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For the always-on consumer, car connectivity is a core part of the value proposition. Our investigation of 10 vehicle manufacturer customer service operations across the UK, France and Germany however found many failing to deliver the level of service that buyers expect.

IN 30 SECONDS

  • In the era of the connected car, vehicle manufacturers (VMs) need to transform their customer support 

  • Our investigation of vehicle manufacturer performance shows most customer support is designed for a pre-digital environment 

  • A range of VM customer support teams may be underperforming in critical areas 

  • We present three recommendations for VMs in transforming customer support for a connected world 

There comes a point when a new technology stops being a diverting add-on or a ‘nice-to-have’ feature, and becomes instead a key differentiator for customers. We have reached that point with connected cars.

Today, more than three-quarters of connected car owners say they will look for connected features in their next vehicle – even if their current car has just one such feature (note 1). By 2015, eight in 10 new cars will be connected (Note 2). Familiar with the convenience and entertainment provided by their smartphones, consumers recognise the value in vehicles that render a similarly connected experience. Asked to choose between two similar cars, they will likely pick the one that supplies superior infotainment and a system that tells them about upcoming congestion or the availability of local parking.

And yet, to build customer loyalty in this strategically important market, vehicle manufacturers (referred to as OEM in the rest of this paper, for original equipment manufacturers) need to do more than simply add connected features to their existing fleet.

 Customer experience is a critical area of differentiation. However, according to a recent investigation by the BearingPoint Institute – which reviewed the customer service provided by 10 leading OEMs across their UK, French and German operations – the majority of OEMs may be underperforming in this area. In the UK, for example, we found only one OEM offering anything more than a standard call centre and only two that offered a full seven-day service, with many closed on the weekends. (See our investigation methodology below: ‘Disconnected? Assessing Customer Support Performance’)

Customer support for a different era

If a customer is buying a more sophisticated vehicle, he or she will expect a more sophisticated customer service, whether online, face-to-face or through a call centre. Despite this, customer support at many OEMs is set up for a different era. Today’s call centres do not meet the lifestyles or channel preferences of consumers in the digital world. Their employees are also far more comfortable handling traditional calls – relating to warranty terms or dealer complaints – than technical enquiries about connectivity requirements and system upgrades. Indeed, BearingPoint’s investigation found that most VMs lacked the expertise required to give customers the support they needed.

Whether it’s more expertise from customer care agents, shorter wait times or a seamless omnichannel experience, there is a clear opportunity for brands to better use technology

Nancy Collins, group president: high-tech, communication and media, XEROX Group

The stakes are high. Whilst car dealerships have traditionally acted as intermediaries in the relationship between OEMs and consumers, OEMs today have the opportunity to build direct, meaningful relationships with their customer base through their call centres. If they do not improve their customer experience, this opportunity could be lost. On a more immediate level, there could also be a negative impact on customer brand loyalty and the potential to upsell add-on services.

One of vehicle manufacturers’ first priorities should be to introduce 24/7 service as standard

To address this issue and improve performance, VMs should take action in three key ways: learn to satisfy connected consumers; bring digital experts into call-centre teams; and work with dealers to educate and inform customers at point-of-sale.

The stakes are high. Whilst car dealerships have traditionally acted as intermediaries in the relationship between OEMs and consumers, OEMs today have the opportunity to build direct, meaningful relationships with their customer base through their call centres. If they do not improve their customer experience, this opportunity could be lost. On a more immediate level, there could also be a negative impact on customer brand loyalty and the potential to upsell add-on services.

One of vehicle manufacturers’ first priorities should be to introduce 24/7 service as standard

To address this issue and improve performance, OEMs should take action in three key ways: learn to satisfy connected consumers; bring digital experts into call-centre teams; and work with dealers to educate and inform customers at point-of-sale.

1. Keep up with ‘always-on’ consumers 

We recommend that one of the OEMs’ first priorities should be to introduce 24/7 service as standard - or at least extend standard support hours to evenings and weekends. A recent survey by Xerox found that over 54% of consumers would pay more money for better customer care (note 3). They need to adopt a wider range of tools (such as video chat and call back) to give consumers the experience they get from other retailers of digital technology. In addition, they should explore sophisticated ‘no-touch’ digital tools (such as dynamic FAQ) to help customers find answers to their questions themselves. Furthermore, OEMs should create – and maintain – dedicated support areas, forums and FAQ for connected car customers. This is because research suggests that around half of all consumers are ‘always-on’ – they rely on several connected devices and go online multiple times a day (note 4). As connected car customers are, by definition, buyers of digital technology, we could expect an even greater proportion of their number to use digital channels throughout their personal and professional lives. 

 

Only one in 30 call centre operations offered 24/7 service, and one offered seven-day operations between 8am and 8pm.

Customer support is clearly an area where OEMs are failing to live up to expectations. BearingPoint’s analysis of leading players in the OEM market indicates that most OEMs are not catering for digital-savvy customers. Of the 30 call centre operations reviewed, just one offered 24/7 service, and one offered seven-day operations between 8am and 8pm. In the UK, only one offers seven-day operations between 8am and 8pm. Furthermore, the OEM’s main communication channel is the telephone call with call centre staff, yet uptake of advanced tools was poor. For example, web chat and call-me-back was utilised sporadically, whilst only one call centre used dynamic FAQs. And, in cases where a social media presence had been established, BearingPoint discovered only one created dedicated channels for connected car users.

2. Bring digital experts on-board

VMs should ensure their call centres contain digital experts with the skills and knowledge to handle complex queries. As the market matures, these teams will increasingly need to be multi-lingual to reflect the dispersed background of the consumer base. On a more proactive level, OEMs could seek to train and educate customers rather than waiting for them to make contact first.

In a recent Which? survey, ‘poor staff knowledge’ was used as a key indicator of customer frustration (note 5). For OEMs, having the right expertise will be vital as they provide support around connectivity, compatibility and data security. But, as BearingPoint’s investigation suggests, today’s OEMs call centre employees remain far more comfortable handling traditional enquiries and complaints.

When BearingPoint contacted the call centres of leading OEMs, we tested their employees’ basic knowledge. Relatively straightforward questions included: ‘Will this feature work in Europe?’, ‘Do I need to put a SIM in the car for this feature?’ and ‘How much will that cost?’ The results were striking. Less than one-third of the OEMs investigated could give informed answers to all the questions; and less than half could furnish answers to just some of the questions – and, even then, only after consulting other people first. Most worryingly of all, some OEMs gave information that was factually incorrect or misleading.

Less than 1/3 of the manufacturers provided informed answers to straightforward connected car questions in our test

3. Build a stronger presence on the ground

Where dealers remain the sole first point-of-contact, OEMs must ensure their employees have a good understanding of the product and timely information about upgrades and compatibility issues. OEMs should offer training and education to ensure dealer knowledge is sufficient.

VMs could also learn from Apple’s ‘Genius Bar’ approach, through which Apple maintains a presence at larger retailers to interact face-to-face with customers. In practice, this would mean establishing mini OEM operations within dealerships to talk directly to potential and actual customers, walking them through the connected features and anticipating any future queries they are likely to have.

Today, the connected car buyer’s first point of contact is still with dealers, whose focus is inevitably on sales as opposed to educating customers about the connected features in a new vehicle. At worst, customers may drive away without understanding how to operate these features. Some may not even realise they will work only if correctly activated and registered.

Conclusion: Sharing the passion

VMs should remember that there is a wide range of customer understanding and knowledge of connected technology. Not all callers will be tech-savvy. Many will be frustrated by their inability to get to grips with the technology that attracted them to the car in the first place. Others will not view their queries as being particularly advanced or difficult to answer. Coming from a generation that lives and breathes digital technology, they will assume call centre employees will share their enthusiasm and provide valuable insights to enrich their experience of their new car. After all, this is what they expect from the other technology companies – such as Google and Apple – that are also expected to enter the connected car market in the near future.

For VMs, this means doing even more than introducing 24/7 service, bringing in tech-savvy workers and reaching out to customers at point-of-sale. They need to ensure their employees are passionate about connected cars to the extent that they can inspire sceptical or inexperienced customers, on the one hand, whilst talking the language of digital natives, on the other. Beyond creating the right environment for their employees, turning them into evangelists may entail giving them their own connected vehicles to drive and experience.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Consumers are increasingly looking for a seamless and convenient connected experience: more
  • than three-quarters of connected car owners say they will look for connected features in their next vehicle
  • For OEMs, building customer loyalty and differentiation will require more than adding features – it will require excellence in customer support
  • However, after an investigation of customer support performance across 30 OEM call centres in Europe, BearingPoint found concerning levels of underperformance
  • When buying a digital vehicle, customers expect a sophisticated service, but customer support at many OEMs is set up for a different era
  • Today’s call centres do not meet the lifestyles or channel preferences of digital-savvy consumers and employees often lacked the expertise required to give customers the support they need
  • To improve the customer experience, OEMs need to address three critical areas:
  1. First, they must learn to satisfy today’s connected, always-on consumers, introducing 24/7 service as standard and adopting a wider range of tools
  2. Second, they need to bring digital experts into call centre teams with the skills and knowledge to handle complex queries
  3. Third, they should work with dealers to educate and inform customers at point-of- sale, including the use of mini OEM operations within dealerships to talk directly to potential and actual customers about connected features

METHODOLOGY: Disconnected? Assessing customer support performance

The customer service offerings of leading vehicle manufacturers 

Before writing this article, we investigated the customer support offered by 10 leading OEMs, ranking their call centres and customer-facing websites for ease-of-use, reliability and quality of information. For each OEM, we compared how their support differed across three European markets: the UK, France and Germany.

Specific points of differentiation:

Do OEMs support customers through an all-purpose call centre or do they have a dedicated facility for connected car enquiries?

What are the OEM call centres’ opening hours? Do they provide a 24/7 service that caters for ‘always-on’ consumers?

How accessible is the quality of information on the OEM’s regional customer-facing website? And is the information reliable and helpful? 

We also contacted each call centre with the kind of technology questions that a relatively well-informed customer would likely expect it to be able to answer. As well as queries about SIM cards and potential usage overseas, questions included: ‘Does this vehicle have Apple CarPlay?’, ‘If not, when will it?’ and ’If so, can my partner use CarPlay with an Android phone?’

An overview of our results across the three markets follows:

France lagging behind...

UK and Germany are at approximately the same stage of development, with respect to their overall customer support programmes, while France is clearly lagging. The mean UK score was 5.0, in Germany it was 4.9 and the mean in France was 4.3 (see figure on page 3 on how 10 OEM brands score against key customer support metrics in France, Germany and the UK)

...but may improve as its connected car market grows

France’s lacklustre customer support can partly be explained by its relative immaturity as a connected car market for OEMs. Many OEMs have yet to roll out their connected car services into the region and there is a lower appetite for the vehicles in the country. 

Just one OEM is credible across each market

Only one brand – ‘Brand B’, a German OEM that already has a strong reputation as a connected car manufacturer – has developed a credible customer support programme across all three markets. Even so, its programme is notably more advanced in the UK and Germany than it is in France.

VMs’ call centres are stronger than their websites...

Our 10 OEMs have made more progress in developing their call centres than they have their website support. Almost all have built stronger call centre capabilities than website capabilities, a trend observ- able across the three regions. Nonetheless, four in 10 still have at least one ‘poor’ call centre that scores an overall of three or below.

...yet call centre employees still don’t have the knowledge they need

The quality of responses to the standard technology questions varied significantly, particularly in terms of depth of knowledge. For example, typical assessments from our reviewers were ‘not very helpful’ to ‘the agent was polite, but had no knowledge of the product’.

  • Notes and Bibliography
    1. ‘Connected car: rising to the challenge’, BearingPoint, London, UK, web: Offerings, James Rodger and Mattias Loebich, http://connectedcar.bearingpoint.com/, - 80% of new vehicles will be connected by 2020’ 
    2. ‘The connected car report,’ BI Intelligence, London, UK, web, John Greenough, 13/10/15, http://bit.ly/BIccReport 
    3. The always-on consumer, Vivaldi Partners Group, New York, NY, USA, PDF, Erich Joachimsthaler et al., 2014, http://bit.ly/2ouLkg4
    4. ‘Press 1 to find the worst call-centre offenders in new Which? survey’ Which?, London, UK, web: press release, press office, 21.05.15, http://bit.ly/WhichCallCentre
    5. ‘BearingPoint explains the “next wave of maturity” of connected car market in Europe’, Telematics Wire, Noida, India, web: interview, editorial, 01.08.15, http://bit.ly/TW_BPinterview 

Project team

Matthias Loebich, Christophe Grosbost and Mark Burnett at BearingPoint.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Piers Tomlinson and Peter Elkins at Longitude, Ludovic Leforestier, Tanja Schwarz and Sharon Springell from the BearingPoint Institute, Michael Agar at Michael Agar Design and Christopher Norris at CopyGhosting.

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