Detecon Study on the Customer Journey in Automotive Aftersales

Car Manufacturers and Dealers Are Not Exploiting Digital Potential

  • Analysis of the digital customer experience with five car makes in Germany
  • Need for action in the integration of aftersales content
  • Customer journey not consistently oriented to customer needs

Cologne, 27 March 2020. How well are digital native demands on the customer journey satisfied on the automotive aftersales market? To answer this question, the management and technology consulting company Detecon analyzed customer experiences with five carmakers within the framework of mystery shopper test purchases. Results: carmakers and their service center networks are far from exhausting the potential of digital touchpoints used in the meantime by other industries without a second thought. For example, many of the online sites of branch businesses and dealerships displayed significant functional and visual differences. Similarly, aftersales web shops and appointment scheduling tools are barely integrated into other services and there is very little intermeshing.

While collecting data for the study, Detecon examined a total of 23 shops for the makes Audi, BMW, Mercedes, VW, and Volvo, purchased 21 products, analyzed 66 websites, and assessed 16 appointment tools on the German market in the period from October to December 2019. The consultants make no claim to completeness nor to empirically proven validation; they simply took a look at randomly selected touchpoints of the manufacturers and some of their service centers.

“The consistent alignment of all processes and systems with the needs of customers is the key to success in the digital age. With their clear focus on the sale of new cars, however, OEMs are neglecting the customer experience in aftersales,” warned Dr. Jürgen Padberg, Managing Partner and initiator of the Detecon study. “Aftersales content finds virtually no mention on the attractively designed home pages and is difficult to find. Only rarely are products advertised via all channels, and there is practically no individualization of advertising based on browsing and purchasing behavior – in contrast to the online sites users have become accustomed to.”

Development of digital customer journeys still in its infancy

The study evaluated the components aftersales web site, online appointments, online shop products, and online shop fulfillment (delivery, returns, hotline support) on the one hand and the overall experience of buying an accessory online on the other, then rated each element on a scale from “Not available” to “Fully met.”

Across the board, it was observed for all OEMs and dealers that the development of aftersales shops and the associated customer journey is still in its infancy. The focus of the shops is almost exclusively on the sales and delivery process; hardly any of the advertising and cross-selling potential has been exploited to date. In some cases, online catalogues lacking order and purchase functions were still in use.

Similar to their neglect of websites, the national sales companies (NSC), branch businesses, or dealerships presently utilize social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube almost exclusively for sales promotion of vehicles while more or less completely ignoring aftersales business. This is all the more surprising when you consider the high profit margins that can usually be achieved in this sector.

One positive finding of the study was that all OEMs and most branch businesses provide tools for making appointments at service centers online using the browser or an app. All of these tools featured user-friendly interfaces and identical functions. Moreover, it was usually possible to reserve additional services such as the temporary use of another vehicle, although no information about prices was provided. This reflects the lack of integration between the OEMs and their national companies on the one hand and the dealerships (usually independent legal entities) and service centers who are free to set their own prices on the other. This is still a really high hurdle standing in the way of a seamless customer journey.

The assessment of the web shops revealed that as a rule the buying experience could not be customized. In some shops, customers can use the chassis number to limit the results to the parts relevant for their vehicles. However, it was rarely possible to create a profile based on vehicle data or a standard customer ID. In addition, the search for detailed descriptions, videos, pictures, and chats that would offer advice to shoppers was often in vain.

On the positive side, it should be emphasized that the services of all the makes made deliveries on time and that the provision of a return document meant that returning an order was uncomplicated. In this respect, the automotive industry is apparently benefiting from end-customer logistics that have reached a high level of maturity thanks to general online trading.

The Detecon study “Digital Customer Journey Aftersales” is available for downloading here

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