The evolving role of digital in the automotive industry

As we frequently work within the automotive sector, we're naturally always looking at how we can leverage emerging digital tools and techniques to give our clients the best possible advice.

But when I recently ran into some frustrations over a major car repair (more later), it emphasised for me how digital innovation can massively enhance the experience of automotive customers -- whether they're making what's probably the second biggest investment of their lives, or just maintaining that investment.

Below are three ways digital is playing an evolving role in the automotive industry.

Personalisation beyond configuration

The new MINI has really pushed personalised configuration to the limit, appealing specifically to the phone covers and ringtones generation. The 'Design your MINI' feature on the website lets you play around with different car colours, designs and features on your desktop. And it's clearly working for them -- sales have gone through the roof; no surprise, then, this 'extreme personalisation' model's been copied by Fiat for the 500 and the Vauxhall ADAM.

But what if your search for a totally individual car could go with you across devices and into the showroom too? This would make the entire process much more engaging and convenient for customers and save them time -- they won't have to start from scratch with the sales guy as they can just show them the car they've already created for themselves on their mobile. There are also clear social sharing opportunities here, as people are more likely to tweet or post to Facebook from their mobile.

Changing economic times

Buying and selling cars can feel like an emotionally and financially draining process. (Having said that, if you are selling your car you might want to try our client The Car Buying Service where they make it stress free and fair... client plug over).

And the recent tough economic times mean consumers are now even more cautious and price focussed. Many auto industry brands have responded to this by bringing functionality like finance calculators and comparison tools to the forefront of their websites and making them more accessible across devices.

But more brands need to follow their lead and make it easier for users to search, review and compare, inspiring confidence that can quickly transform into conversion events like brochure requests, test drives and ultimately more sales.

Service innovation

The major car manufacturers have been battling with the quick-fitters and back street garages since day one to express why you should pay up to 50% more for your hourly labour rate. Whether it's the training of the technicians or the quality of coffee machine in the waiting area, they've tried it all -- but even the big boys can get it wrong...

I recently spent literally hours of my life calling and emailing service advisors at a major dealer for updates on the progress of my repair -- why am I having to do that when I'm paying £70 per hour labour? Next time I definitely won't bother; however, had I received timely and regular updates, I could have overlooked the price premium..

This only emphasises how important it is to get these basics right, and there's really no reason to get them wrong given that digital offers plenty of tools to make things easier. When I engage with you as a manufacturer/retailer why not get my email and send me regular updates on the status of my car -- it's cheap and easy. Even better, use good old SMS -- if dentists and hairdressers can do it, then the people looking after a high value item like a car should certainly be able to.

Audi have used digital in a fantastically simple but empowering way to show customers parts that require replacement and authorise payment on the fly with Audi Cam. It's great because it takes the customer into the (previously off limits) workshop, providing a tantalising glimpse into the often intimidating and shrouded world of car repairs. It's good for business too as it means decisions get made faster and, therefore, vehicles get out of the workshop door quicker.

The key as ever is to choose the technology and channel that your customer wants -- not that you want, or that you have the resource to fulfil. Don't just assume how they want you to communicate, though; go out and ask them...

With digital channels, it's easier than ever to speak to them -- and these consumer insights are what should always be pushing you to innovate with digital technology.

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