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The last best experience: customer service in a digital world

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“The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere,” said IBM’s glorious GBS leader Bridget van Kranlingen a few years back. She was absolutely bang on, of course – as if I would ever suggest otherwise.

So I thought I’d list out some of the last, best experiences I’ve had in areas which relate to Automotive Retail Transformation. Perhaps one of them might actually come from a member of the Automotive ecosystem?! (Spoiler alert… it won’t).

3D visualisation

I was at Latitude Festival in Suffolk, UK a few weekends back and I stumbled – literally, actually, since festivals are thirsty work – upon an amazing bit of kit. A fine curtain of spray was being cast up from the lake (around which the festival was organised), onto which was being projected a series of hyper-realistic 3D sea creatures, who jumped into and out of the lake with abandon. As each one splashed down, not only did it create a visualisation of water droplets, but actual spray touched our faces: a seamless integration of the digital and physical worlds.

This technique isn’t new, and isn’t unknown to the Auto world either – it was used in a launch campaign for the F30 3-series BMW for a start, and for the 2013 Nissan Maxima. But what about in concept stores, in flagship dealers, or at brand museums? Daimler-Benz, in particular, have a huge amount of unused space outside their museum, which is currently occupied by an unpopular-looking café. How much more of an impact would be made if, instead, a giant 3D Mercedes-AMG F1 car roared towards them, with the appropriate sound effects and smoke?

Digital-physical integration

Again, nothing new and nothing particularly unique, but I find it absolutely brilliant how well airline boarding passes work in Apple Pay. In this particular case, it was a GermanWings flight from London Heathrow to Hamburg. I checked in and selected my seat online, and received a push notification from the app on my phone that my boarding cards were ready. I hit the (+) to add them to Wallet, and they appeared on the Home screen with no other effort required. When I got to the airport they scanned perfectly, as they always do, and I was on my way to the gate with no need to interact with another human being (and consequently no need for them to notice that my hand luggage was rather larger than their website would suggest was prudent).

Is it any wonder, then, that the majority of dealership experiences are so disappointing? Why can’t I be recognised as a previous BMW customer by the app on my phone, with all of my previous experiences with the brand collated and presented to me instantly? Why did the dealer ask me to Google for the best finance deal whilst I sat in front of him? Why did it take until I was out of the seat and nearly at the door before he realised that a 3dr M135i was nearly £80 per month cheaper on PCP finance than a 5dr, yet the web configurator’s indicative finance quotation told a different story?

Customer experience and interaction

Step up Ocado and take a bow. The CIO Paul Clarke said last year that he was essentially the head of a large and disruptive technology company which just happened to sell tomatoes (I’m paraphrasing), and this is very much evident in how Ocado approaches its relationship with me, the hungry consumer.

All of my preferences from previous shops are made available on a single menu. Personalised discounts are communicated to me regularly, and cumulative incentives are tailored to my normal shopping budget (ie. there’s no sense in offering me 20% off an #80 shop if I only ever spend #50 per week). SmartPass, which gives free delivery in exchange for a yearly subscription, allows me the freedom to do a big or a small shop without penalty. I’m told by text message when my delivery will arrive, who will deliver it, and the name of his dog. The one time (in a year) that they delivered late, they called to let me know why, and how soon I could expect it; and when I prevaricated, gave me a voucher for a free bottle of wine.

Again, this compares unfavourably with most dealerships – I will exclude the high-end dealers from this analysis, since their customers expect (and receive) a very personal level of service. But why must this be confined to the high-end, when Ocado offer it to the masses? To give one example, my girlfriend’s Twingo is coming up to a year old, and will shortly be due its first service. As per everything made since the mid-90s, the car has an on-board service indicator, showing some 500 miles until it needs some love and attention. Yet she has been bombarded with text messages from the supplying dealer, “reminding” her of the “overdue” first service – because it’s been a year since she purchased. How hard would it be for the connected vehicle to provide accurate service information to the supplying dealer? This would allow them firstly to make the approach at the right time; secondly to ensure they had the correct components in stock; and thirdly to develop something of a rapport with my girlfriend instead of alienating her with SMS spam.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on their “last best experiences” – and if any of them were actually car-related…?

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