and technological excellence that underpin Audi’s Vorsprung principles when it comes to delivering a premium customer experience.

Why (car) companies need to adapt

We’ve come to understand that consumers value quality as much as affordability. We are determined to continue enhancing the experience of our customers in every way that we can. Customers have bought into our brand for the driving experience it provides, but also to feel like they belong to the Audi family. By designing a short term servicing plan that helps to keep that premium service relationship going, we’ve managed to enhance the entire Audi experience for our customers who own older vehicles and to keep them within the Audi family, where they deserve to be.

I believe this applies across sectors. Now is the time to put customer experience and relationships first, and to find innovative ways to provide it. When we enrich our customer relations, it delivers on customer loyalty and will continue to nurture our businesses well into the future.

* This is an opinion piece by Hassan Salie, Head of After Sales and Dealer Development at Audi South Africa.


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