Forrester logo Download the report

5 Ways Customer Identity Unlocks the Ultimate Driving Experience

Customer Identity Management solutions are an integral component across a growing range of industries because of the trusted, personalized customer journeys they enable, and the automotive industry is no exception. As with most other consumer-focused business models, the modern car-buying experience has changed drastically as numerous digital channels have been added by automakers in recent years to market to and service their customers.

While the traditional steps of the customer journey still apply, auto companies now have the opportunity to engage buyers in new ways that leverage the power of digital identity to create a more compelling and customized experience that drives customers down the funnel toward purchase. After the sale, there are more opportunities to encourage lifetime loyalty by offering services and products tailored to each individual driver and how he or she uses their car in everyday life.

Salesperson talking to potential customers: the beginning of the customer journey

Let’s take a look at this new customer journey and see what’s possible when an automotive business puts customer identity at the center of their digital strategy.

Awareness: Obviously, the first thing any consumer-facing business must do is create awareness in the market about its product. While television and print advertising are still a big part of the marketing mix for automakers and dealers, most potential buyers will head to online destinations early in their search to get more details about a product they initially saw in a television advert, billboard or news article. Since a new car or truck is a big ticket item, this stage is generally lengthy and may involve multiple anonymous visits to a website.

However, through the responsible use of browser cookies, an auto company can begin to learn valuable things about the customer even without knowing any of their personal details. For example, if a potential buyer uses a “build my car” tool, their choices can be captured to inform the content they see on-site, as well as personalized retargeting for search and social display ads, helping to keep buyers’ awareness level high as their search continues. The auto company might also offer to show local and national offers based on the customer’s postal code, providing the business with valuable geolocation information.

Consideration: Once a potential buyer has chosen a vehicle or narrowed their choices to a few options, he or she enters the consideration process, and this is when the carmaker can capture first-party attributes and begin a two-way relationship to nudge a customer toward purchase. For instance, an auto company can offer to notify a shopper when their preferred vehicle is in stock at a local dealership, requiring only an email address for delivery. Now, the company has a positive identifier and a point of contact to add to the information it already has on this buyer.

A request for a quote or to apply for financing on a website implies direct interest, and a buyer requesting one is likely to be happy to register for an account at that point. Then, with the ability to communicate directly with a buyer and knowledge of their whereabouts and preferences, the business can further tailor the customer’s experience, giving them specific reasons to return based on their own interests.

Conversion: This stage, for obvious reasons, is where a shopper is likely to cross channels from the digital to the real world. After all, you can build a virtual car, but you can’t drive one off the lot! How can a sales associate benefit from the digital relationship that’s already been established?

Think of what all that might have been learned throughout the awareness and consideration stages. If a virtual car was configured, it likely tells a lot about what kind of driver the customer is. Did he add features like chrome alloy rims and a sport grill? How about utilitarian accessories like a cargo liner and high wall, all-season floor mats? These details, combined with demographic and geographic information can inform a sales process with a personal touch that’s more valuable for both customer and salesperson.

Retention: The journey, of course, doesn’t end after purchase. If the vehicle is being built on the customer’s specifications, he or she can be given the opportunity to track the manufacturing process, view factory photos or receive weekly progress reports. This period is when the customer is most excited about their purchase and a perfect time to offer available extra features. Is winter around the corner? How about letting them know there’s still time to add a roof rack system or snow tires?

Once delivery is taken, there are also maintenance and service visits to schedule, feedback to gather about the customer’s experience, or offers for accessories and add-ons. By managing all of this customer’s information in a centralized and unified solution, a truly personal and trusted relationship can grow continuously in value over time.

Advocacy: With the increasing importance of software in modern autos, understanding the finer points of a driver’s behaviors and preferences promises to pay huge dividends in loyalty. All that’s needed to capitalize on this is an easily managed and secure customer profile.

Tesla’s groundbreaking designs, for example, allow their vehicles to be continuously upgraded via over-the-air firmware updates — with no need for a service visit — to improve performance and functionality over time.

Of course, Ford Motor Company and many other players are following suit, adding Bluetooth and other tethering technologies to allow drivers to use their digital devices to manage preferences such as seat and steering wheel position, favorite playlists, optimized MPG settings, driving style and more. Imagine a family car that recognizes every driver in your family, learns their behaviors and preferences, and tailors their experience and improves their safety each time they enter the vehicle. This is not science fiction!

Then, there will come a time when a driver is ready for a new vehicle. Based on information stored in his or her profile, the carmaker can send a notification about new models that are a good match for what that driver is likely to be interested in. If the customer visits a virtual car builder online to begin researching again, the preferences set on their current vehicle can be tapped to streamline the process. When that customer takes delivery, settings and applications can be preloaded on their new car, just as they would be on a new smartphone.

The powerful incentive this provides to a driver to stay with that brand cannot be understated. A car that “knows” you, rather than a car that you must get to know, is a concept that most of us will soon accept as the norm. Particularly as self-driving technology comes online, the trust a customer has for their car and the company that builds and maintains it will only become more important. With a robust, secure and private profile as the source of truth for all data-driven functions, the driver truly becomes the pilot of their own journey.

Potential customers looking at a car: entering the consideration phase

What Else is Possible?

What comes next for the automotive industry when it comes to using customer identity to drive better customer experience?

Digital personal assistant integration: Use a home device such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomePod to check how much charge or fuel remains in your vehicle and upload routes to the onboard mapping system based on voice commands.

Wearable tech Integration: Use your Apple Watch or Samsung Gear watch as a remote key or to remotely control your vehicle.

Mobile applications: Have push notifications sent to an app on your phone alerting you when your electric vehicle is finished charging or when your parking time is about to expire.

Application Ecosystems: Automakers can create application exchange environments to allow software developers to collaborate with automotive engineers to build in-vehicle apps and integrations that leverage drivers’ identities to interact directly with parking systems, drive-through businesses, event guidance services for concerts, trade shows and so on.

With a robust, flexible and secure solution to manage customer identity data in place, integrations into a wide range of technologies and plenty of innovative ideas, the sky’s the limit for forward-thinking automotive companies.

And, automakers, speaking of the sky, where’s my flying car anyway?

Customer receiving key to car: provide a great user experience post-sale for customer retention

By Stephen Purvis

Meet us at

SAP Hybris Global Summit
Barcelona, Spain

October 17-19, 2017
View Event >