How auto brands can build customer trust

DMA research reveals how brands can build long-term relationships and drive loyalty.

Good service is the key to building trust and lasting relationships with customers, according to the latest Customer Engagement: Automotive research report released by the DMA.

Almost half of consumers (44%) indicate the number one reason for sticking with a car brand, even with the lure of cheaper prices elsewhere, is ‘Good service’. The report, developed in partnership with Emarsys, Epsilon, Feefo and Wiraya, also found less than half of consumers (43%) say they trust car manufacturers and dealerships, compared to 74% trusting retail brands.

Quality remains the most important factor (59%) in any car purchase, but good continued after-sales service (34%) and friendliness (30%) are also important ways for building customer loyalty, particularly for a sector with historically low levels of consumer trust. The research also revealed an 18% gap between the level of importance consumers ascribe to honesty and what they actually experience from auto brands.

Rachel Aldighieri, MD at the DMA, said: “The car industry, like many who have gone before it, faces a changing landscape. Low trust levels and disruptive technologies present challenges that require a new approach.

“Consumers can now arrive at a dealership having already conducted their own research, which means dealerships are now shifting towards experience. At the same time, car brands need to ensure they are keeping pace with technological advances, using these to deepen and extend the customer experience. It’s up to brands and dealerships how they make sense of these changes, but what remains clear is that personal service is the most important factor for customers, it’s what builds trust and keeps them coming back.”

Opportunity one: extending the customer experience

A consumer’s experience with a car brand is multi-layered and continuous, spanning from point-of-sale to servicing and after service communications. And the survey shows consumers are expecting car brands to engage with them throughout this lifecycle. After purchasing, 42% reported good after-care and maintenance services are important to them.

According to Rémy Jugault, VP of client services EMEA at Epsilon: “The way customers interact with brands is radically changing. It is no longer just about selling products or giving offers and incentives. This report highlighted how car brands and manufacturers also need to look for ways to extend the user experience.”

Alex Timlin, VP of client services at Emarsys agrees, adding: “Brands who effectively engage with customers through digital and direct channels to ensure that the customer is getting a great post sales experience are the ones who will excel at keeping their customers loyal to their brand.”

Opportunity two: the changing purchase journey

The report also revealed consumers are coming to expect the innovation they see in other sectors, such as retail, with many brands tapping into the potential offered by emerging technology and making the car buying experience more digitally aligned.

Buying a car isn’t the same as it used to be, points out Scott Logie, chair of the DMA customer engagement committee and MD as REaD Group Insight. He said: “For some consumers, the convenience of online outweighs the personal touch of face-to-face purchasing. Brands like Hyundai and Roadster are making buying totally online feasible: but they are complementing, rather than supplanting, the forecourt experience.”

While the report shows the most common way to buy a car is still via a dealership (59%), nearly a third (31%) of those asked indicated they would be willing to buy from a manufacturer, with just over one in five (22%) willing to buy directly from a website. However, people indicated they were more likely to buy from a car brand with whom they had an existing relationship, underlining the importance of making this connection in the first instance.

Opportunity three: uses for new technology

Virtual reality and augmented reality are also pointing to new ways automotive brands can reinvigorate the forecourt purchase experience. For example, tools like augmented reality can offer consumers more ways to research options. When asked, 47% of respondents said they would use it to look at different options.

According to Matt West, CMO at Feefo, advances in artificial intelligence save consumers time, allowing them to filter out what does not interest them. “The car-buyer can quickly read other customers’ views on the model he or she wants to know about and their preferences can be saved if they want to come back later,” he explained.

Commercial director at Wiraya, Sam Madden, also sees the importance for a shift in the industry. He said: “As the report suggests – automotive brands can use new communication channels to effectively engage with consumers in more relevant and intuitive ways. Brands who embrace the power of new technology to drive customer engagement are the ones who stand to gain a competitive edge.”

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