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The art of creating customer-centric mobility experiences

Dr. Rainer Mehl
Aug 17, 2023

Transforming and connecting the touchpoints that matter in the digital age

The faster-than-expected transition to electric mobility and the ongoing digitalization of our daily lives has caused massive disruption in the automotive industry.

In many ways, the playing field has been levelled and new doors have been opened. Tesla has emerged as a market leader, relative newcomers like Kia and Hyundai have strengthened their position against ‘higher-shelf’ brands, and a whole wave of digital-first Chinese newcomers are winning market share at home and gearing up to take on the European automotive market and potentially others. How can legacy automotive brands respond to this disruption?

Against this backdrop of change and disruption, brand heritage, local presence, and familiarity still count. But arguably, for less than before. Amid the pandemic and subsequent supply chain squeeze, long wait times pushed many consumers toward brands they might not have considered before. But with the pandemic (hopefully) behind us and the supply chain situation easing, the deciding factor for many car buyers today is customer experience.

What do we mean by customer experience in automotive?

Customer experience is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a brand over time.

Capgemini Invent: Time to level up

In the automotive industry, this means everything from the moment you start thinking about buying or leasing a car, through your test drive and selection process, delivery or collection, driving time, and service visits, right up to the moment you return the car or decide to sell it.

Our understanding of the automotive customer experience is very different to what it was just a few years ago and the opportunities to influence it are growing dramatically as several trends converge:

  • The transition to electric mobility and software-defined vehicles
  • The rise of new sales and business models, and ways to own or enjoy a car
  • Increased comfort with e-commerce, even with ‘big ticket’ purchases
  • Digitalization or ‘apple-ization’ and its growing role in our personal lives and in business

With more opportunities and touchpoints than ever before and with the car being the third-most-frequented place by most people (after home and work), it is imperative that carmakers invest in and improve their approach to customer-centric mobility experiences.

This isn’t just about getting the sale – it’s about becoming an integral part of the customer’s digital universe and building the type of trust and loyalty that people today have toward the Apple ecosystem. We need to look no further than Tesla for an example of a brand that has led with tech and reaped the benefits in terms of customer loyalty. And then there’s NIO, which proactively invites prospective customers into the NIO ecosystem and seeks feedback, even before they become NIO owners. The result so far? Seventeen times as many NIO app users as NIO car owners – proof that digital creates huge opportunities to attract and engage customers earlier in the sales process than ever before.

So how can automotive brands use digital to transform their customer experiences and reap the benefits?

The digital transformation of the automotive customer experience

Let’s look at some of the key touchpoints that could be transformed or enabled with the power of digital and how they could contribute to longer and stronger relationships with customers.

From dealer networks to agency sales and e-commerce

A current focus topic in the automotive industry is the transition to Direct-to-Consumer sales (D2C) with many carmakers transforming their sales model towards agency or direct sales to drive omnichannel experiences with seamless channel integration – online and offline. Although many prestige brands still rely heavily on the showroom experience (the human touch should not be underestimated), consumers are increasingly comfortable with online channels, even for big-ticket items like cars.

In a not-too-distant future, where dealers become agents, carmakers will have direct access to customers via their online channels. This should result in more-sophisticated and connected online experiences. Many brands have already invested in slick 3D configurators but these rarely allow for more than one-off configurations and perhaps an option to ‘request a call’, which often leads to fragmented or inconsistent experiences.

Brands like Skoda are dipping their toes into the metaverse, and – while it all feels a little experimental for now – it will be interesting to see what role this emerging space plays in the consideration phase of the sales process and beyond. 

Look out for more simplification and integration, and less friction when buying or leasing a car in the future – leading brands are working towards enabling car purchases in just a few clicks with financing options available with just a few more.

Carmakers looking to keep lead times short and inventory levels lean should be able to provide real-time access to available cars – new or used – that match or closely match customer configurations. This will give each customer the choice of ordering their perfect car and waiting for its production, or picking up a close match immediately. The technology already exists to make this vision a reality – a well-configured CRM and real-time access to a database of available cars – so we should see this become standard for most brands in the near future.

Apps that add value

Customers today aren’t just looking at the car – its performance, comfort, features, and price. More than ever, they’re also considering the mobile application that accompanies it and evaluating if and how it fits and complements their personal digital ecosystem. Compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become table stakes but it’s with carmakers’ own apps where they can really make a difference.

Will the app enable you to unlock a car so you can leave your keys at home? Does it serve as an integrated way to pay for fuel or charge? Does it allow you to remotely check the status of your car and prepare it for use? And, perhaps most importantly, is the app reliable and enjoyable to use? This is one of the areas where Tesla has led the way and it’s clear that the Tesla mobile app is an important contributor to the brand’s loyal following.

The car and smartphone are key companions in daily life. If they work together well, customers are happy.

Continuous evolution with ‘over the air’ updates

Not many car owners enjoy visiting dealers for service and maintenance visits. If a dealer manages this experience well, they might call or notify a car owner of the need for a visit and proactively suggest available slots. But this doesn’t change the fact that such visits are generally a hassle – one that takes precious time out of an already-packed schedule and delivers little tangible value beyond peace of mind.

With electric and software-defined cars, such visits can be reduced and many checks, updates, and enhancements can be executed ‘over the air’ using software and an internet connection. This is what we expect with our smartphones and it’s increasingly what customers expect with their cars. Yes, this might result in fewer physical touchpoints between customers and car brands (or dealers), but the potential to improve customer satisfaction with convenience and by making a car better and more useful over time outweighs any potential drawbacks.

In this regard, software is a true game changer – one that can help strengthen and extend the relationship between brand and customer.

Simplified and satisfying charging experiences

The filling station experience has never been much of a concern for automotive brands. After all, with abundant infrastructure, experiences lasting just a few minutes, and customers free to make their own choices, there was little carmakers could do to influence the experience.

With electric mobility, the situation is altogether different. Today, carmakers have much to consider – what charging speeds to enable, whether to enable vehicle-to-appliance/home/grid charging, which infrastructure to enable compatibility with, whether to partner up or build proprietary infrastructure, and whether to get involved in providing payment solutions or not (e.g., via the car’s mobile app). These are questions that require deep consideration and, in some cases, the acquisition of new capabilities and assets.

Today, we see a variety of approaches to charging. Ionity is a European example of a joint-venture approach to providing charging infrastructure, VW Group has the Electrify America company for the US market and Tesla has its proprietary global network, which – having established itself as best in class for reliability and availability – is now opening up to partners like GM and Ford in the US. In line with its premium-brand credentials, Audi has piloted charging hubs as convenient stops within an aspirational lifestyle.

One thing is clear – providing access to seamless and convenient charging experiences is a key success factor for excellent customer experience with electric mobility.

Autonomous driving and ways to pass the time

Among the glittering array of new products and technologies on show at this year’s CES event in January, autonomous vehicles attracted far less attention than in previous years. The hype machine may have cooled, but assisted and autonomous driving remain firmly on the agenda of every major car company. Of course, the need for proven safety means there is no room for error. Yet the prize for being among the first to reach the recognized autonomous driving levels is potentially huge – an unprecedented level of customer trust and the opportunity to engage passengers and drivers with new services while the car looks after the task of driving.

Indeed Audi, in designing its ‘sphere’ concept cars, talks about them being “a third living space”, alluding to the amount of time customers will spend there and the opportunity to fill it with revenue-generating options. CARIAD already announced its intention to bring an app store to VW Group vehicles, hinting at the development of a proprietary ecosystem as an alternative to the Apple and Android offerings.

Gaming, a popular pastime for much of today’s car-buying demographic, could be an area to watch. With Audi investing in the mixed-reality Holoride solution, BMW partnering with AirConsole, and the latest-generation higher-end Teslas offering Steam integration, is it possible that gaming options will play a part in buyers’ decisions? Could we see carmakers seek to differentiate through user experience or exclusivity on titles in the way Nintendo and Sega did in the 90s?

With gaming platforms these days typically requiring connectivity and subscriptions, this could soon be a highly valuable source of revenue and data for carmakers. The decision by Honda and Sony to team up and form the Afeela brand certainly suggests that combining mobility and top-class in-car entertainment could be a huge opportunity to stand out in a crowded market.

Development of autonomous driving levels per OEM over the next 5 years -
Source: Capgemini Invent: Time to Level Up – How to Win the Race for Customers with Superior Experiences.

Personalized in-car experiences (and companionship?)

Today, we expect to be able to personalize many of the products and services we buy, and the in-car experience is going in the same direction. Most automakers have been offering driver profiles (saved seating and steering-wheel positions) and changeable ambient lighting in their cars for years now, but some of the new electric offerings – particularly those from China – are taking personalization to a new level.

We’re increasingly seeing cameras inside cars, and these are used for a variety of functions – to recognize the driver and adjust to their preferences (seating and temperature), to detect tiredness, driver mood, and then tailor services (e.g., playlists) and actions accordingly. What could the future hold in this area?

BMW showed us its vision of the car as a digital companion with its bold DEE concept, with the promise of deeply immersive experiences and an AI assistant that learns from you, and to be more in tune with your tastes. What’s presented as a vision by BMW is already on offer elsewhere. NIO’s Nomi assistant brings in a remarkable and fast learning experience that feels lightyears ahead of what many people are accustomed to today.

And while for some, it might feel a bit much, it’s easy to imagine car ownership turning into companionship and a subsequent increase in customer loyalty. Think about it … would you find it easy to say ‘goodbye’ to a companion that had learned about your preferences and who had helped and accompanied you on thousands of daily commutes and road trips? The presence and role of the digital assistant is a whole new dimension that will be fascinating to observe in the future.

Reaching our destination: an ecosystem that we can trust

With all the excitement around how to enhance the car buying/leasing and ownership experience and the current pace of change in the industry, it’s easy to lose focus on what needs to happen at the end of the ownership or lease period.

If you’re an iPhone user, you know how much of a wrench it would be to leave the Apple ecosystem. This is at least partly because we’ve become heavily accustomed (reliant even) on a specific UX and we’re generally happy to keep our data stored in an ecosystem that we trust in exchange for the many conveniences we enjoy every day.

As the provider of the ‘third living space’ and being at least somewhat responsible for ensuring safe and satisfying transport in our daily lives, automotive companies are in enviable positions. They can truly make their cars and brands integral parts of their customers’ lives in ways that few other companies can. By embracing the challenge and using the power of digital to transform existing touch points and create new ones, there is no limit to how long the customer experience can last.

Data as the key to unlocking value

When we consider all the touchpoints above, the common denominator is the presence of and reliance on data. With a Direct to Consumer (D2C) model, automotive companies understand who their customers are from day one and can start building the relationship.

By using the data generated by every interaction with an app, every journey, every acceleration, every service accessed and every charge, brands can propose additional services, create new services, subtly adjust existing functions to better suit driver needs and preferences, and much more. In short, they can get closer to customers than ever before and continuously improve the relationship.

But are incumbent automotive brands set up to work like this today? In most cases, the answer is ‘no’. Data often sits in siloes, owned by specific areas of the business that perhaps don’t see how it can add richness to the big picture of the carmaker-customer relationship. Organizationally, the area of customer experience is typically limited to sales and service visits.

There is a strong argument for the creation of a dedicated customer experience domain that has access to data from right across the car-and-customer relationship (CRM, telematics, subscriptions, Finance, Insurance), and has the goal of bringing it all together to understand, strengthen, and extend the experience, wherever possible.

This is no small step and it goes against the way many players in the industry have operated for decades. It requires organizational and technological transformation. However, the benefits – increased revenue, greater loyalty, and the potential for stronger and longer relationships and an integral place within the customer’s digital universe – are worth the effort.

To learn more about how automotive brands can enhance the automotive customer experience, I encourage you to check out Capgemini Invent’s Point of View “Time to Level Up – How to Win the Race for Customers with Superior Experiences.”

Capgemini at IAA Mobility 2023

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