The connected car and customer experience reveals a new opportunity for carmakers to dial into real customer behavior and desires around connected cars and autonomous cars. The Connected car and the autonomous car are powerful services that will help transform how people move around, and they are emerging during an era of unprecedented volatility in markets. I’ll wager that there’s never been a better or more challenging time to be a carmaker because opportunities and threats have never been higher. I’ve been fortunate to meet product managers and engineers who are pioneering connected and autonomous car services. I’ve also been meeting leaders in the Internet of Things (smart devices), of which the connected car is a part.
My crystal ball says that the connected car is a bet-the-brand proposition for carmakers because it directly addresses competing on customer experience, the most disruptive trend of all. As I detailed in The Social Channel, we have moved from a product/service-based economy toward an experience economy. Even IT analyst Gartner has proclaimed that customer experience is the final battleground for firms. Established product brands that miss the significance of this shift will probably not survive.
But there’s a silver lining for carmakers that can help them de-risk connected car services. Experiential social media finds and engages any firm’s most valuable stakeholders in digital public where they’re forming their opinions about all these changes. It’s a game-changing opportunity to inform their development of connected car and autonomous car products/services.
Below, I’ve shared some off-the-cuff suggestions for carmakers, but they will also apply to firms that make any product that’s becoming smart.
The Nexus of Competition
Since connected car services are in their infancy, competing successfully against other carmakers, not to mention disruptors like Google, Apple, Uber, Zubie and hundreds more, will depend on understanding what experiences customers want while realizing that their desires will morph rapidly. Legacy research methods rely on long-cycle processes and small data sets, so they’ll always lag customer desires, and that can be lethal in such a fast moving market. Experiential social media analyzes real behavior when people are interacting with their peers, not self-reported behavior, which is well meant but often doesn’t reflect real behavior.
Deep and broad understanding of customer experience and outcomes will enable carmakers to craft and iterate value propositions and differentiating features that customers love. Customers’ thoughts about connected car are grounded in outcomes, not product features. Most brands’ messaging is based on product features, so there’s a disconnect. Experiential helps carmakers speak customers’ language.
Here are seven things I’d consider if I were working on a connected car initiative:
Relentlessly Focus on Customer Experience and Outcomes
- I would develop and maintain deep and broad understanding of what customers-of-best-fit want when they use my cars, and use this to inform the design of our connected car services. This means we need to follow customers’ move to outcomes and experience, away from product. I’d anticipate that some members of my teams, who have been product-focused throughout their careers, will find this transition difficult. To facilitate it, I’d mentor and rotate members of my teams in digital social teams where they can experience first-hand how customers experience our products and services.
- I’d revamp our customer and product research methods because they are undoubtedly grounded in long, slow product life cycles. I liken this to waterfall software development, which got disrupted during the 1990s and 2000s, and probably still has a way to go in some firms. It’s why IT underperformed consumer technology firms, which had adopted agile methods. Given the market volatility and the richness of outcomes-focused interaction in digital public, I would tap into customer experience real-time, continuously. I’d focus on customers’ real behavior that emerges in digital public and use customers’ self-reported behavior to complement it with surveys and focus groups.
- The beautiful thing about outcomes is that they change far less then HOW people attain them. Getting to work with minimal hassle is an outcome. Connecting with family on vacation is an outcome. By dialing into outcomes, we can pivot right along with customers.
Cast a Wide Net
- No one knows how the market will develop, although it’s a safe bet that people will use a variety of mobility solutions. A decade of experience with ethnographic research of social media has taught me that people are intensely focused on getting what they want, and they use things to attain their outcomes.
- Focus on increasing touchpoints with the customers with whom you have the highest affinity (and who probably pay you the most). Think beyond car ownership; it’s pretty obvious that the one car/driver model will shrink its portion of the total while car sharing and autonomous driving will grow.
- Consider your own car-sharing service to enable potential customers to experience your cars at a low marginal cost. In fact, some brands give their customers free loaners when their cars are in the shop, and the loaners are always the next model up from what they’re driving.
- Ink partnerships that enable you to reduce the friction of customer experiences.
Relate to Customers Personally
- Get personal. We’ve all arrived at the end of the product-focused Industrial Economy in which we created wealth through mass production, scale, and efficiency. This was adaptive until the end of the 20th century because material scarcity was widespread. Today, software-powered plants and supply chains have permanently outstripped our ability to consume, and the supply glut continues to grow. Along with this, it became normal to interact with people impersonally to maintain efficiency and low prices. Customers accept that less and less.
- People, by collaborating with each other online, listen to each other’s challenges and solve them together. People are heard as individuals by strangers. This is re-personalize the economy, so carmakers need to move past the token gestures of first-name form letters.
- Digital public offers new economics of interaction. The law of participation holds that 90% of a group, online or off, prefers to observe the 10% that’s interacting. By interacting, individually and personally, with the 10%, carmakers demonstrate their care and relevance to the 100%. They can develop more intimate relationships at scale. Keep in mind, this works the best within specific venues where carmakers’ most valuable customers are interacting.
Travel at the Speed of Customer… and Competitor
- Customers drink from the digital social well, and I’d make sure I was there among them, continuously learning as their new attitudes and desires emerge. Most product managers and marketers aren’t aware of the uber-geeky places in digital public in which their highest value customers and prospects are having heated discussions about their outcomes. I’d engage with customers there, so we learn about the outcomes and experiences customers want—as customers are discussing and co-creating knowledge about them.
- Notably, customers discuss our products and services in detail, along with competitors’, and their focus is on how great or crummy they are to use. When groups are interacting, they create a gold mine of context and detail that I’d use to inform my teams in real time.
- I’d keep teams on the lookout for substitutes as well as competitors; we’re going to compete in personal mobility, not only in cars.
Study Partner, Dealer and Influencer Interactions
- The connected car also creates opportunities and threats for dealers and other stakeholders. Salespeople and management are discussing their outcomes in digital public, too.
- Partners, dealers, journalists, bloggers and others are having heated discussions in digital public about what the connected car and the autonomous car mean to them. Like customers, their true behavior often differs significantly from their self-reported behavior.
- Depending on our channel and partner relationships, I’d consider interacting with them in digital public, to empower their outcomes of having relationships with our brand and products.
Interoperate, Don’t Dominate
- The “consumerization” of the workplace is instructive for carmakers. During the 2000s, IT tried to limit employees’ use of their own devices at work even while they tried to field consumer-like software of their own. Carmakers face the same forces.
- IT learned that it was futile to try to write better employee-centric software than Apple or Google, and they focused on interoperating with the devices that employees wanted to use. Connected car and autonomous car software and services should inform their design with this principle in mind. the key to success is knowing where their core competencies lie within the network of devices.
- Customer power users of all types of automotive services discuss in vivid detail what works for their outcomes, and what doesn’t. By building trust and adding value in those digital rooms, carmakers can remove the surprises that will trip up their competitors.
Beware the Early Adopter Trap
- Many a technology startup has fallen prey to overlooking that early adopters of new technology have different characteristics than the main market. This is easy to do because enthusiasts are much more interested in the technology than the largest part of the market, which has utilitarian attitudes. The main market is more focused on their outcomes and cares little about the technology and product features.
- I would anticipate this trend in connected car services by focusing on outcomes for all customer types. Enthusiasts fit the pattern; they like to be first among their friends and families to try the new thing, so they’re much more curious and interested in how it works. They’re more patient with glitches. Other customer niches won’t be so forgiving. They’ll just want it to work for them. They’re talking about it among their friends.
Reflections on the Connected Car and Customer Experience
- I hope you can see that the legacy barriers between you and customers are gone. Customer behavior, desires, and preferences emerge spontaneously in digital public. Since the connected car is taking shape in such a volatile market, tapping into customers’ emerging desires can enable brands to outperform, but only when they travel at the “speed of customer.”
- The autonomous car has many more technological and legal barriers to adoption than the connected car, so its adoption will be further out. Autonomous car systems have more to do with the car’s core systems, where the connected car integrates with the car’s entertainment systems.
- The connected car and the autonomous car, in a sense, continue the long process of removing customers’ contact with the hardware. Adjusting the choke and cranking to start the car. Muscle power to steer and stop. Actually rolling up windows. Cruise control.
- Crowdsourced coverage of BMW’s connected car team talking about their development process and their offer.
- Crowdsourced coverage of autonomous car technology and analytics.
- McKinsey executive summary on disruption of the automotive industry.
- My connected car reference shelf is updated continuously. Also see IoT.
- The Internet Car, a vision/case study I did while advising GM in their first ecommerce strategy in Q1 1999.