Software-Defined Vehicles Need a New Customer Experience

During the last twenty-five years, the automotive customer journey has become more complex as incumbent automakers tried to establish direct customer relations and improve the customer experience. Software-Defined Vehicles will enable a richer and more personalizable experience. When designed properly such an experience will lead to better customer relations, recurring post-sale customer monetization, and decreasing automaker costs.

Until the Great Depression, it was common for the rich to purchase a rolling chassis from an automaker and then go to a coachbuilder to develop a car that reflected their ideas of luxury, performance, or any other characteristic they wanted to showcase during driving. Creating bespoke bodies and cockpits on premium chassis evolved into another practice that emerged before the Great Depression in the US, that of the contract builder. The small-batch production of luxury vehicles introduced the broader market to the flagship vehicle concept. In the 1930s Alfred Sloan, then CEO of GM introduced the brand ladder that led to the establishment of the flagship brand, Cadillac in GM’s case, representing the pinnacle of the company’s design and engineering prowess. Today each brand owned by an automaker develops its own flagship vehicle that provides the design cues, or even design language, for the brand’s entire model lineup. While automakers invest extensively in vehicle design, to attract prospective buyers to dealer showrooms and keep existing customers loyal for decades they relied on a customer experience, and associated customer journey, that were simple, linear, and undifferentiated. Due to its customer centricity and advanced capabilities of the vehicles used, new mobility requires a new customer experience.

The flagship vehicle figured prominently in the automaker’s efforts to attract prospective customers to dealer showrooms. The automaker would use the flagship vehicle for generating awareness, and favorable opinions about the model lineup by creating information about the vehicles and the various trim levels, and communicating it through advertising channels, auto shows, and its dealer network. The prospective customer was a passive participant in the awareness stage. The dealer was responsible for consideration, intent to purchase, purchase, and service, i.e., helping the customer test each candidate vehicle, convincing him to acquire one of the vehicles available in the lot, working out financing options, servicing the vehicle, and selling parts. The dealer was the interface to the customer, while the OEM remained – and remains, with few exceptions – at arm’s length from the customer. The focus of the customer journey was always the vehicle’s first owner.

Over the years complexity was added to the automotive customer journey. The automakers’ efforts to establish a direct relationship with the customer led to customer journey changes. For example, as OEMs started offering various post-sale services including concierge services and remote vehicle diagnostics features changes had to be made. The addition of online channels for sales and service, and the introduction of the automakers’ mobile applications resulted in more complexity.

New mobility is the movement ability to move people and goods using a coordinated combination of alternative powertrain vehicles that are intelligent and connected, and transport services that are offered on a scheduled or as-needed/on-demand basis.

With new mobility and the modalities and vehicles that are part of it, the customer journey becomes longer, more complex, less linear, and changes dynamically. As Katharina Seifert, Head of Volkswagen’s Group Engineering Strategy states “Customer experience shouldn’t be reduced anymore to the in-car interaction areas but should be thought of as a concept to optimize all customer touchpoints, including the services provided to the customer and the vehicle.” As we advance along the new mobility phases, and new capabilities are incorporated into vehicles, e.g., driving automation, the automotive customer experience, and the associated customer journey need to be and can be, reimagined for five reasons.

First, new mobility introduces new ways to move, using vehicles that last longer and can be customized by each owner and not just the first. It is possible to create a personalized customer journey for each of the vehicle’s owners. Software-Defined Battery Electric Vehicles are one such example. Moreover, these vehicles can be updated and customized not only at the time of sale but throughout each ownership period.

Second, digital retailing now supports a variety of vehicle acquisition paths (OEM, dealer, third-party sellers) and interaction channels (email, chats, phone, virtual and augmented reality). Their growing adoption necessitates that these paths and channels be part of the customer journey.

Third, the automakers’ existing customer experience associated with the conventional vehicle ignores the post-sale ecosystem of insuring, fueling, servicing, and repairing such vehicles. For example, when considering whether to purchase or lease an electric vehicle, the customer has also to identify a suitable provider of home chargers so that they can charge their vehicle while they are at home and determine how to receive a rebate from the government for having such a vehicle. Today, these are three disjointed customer journeys. With Software-Defined Battery Electric Vehicles these services can be part of the same customer journey. Imagine the customer’s delight if the vehicle’s OEM were to connect them and provide a simplified customer experience. Because of the data generated by such vehicles the OEM is able to not only offer these services but also appropriately guide the owner when and how to use them.

Fourth, before the advent of new mobility, the customer experience was about buying the vehicle. The focus was on the vehicle. The overall customer experience was designed as one of the last steps of introducing the vehicle. Under new mobility, the customer experience is about ownership and use. The focus is on the customer. The customer journey must reflect that change. It should be designed as one of the first steps. 

Multimodal mobility is becoming a feasible alternative in many cities around the world. Interest in vehicles using alternative powertrains is increasing dramatically. Customers want to understand how their choice of a Software-Defined Vehicle will fit with all the mobility options that are available to them.

Fifth, by extensively instrumenting all the touchpoints that are part of each customer journey, as well as the vehicle, the OEM can collect data from the customer and the vehicle. This data can be used to make important decisions ranging from how to improve existing and future vehicle designs, reduce various costs, add new features and services, and create new revenue streams or optimize existing ones.

In re-imagining the customer experience and the associated customer journey, the OEM needs to reflect how they want their brand to be perceived by the customer, how to monetize each of the vehicle’s owners beyond the vehicle sale, and how to establish a continuous feedback loop between customer, vehicle, the OEM and its ecosystem. The new customer experience must:

  • Be simple, bidirectional, and incorporate all the elements of vehicle ownership.
  • Enable direct, personalizable, and value-added interactions relating to the safety, affordability, and convenience of the customer’s mobility, with an overall superior user experience (which increasingly may incorporate entertainment) while taking into consideration the customer’s constraints and preferences.
  • Optimize the monetization of the customer’s lifetime value in a way that is consistent with the vehicle’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  • Protect the customer’s privacy and cybersecurity.

This reimagined customer experience, which we call Flagship Experience, should position the automaker as the customer’s mobility partner, and not simply as a vehicle provider. The Flagship Experience must present the most innovative mobility-related capabilities the OEM and its partner ecosystem can offer throughout the customer journey, just like the flagship vehicle today offers the automaker’s best vehicle technologies.

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