mechanic servicing a car
PHOTO: Maxime Agnelli | unsplash

I’m writing this article sitting in the waiting room at my local car dealership’s service area while I get my daughter’s car serviced. After perusing the snacks on offer and getting myself a freshly brewed cup of coffee, I got to thinking about how my interactions with this dealership have changed over the last two years. They've gone from virtually zero digital interactions to almost a fully digital experience — and a good one to boot.

What did the dealership do to achieve that?

Simply put, they listened to their customers and their employees. As part of a larger group of companies that covers several car brands, the dealership had already started a digital consolidation project when COVID hit. They realized that they needed to streamline their digital experience to make life easier for both staff and customers as well as to keep operating. The result? A large increase in the number of customers using their service department. While I was here today, the service manager told me that their appointment schedule was booked solid for the next six weeks, and that they were starting to seriously think about moving to a bigger facility to keep up with the increase in demand.

The Opportunity Behind Every Digital Transformation Program

At the start of the digital accelerator program they took a step back and realized that digital transformation is not just about modernizing or replacing what you already have. It was an opportunity to take a look at the overall digital experience.

Reaching out to regular customers via email they sent out a quick survey. Not a generic “please rate our service,” but one tailored to uncover the steps their customers went through in getting their car serviced. From that, they built a new digital experience that fully aligned with those steps.

Now when I need to book service, I log in using my phone number (no strange user name or complex passwords to remember) and choose which car needs attention. We own a couple of vehicles of different makes purchased through the same group, and they know what we have. With the right car selected, based on the time since its last service and my usage pattern, it displays the estimated mileage (which I can adjust if needed), and the projected service items. I can remove or add items as I want to build the worksheet and I get an estimate of the cost in return — no more sticker shock after the work has been done. When I book a time I can let them know if I’ll be staying, or need an Uber ride. The appointment is then sent to my email and in text to my phone, which is resent 24 hours before the appointment.

This may not seem like a lot, but before the lockdowns virtually everything I just described was done manually on arrival at the dealership. There was no sense of them knowing me as a customer, or my vehicle’s service history. Every interaction felt like the first. Now it’s part of a continuing relationship. It also makes life easier for the staff as they are fully prepared for what work and parts are needed for any given day, before the customers roll in. They are well-informed and efficient as a result. All of that adds up to real value for both the customer and the business.

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What Digital Experiences Really Come Down To

The exercises the dealership went through made them realize that delivering real value to customers comes from examining the gaps between multiple disjointed customer journeys. I've seen the same thing on a variety of projects over the years. Whenever customers aren’t interacting with your systems they are somewhere else, understanding and refining their needs, deciding what solutions or products can address those needs, and researching pricing, support and a wide variety of related information that adds up to the total experience.

Once you understand where the gaps are you can focus on doing the fundamentals better, and using what you have in a more efficient way. When you understand what the users of your digital experience are actually trying to achieve and why they engage with it in the first place, you can focus on what helps them and you.

Is that step in the process and the system that supports it really necessary? Look at what you do with what you have: is there stuff you manage that you never use or stuff that you use only rarely? If so, why is it part of the digital experience? Is it something that can be addressed in a different way, or even archived? Conducting a practical test of the digital experience means you can discover the bottlenecks and roadblocks that need fixing and identify opportunities to remove unnecessary steps and technology and focus on delivering additional value.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what delivering a successful digital experience is all about: making it easy for the customer (and employee) to solve a problem or fulfill a need?

Now if you will excuse me, I just got a text message that my daughter’s car has been serviced and cleaned and is ready for me to drive home.

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