Mercedes-Benz Canada CEO Eva Wiese has some advice for an auto sector groping towards a digital future: Don’t overlook the personal touch.
A lot of sales and service functions are migrating online, perhaps boosted by the enforced isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. But customers still crave personal interaction, whether virtually or in a dealership, Wiese said during the digital retailing session of Automotive News Canada Congress Conversations.
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“We still need the dealers because they’re the closest to the customers that is possible,” Wiese told Automotive News Canada Editor Grace Macaluso. “I truly believe we will always have the dealer as the main touch point.”
Digital innovations can help remove “pain points” for customers, she said, especially when it comes to maintenance and repair. Staying updated on a vehicle that’s in for service should be as easy as tracking a parcel through its shipping journey, with regular notifications at every step.
For example, if during a routine service it’s discovered the air conditioning system needs attention, instead of a terse text of phone message, why not send the customer a short video showing what’s needed and why?
Car owners don’t mind if something goes wrong with their vehicle as long as they believe it also matters to the automaker and dealer, said Wiese, whose career included running a group of corporate-owned Mercedes dealerships in Germany.
“They want to be taken seriously,” she said. “They want the impression the problem is considered as important to us and we are doing everything that is within our capability to find a solution for them.”
Online services should be tailored to maximize flexibility and convenience for owners, Wiese stressed.
“Everything should be possible on a Sunday evening from the couch within a few clicks,” she said.
Owners can still reach out to trusted dealer staff if they prefer, she added.
Service can benefit greatly from online, but Wiese sees the buying experience somewhat differently. Buying a car is not a 100-per-cent rational process, she said. Many shoppers, especially in the luxury segment where Mercedes-Benz plays, want a physical experience.
“You want to smell the leather, you want to touch the materials and feel how it fits, for example,” said Wiese. “This is something that, if you ask me, can’t be done in a digital way.”
It’s not a matter of choosing between investing in showrooms or more digital tools.
“As I said, I think you will need both,” said Wiese.
That said, Wiese expects the evolution of online interactions in sales and service will not slow down as the pandemic recedes.
“Once you’re used to doing something online and effortlessly and you’ve experienced the benefits, you will stick to it,” she said.