Data points

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For customer information to positively impact your business, it must be “intelligent”

Our major banks have been in the news recently for doing something with very negative connotations that we in the auto industry do all the time: “upselling”.

Upselling is often cited by car dealer customers as one of the main reasons why, when their vehicle’s warranty expires, they defect to the aftermarket for service.

But things have changed significantly in the past few years: the banks are finally making good use of the incredible amount of data they’re sitting on. They are turning the data into practical knowledge that people on the front lines can use in each customer interaction.

What can we learn from the banks?

Through a practice called “channel optimization”, banks have been trying to refine their use of intelligence for some time. The practice is used to calibrate investment and resources in such ways that benefit both the banks and their customers.

If they know that you never visit a branch or office, the intent is to make sure you have the best possible experience with the alternative channels you use to transact with them.

Now they’ve gone to the next level and have started using customer data at the individual level: they know who you are, how you interact with them, what products and services you use, your banking patterns and quite likely, much more.

They turn their data into intelligence to drive the business and deepen the relationship with the customer based on this knowledge.  They do this on the front lines at any appropriate transaction.

This is not a revolutionary development — we all experience the results of the process when we’re either in line or in many of the more sophisticated retail environments.

It’s becoming scarier by the day.

I recently had my computer hacked and after getting everything cleared up, my new login page showed a tennis ball above my name: I am a tennis player and a fan, but how did Apple know that?  Clearly, from intelligence gathered over time about my online behaviour.

When intelligence becomes intrusive or inappropriate

I believe this use of “intelligence” is a positive thing.

It helps us cut through the clutter when we’re on a mission to search for something — the travel industry is quite good at this. When deployed properly it can provide options that better meet our needs.

The mistake the banks made — if it was a mistake at all — was not to prepare front line staff adequately for the power that the intelligence placed in their hands.

Putting intelligence to work in the dealership

Just as in the retail banking context, it has become much easier to gather, manage and put customer data to good use in dealerships. But how effectively is the data being turned into intelligence?

There are multiple sources of customer data or information in the dealership. The challenge is being able to pull them all together in a way that helps all employees use the information to drive the customer relationship and the business.

As an industry, we’ve come a long way in gathering this kind of information — further in some areas than in others.

But there are still some gaps and the silos that separate different departments and functions are barriers to real progress.

On interaction with customers, service lane technology and better service history data have helped provide a much more complete picture of the customer.

In the sales area, prospecting and lead data can also provide a much more comprehensive picture of a customer.  We haven’t really seen the ability to pull the two together, however.  Doing this could empower everyone in the dealership who touches the customer with intelligence that helps solve a problem or anticipates a need.

Customer satisfaction surveys are certainly a key part of customer intelligence.  Unfortunately, these surveys have evolved to be more about scores than about feedback — their value as a source of intelligence is being wasted.

We also need a way for dealership employees to be able to capture and document direct customer feedback and ensure that this information is accessible to others.

Much has been made of advocacy or recommendation.  But most of the time it’s measured as part of the CS survey, not in terms of actual recommendation.

We should start capturing information about customers who actually refer new business in either sales or service.

We pay a lot of attention to what customers say in social media, but where does that information go?  It should be part of the information we keep on each customer.

While vehicle information is comprehensive in most dealership systems, how about linking multiple vehicles in the same household in the customer data?

I will never forget doing a mystery shop in a major tire store chain in the U.S. where I observed a service advisor offer a really great deal to a customer on the second vehicle in the household — she had all the information on file.

The customer accepted and made an appointment for the second vehicle on the spot.  In a dealership environment, even if the second vehicle in the household might be “off brand”, it still needs tires and oil changes!

Who takes ownership?

Over many years of watching manufacturers and dealerships implement customer experience programs, I’ve noticed one common theme when things don’t work and the expected improvements don’t take place. While there is always someone responsible for the initiative, there is no evidence that all employees take ownership of the desired outcome.

This is especially important when a dealership wants to really empower employees with customer intelligence.

Having a single person or department accountable for “customer intelligence” will likely not produce results if others do not feel part of the goal.

The drive to be more intelligent about each customer must permeate the organization; it starts at the top, but goes right down to the most junior employee.

It’s also vital that employees are properly prepared and are aware of how to use the intelligence without overstepping the customer’s real needs — as the banks discovered.

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Canadian auto dealer