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Who Owns the Customer?

Ever since I started in the automotive business, a long time ago, the question has always been, “Who owns the customer?”   

The automotive manufacturers tried to lay claim to owning the customer.  The automotive dealer community always believed that the dealer, as the final touch point with the vehicle and the customer, had that ownership.  Many hostile discussions and yes, even battles arose from the dealer’s fear of the manufacturer disintermediating them from the customer.  It got worse when telematics came along…when data began flowing from vehicles.  Where did the data go? To the manufacturer of course…more discussion and fear erupted!

And along the way, privacy issues became visible and it became necessary to protect customers privacy by protecting the customer data and the vehicle data.

The automotive business is a highly competitive endeavor.  Not only is the competition intense, but differentiation between brands has never been narrower.  There is little separation between brands in terms of quality. The separation between warranty coverage is likewise close.  The speed of innovation, introducing new technology and capability into vehicle is accelerating.  But that innovation is almost constant and consistent across all brands and across all price segments.

With Customer Centricity and now Vehicle Centricity becoming ever more important to both the profitability of the extended enterprise, and long term customer loyalty for both the manufacturers and the dealers…one cannot but ask the question in another way;  “Who does the customer own?”

With all of the data generated by the customer channels and the vehicle they own and operate, it seems the customer has suddenly found themselves in the driver’s seat.  Customers are providing mountains of information with powerful insight from their personal data and activities, more data from their shopping and research behavior and still more from previous dealer and manufacturer interactions.  And todays vehicle is constantly emitting data that can be mined for quality and predictive maintenance offerings, diving habits and certainly commercial interests such as parking, fueling, charging for electric vehicles, and the list goes on.

Manufacturers and dealers now know the customer, and smart ones use that knowledge to great competitive advantage.  They know the vehicle and use that insight for both competitive advantage and for enhancing the customers driving experience while making life simpler and more efficient for the driver.  And along the way there is an opportunity to offer valuable services for a price.

And of course, one can never overlook the ubiquity of information on the web.  From social insights to buying and vehicle insights, the customer has access to information and analysis that only a few short years ago was sequestered away in the hands of the dealer or the manufacturer or 3rd parties.

From my perspective it would seem to be a no brainer.  As a result of the customer allowing themselves and to be known combined with the data coming from their vehicle combined with the ubiquity of information available…the customer has all bases covered.  They have everything.  The customer truly “owns” everyone in the automotive value chain and can make the best personal choices with impunity.  They will never look back…the industry is now enslaved by the customer…what a change!

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