Would you open an email from your tire dealer?

Michigan-based Belle Tire thinks AI-powered email campaigns can keep customers engaged

By | 3 minute read | March 8, 2019

Courtesy of Belle Tire

Vivek Saran knows a disruptor is coming for tire and auto repair retailers. He just doesn’t know when it will come, or how exactly it will challenge the industry.

But he’s determined to prepare for it. Since joining Belle Tire Distributors, Inc., one of America’s largest tire and automotive repair retailers, as CMO in 2017, he’s been figuring out how to outsmart disruption when it arrives by making his employer indispensable. The key, he believes, is making Belle Tires a master at communicating and connecting with customers.

“Our best defense mechanism is to create a system where we can better understand our customers, capture that data, and leverage that data,” he said. “The goal is for them to have more trust with us than anyone else in the category.”

For a tire and auto repair retailers in particular, establishing that kind of relationship isn’t the easiest task. Customers come to retailers like Belle Tires infrequently. And when they do, Saran said, they tend to do so grudgingly.

“I bet you can name 10,000 things you’d rather spend your money on than tires or getting your car fixed,” Saran said. “That person coming in our door is probably having a pretty bad day.”

Nonetheless, Saran said, Belle Tire should be able to make customers happy. That starts with understanding who they are, what they want, and how Belle Tire can best provide it. In the past, however, the company’s capabilities simply weren’t up to the task. The company could only send generic email campaigns and the same exact discount code for its entire diverse customer base. For Saran, that simply wasn’t good enough.

“We’ve got to think of our customer as a human and understand what’s going on in their life and understand how their vehicle is integral in their life,” he said. “We embrace the fact that we’re in a grudge category, so we realize that it’s especially important for us to look for and solve for those unarticulated needs and finds ways to surprise and delight our customers.”

Across the retail industry, business leaders are looking for solutions to humanize customer relationships, shorten sales cycles, and ultimately build loyalty. Many are adopting AI-enabled analytics to learn customer behavior across channels, and better help them find and purchase what they want.

Saran, too, knew AI could unlock powerful insights about a customer’s needs. So he chose Watson Campaign Automation—an SaaS-based, AI-powered solution—and integrated it with Belle Tire’s existing systems, including its point-of-sale system, website, and proprietary pricing and discounting program tools. By intelligently blending historical and real-time customer transactional data with website interactions, Saran figured, Belle Tire could create personalized email promotions and pricing strategies that provided unquestionable value for customers.

“Trust comes with giving our customers a fair price, getting them back on the road quickly, finding solutions that meet their budget, and sometimes giving them the advice that says ‘Here are the things you can do to mitigate how often you come back to us,’” Saran said.

Now, Saran said, Belle Tires’ email campaigns are more relevant, timely and compelling, and they feature unique offers for each recipient based on their individual behavior. It’s a strong step in the right direction for the company, but according to Saran, the journey toward personalization and automation won’t end with emails.

“We have an audacious goal. In the future, if we have 10 million customers we literally want 10 million individualized marketing plans that are being executed in all channels on an ongoing basis and learning from each other on the fly,” he said. “We won’t be the first, we won’t be the last, but we’ll be the best when we get there.”