Guest contributor Kate Cooper from Different Spin shares her thoughts on consumer experience in the automotive industry.

I have spent the last two months on a Pan European automotive roadshow presenting the findings from our report Mad Maxine: Why women delight and despair at the automotive consumer experience. The journey has been fascinating with the overwhelming response from the automotive industry being:

“We already knew this, but to have it so starkly presented to us with such big and compelling numbers means we can’t ignore its impact on our bottom line anymore. OK so now what do we do?”

Customer experience is hot on the lips of pretty much every automotive executive, with all the OEMs I have engaged with over the last few months investing in this area in some capacity. A handful have truly ground-breaking programmes underway; some are a little more business as usual in their approach; whilst others, I can see now, will fail – largely because of corporate culture and short-termism meaning a lack of real empathy with their customers.

Why does investment in consumer (not just customer) experience programmes matter so much to automotive?

In today’s connected world, consumer experience is your brand. Your brand is defined, not by a marketing team or agency, but by how people experience it. This was most starkly apparent when, surprisingly, BMW came up near the top of our participants’ least favourite car brand list. We dug a little deeper and found that it was BMW drivers who were disliked by our Experience Lab which had a knock on effect on brand perception:

“BMWs are often driven by posers who aren’t very good at actual driving. This puts me off the brand”.

In addition, two out of the top three sources of information for in-market car buying women were not the brands own communication but other people’s opinion of the brand. Customer ratings and reviews were the top source of information after the test drive itself.

Unsurprisingly, the dealership experience was the most broken part of the female automotive consumer experience with an astonishing 90% saying they would always take a male partner, or family member with them when they visit a dealership. 19% would skip the dealership (and test drive) altogether if they could buy a car online.

But the OEMs shouldn’t be complacent and place the focus purely on dealer networks. The female experience of advertising and marketing faired poorly as well, with this being a major reason for female disenfranchisement with automotive. Surely if consumer experience now defines your brand, a significant proportion of brand budgets should be placed in consumer experience programmes?

And so to the ultimate question every single car brand has asked:

What do we do to engage the female consumer?

Well if the customer experience programme you are currently investing in doesn’t have the consumer at the heart of the design process – start again!

The overwhelming sense from the female consumer is that automotive demonstrates a lack of real empathy with their lives and experiences. Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and solve problems from their perspectives. It is particularly challenging to build a strategy grounded in empathy for both men and women in an industry where the vast majority of the senior decision makers are men. That isn’t going to change overnight and this is an urgent issue to be tackled for all car brands.

So instead use insight and research techniques that give your executives real-world access to your consumers; create a panel of consumers and co-create your consumer experiences with them; co-design marketing communications with the consumers you want to target – campaigns, content, experiences.

We’ve found WhatsApp to be a vitally important tool for giving our clients access to the home lives, work lives and driving habits or their target consumer. With messaging apps now reaching ubiquity and WhatsApp leading the charge, the platform provides unprecedented opportunity for research, co-creation and communication with the real consumers you are designing for. The intimacy of the medium means, if you are granted permission by a consumer to enter their mobile world, you are given unprecedented access to what’s real vs. what a survey or focus group will tell you.

Given women are set to own 60% of all personal wealth by 2025, I think it’s time for a consumer experience revolution in automotive; and that revolution needs to start, evolve and end with the consumer.

The auto industry's new consumer experience design tool