The retail service that carmakers and their dealers provide is becoming as important to the customer as the vehicle itself. Digital technology is transforming how vehicles and aftermarket parts are supplied and sold, as a new generation of buyers demands greater choice and convenience.
Looking for a more sophisticated ‘pull’ mechanism in the production and supply of vehicles, carmakers are now using sophisticated digital tools to make customers not only desire their products but also the experience of buying from them.
“We have to figure out better solutions to make customers want our products and, more importantly, want the experience that our dealer network provides,” said Rick Levitin (pictured), senior manager of customer experience and technology, Nissan North America, at The Supply Chain Conference in Atlanta this year. “There is a new competitive landscape and we have to get ready for that… [and] we have to use technology and digitise the retail process as much as we can.”
One of the ways Nissan is doing that in the US market is by promoting the use of tablet computers at the dealerships, so customers can both choose the vehicle features they want and tailor the information they find out about the vehicle. Using a tablet also helps to keep the sales team informed.
“Every customer wants something different and we have to be armed to facilitate what that customer wants,” said Levitin, adding that while cars are getting more complex every year, sales consultants don’t always know the answer to everything, but they should at least know where to find it with a tablet.
Increasing customer satisfactionAccording to JD Power’s US sales satisfaction index (SSI), the national average of people using a tablet as part of the vehicle buying process in the US has climbed to 26%. JD Power told Nissan that using a tablet in the retail process would add 44 extra points for the company in the SSI score. Since it adopted its NCAR retail app four years ago, Nissan now sells 64% of its vehicles that way, far above the national average and also its nearest rival (see table below). So far, the company has delivered 4m cars through the system.
[mpu_ad]Overall, Nissan ranked just four points below the mass market brand average of 771 points in the SSI for last year. Mini was at the top (798), followed by GMC (797) and Buick (792). In the luxury segment Nissan’s Infiniti brand came second (824) just behind Porsche (828) and ahead of Lexus (823).
The Infiniti division was actually the first to launch the use of tablets and retail apps to improve the sales process with its ICAR system, and has made almost 80,000 deliveries supported by the technology in the last year.
At The Supply Chain Conference, Victor Hess, senior manager, Global Client Experience Innovation, Infiniti Americas, explained how aftermarket services were being improved at its dealerships, an important move given that carmakers make more from their aftersales than they do selling the actual vehicles.
“Parts sales are huge but we need to start looking at ourselves as a data company, as well as a car manufacturer,” said Hess. “With that data we can give our dealers better tools to make choices. Data is key to helping us figure out how to have the right product, at the right place, at the right time – and that is everybody’s concern.”
According to Nagireddy Kudithini, senior manager, marketing and sales, Digital Delivery, Nissan Digital, the lightbulb moment was seeing the value the company could get out of the data and what it could learn about the customer.
“We can see whether a customer is skipping a service or delaying a part replacement,” said Kudithini. “We can incentivise them to come in and fix the malfunction and contact them via text to remind them that they have a problem with the car.”
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JD Power’s SSI report for 2018 also showed that satisfaction for buyers was higher when they used email or text with the dealer personnel, indicating that using additional communication channels helped to increase customer satisfaction and improve understanding and engagement. According to Hess, 49% of its clients want service updates via text.
Data and interactionThe richness of data that Nissan is now exploiting in its customer service derives from a range of sources, including the Infiniti document management system (DMS), which covers accounting, inventory and finance. Infiniti also has its master customer database of service records and warranty information. Further data can be derived from the connectivity in the car and customers’ use of dealership sites and scheduling services.
All of this feeds into the ICAR-X Service, which is a tablet-based tool aimed at supporting interaction online with the dealer from the time the customer drops off the vehicle to the time they pick it up and pay for the service. Hess said the advantage of the service is that it involves everybody associated with the service, including the part manager, technician, advisor and service manager, as well as the customer, who can select and approve repairs while seeing the charges.
Using the interactive tool, the salesperson has all the information about the service history at their fingertips and the technician can use it to make multi-spot inspections digitally, which immediately shows up on the shop ledger and provides full workshop ledger visibility on the service in real time, with each participant able to instant-message each other.
The adoption of tablet computing is not just about adopting new technology but applying it to every part of the business – part of a change in mindset and culture in the business that has propelled companies such as Dominos, Netflix and Apple to become the fastest growing companies in the world, according to Kudithini. That change in mindset is underway at Nissan as it seeks to hold onto fickle multi-channel customers who want everything at their fingertips and value choice and convenience above all else.