Digitalisation is revolutionising automotive retail business globally. Mobile technologies and App.(applications), and social media are redefining the pattern of interaction and communication in automotive retail. Though the trend is at a nascent stage in India, automotive dealers cannot afford to stay away from digitalisation.
“Today with the advent of technology and ubiquity of Smartphone, expectations of the customers are different. Most customers start their buying journey online, forcing dealerships to relinquish old ways of functioning and adopt new systems. `Mobile first’ has become the slogan for the new age business,” according to Ashish Nayak, Co-Founder and Director, Autoninja.
Autoninja, with its vision of ‘driving the change’, builds the technology of tomorrow for the automotive retail. A team of young entrepreneurs develop technology products and applications focusing mainly on the automotive dealership needs. (The literal meaning of Ninja is, a Japanese warrior. Its informal meaning is, a person who excels in a particular skill or activity).
Customers are vocal and are active on social media. This has made real time response and interaction the need of the hour. “Being where your customer is present has become the challenge for most dealers. Hence the need for change has never been as compelling as it is today for most dealerships,” Nayak told AutoParts Asia.
The good news for dealers is that most customers still rely on them, especially in the deciding stage of the vehicle purchasing process. According to a 2013 McKinsey report, more than 80 percent of customers take test-drive during the car buying process, underscoring the continuing strategic importance of dealers. Similarly almost 90 percent of customers use dealer or OEM websites in the early steps of their decision-making journey. McKinsey had analysed about 4,500 customer responses across the US, Europe, and China for the report.
“They want to test-drive a vehicle before buying it, and vehicle servicing is still very much an offline necessity. Dealerships will therefore remain a crucial touch point in the customer decision journey,” says the report.
Both OEMs and customers continue to value the personal aspect of the sales process, which forms the basis of brand representation, customer retention, and service offerings.
The automotive retail industry is witnessing two major changes: Innovative technological revolution, and shift from offline to online. The intuitive technology links the Smartphone and car to manage calls, navigation, music and App using familiar Siri or Google voice commands and the cars’ touch screen or physical controls. “Consumers expect their favourite Smartphone environment and connected lives—contacts, music, social media, App.—to follow them wherever they go. A number of start-ups in the US are developing connected devices and related technologies and it is poised to grow in the next decade or so,” Nayak said.
The automotive retail business and operations are moving from offline to online. The process of selling a car is a long and enduring one and it will remain a high inventory product. However, the automotive service industry will move faster with the adoption of technology. “Mobile will become the interface device for the customers. The dealers will have to meet the multi-channel expectations of their customers. It can be telephone, e-mail, SMS, social media or the mobile space. Dealerships will have to be present in multiple platforms to engage effectively with their customers,” he said.
Autoninja provides solutions to the dealers’ problems and the expertise to run and grow their business by getting customers and solving marketing, sales and operational issues. “Hence, we’re more than just technology providers. We work as partners and create breakthroughs in solving major sales, operational and marketing issues,” Nayak said. “A major challenge was to understand their real problems and find ways to address them through technology. It required a deep knowledge about the sector and the functioning of dealerships,” he said.
Today, the size of some of the dealerships is huge with overall employee strength ranging from 500 to 1,000. “We have been emphasising the need to make technology the DNA of the organisational culture. It needs to flow from the top to the bottom,” he said. Autoninja is developing technology that is applicable at all levels and functions of dealerships – CEO, sales, insurance, CREs. Its products have reached major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and also the remote areas of Uttarkhand, Kashmir and others.
Another challenge for Autoninja was the scattered customer data with the automotive retail industry. “The customer data were stored independently by each department. There was no uniformity. Our task was to build a platform that centralised data and created a 360 degree profile of the customers. The results were phenomenal,” Nayak said.
Autoninja, through its products, has been helping auto dealers to strengthen their relationship with the customers. Managing customer expectations can be the most daunting task for a dealer. Autoninja studied all the possible customer touch points. It has developed tools to strengthen the relationship between the dealers and customers.
Tools and Solutions
“We have leveraged our knowledge of the automotive industry to develop a proven singular solution, `Ninja CRM’, that helps run dealerships more effectively and efficiently,” Nayak said. It is a web-based, comprehensive CRM solution that helps the dealers increase revenue from sales and service, improve customer satisfaction and service standards, and contribute to revenues. With Ninja CRM, dealers can consolidate all departments into a manageable entity that delivers value through proven processes at every stage of the customer life cycle.
Autoninja’s `Accessbox’ is a car-dealership mobile App platform, which synchronises user and vehicle data with the existing dealer management system (DMS). Accessbox allows customers to reach the dealerships 24/7 through a free, downloadable smart phone App. Once installed, all tasks regarding customer’s vehicle become automated and personalised.
“Our `Blinktag’ is a most simple and efficient tool that helps the dealerships transform their existing customers into advocates or custodians of their brand. It taps on to the growing social network of the user thereby reaching out to the potential buyers,” Nayak said.
The company has also launched Exporium, which is a sales tablet that explains the purchase journey of the customer. It helps the sales personnel at the dealerships to show the cars and their features through a tablet.
“We’re working towards adding more products to our repertoire. This will bridge the gap between the customer and dealerships,” he said.
The domestic used-car market is growing at 15 percent annually. For every 100 new cars sold in India, 110 pre-owned cars are sold and that makes after-sales service a lucrative revenue model. “We know that service is all about customer satisfaction. Hence the focus is always on retention of the existing users while setting a new paradigm in customer satisfaction for the new users. Brand is built by offering consistently an experience and responsive service. Sale is the consequence of all the factors combined together,” he said. Among strengthening bond with customers, improving sales figures and building image, each of them is important for Autoninja.
Though mobiles are used to save time, money and effort, customers are looking for an innovative way to interact with the dealers. They despise automated responses. They prefer to be called when it is most needed and do not want to be directed to multiple departments within the same dealership for different problems. “Our product has helped the dealers centralise the data, making it easier to understand the requirement of the customer in a single interface visible to multiple departments in real-time. It has also enabled integration of communication channels namely SMS, telephony, e-mail and others making the dealer interaction seamless across all channels,” Nayak said.
This shift of platform, from web to mobile, is forcing the dealerships to reassess their mobile strategy and implement it faster and Autoninja is assisting the dealerships in this journey. “Our product ‘Accessbox’ is an App designed and developed for the dealerships. It is downloaded by the users in large numbers.
From Web To Mobile
Today a person’s identity is his smartphone. Users check their phone 150 times a day on an average. The biggest consumer behaviour pattern witnessed is real-time interaction and instant gratification. Accessbox, with its unique set of features makes it possible for the dealers to be always in sync with the customer needs,” Nayak said.
Generally, even before the customers come to the dealers they will have zeroed-in on the model / variant and colour of the car they want to buy. In this scenario, Autoninja plays a vital role to promote sales.
“According to our data, 30 percent customers change their mind at the time of buying. The confusion is also confounded by the choices presented to them. It eventually boils down to which dealer responds to the query swiftly and gains the buyer’s trust. An online portal will present a plethora of options in the range the customer is looking for. But it will not aggregate the best deals and offers. Autoninja is building a platform where in the buyer can make an informed choice while availing of the best deal,” he said.
The company’s analytics team is working on high-level data that will bring in a lot of smarter and effective ways of targeting the potential customers by understanding the past customer behaviour and making certain calculated predictions. “With the right combination of technology and data, Autoninja will continue to play the role of a business partner and not merely a technology provider,” Nayak said.
Online purchase of automotives has not created any significant impact in India. Customers still like to feel and touch the product before they make a purchase decision. Hence the online buying behaviour is different vis-a-vis other consumer products. The OEMs also are reluctant to showcase their products online. Consequentially, the dealerships are asked to improve infrastructure at their facility to cater to the demand and offer an unmatched experience to the customers.
Apart from digital marketing, there are other challenges ahead for dealers as a number of international companies are changing the dynamics of the Indian automotive industry. The future will see multi-brand stores setting shop in India. The small car market in India is witnessing the maximum activity and is all set for more challenging times ahead for the dealerships, with more players from India and abroad joining the race.
With the rise in the expectation of an average customer, automotive dealers will have to bring in efficiency and productivity within their organisation through technological innovation.