Web Experience Management and Used Cars

Michael SnowThis week, we’re going to dig into some best practices in Web Experience Management (WEM) to help encourage and evolve the ongoing discussions in this area. Over the past couple of years, we’ve all been increasingly saturated with an ever growing list of acronyms that make up components of the Customer Experience Management ecosystem. Whether it is labeled CXM, CEM, CRM, CCM, WEM, OEO, WXM, WCM, CSM, ABC, or XYZ – these terms are constantly evolving in inclusion and exclusion of strengths in various aspects of the basics. We are all concerned with keeping our customers happy; getting more customers and keeping them (acquisition and retention) to grow our businesses, and of course – providing the best possible customer service regardless of the channel or context that service is delivered – be it research for new purchases or service of existing products or services.

Why is this “experience” management becoming so important lately? We can blame global expanding competition, growing commodification, heightened customer expectations and challenges to conventional marketing as pervasive root causes. Controlling the experience becomes one of the few remaining differentiators for companies trying to acquire and retain customers in an ever growing market climate filled with short attention spans, finicky consumers and exponentially more choices.

guaranteed!How many positive customer experiences have you had this past week? Past month? Past year? Have they been web-based experiences, phone, in-person or by email or a combination? Should it really matter? Shouldn’t your level of customer experience be of equal quality regardless of the channel that you are interacting through? Are there too many moving pieces and people to ever hope for some alignment of experience quality? Are companies ready to think about this consistency in delivery yet or is it an unreachable nirvana somewhere off in the distant future?

Indulge me while I tell a tale of a recent car purchase experience that my wife and I have gone through over the past couple of months. It has been an interesting case study in customer experience. It is ironic in many ways that it highlights not only a great customer experience but also a complete breakdown example within an industry that is dependent on the repeat business of loyal buyers.

Typical familyAs a fairly typical family, we have two teenagers and a large dog. We travel with lots of our stuff – we can’t pack lightly no matter how hard we try. Like many parents, we spend a significant amount of time as a taxi service shuttling kids to and from school, sports and social events. We joined the minivan generation 10 yrs ago and needed to replace our aging van with yet another one – just to last until the kids are out of college and long enough while we are still paying tuition bills and eating rice and beans. We are long time loyal Toyota fans and after rationalizing to myself that minivans were the new middle-age sexy for men of my age in the suburbs – we didn’t hesitate in our search to replace our Sienna with another one.Number One Dog!

So… back to my story – knowing that we wanted to save some money and purchase a “certified pre-owned” vehicle with low-mileage – we commenced endless hours of internet researching with a variety of web experiences running the gamut from amazing to horrible.  We had ongoing email communications with the many dealers in our area until we finally found the perfect vehicle. The benefit and problem with buying a car today is parsing through so much available information during the research phase that you end up with information overload.

We decided that the dealer being located an hour away would only be a mild inconvenience during the purchase process since we would have the car serviced locally at a dealer only 5 minutes from our house. We did the test drive, looked over the car, checked the CarFax history and negotiated a great deal with our trade-in. In our final look at the car, we noticed that the cargo area carpet was damp and the salesperson explained that the rugs had all been shampooed and they probably hadn’t let it dry completely. They would take care of making sure that the carpets were cleaned and dried and the car would be ready for pickup on the following Tuesday (we purchased on a Sunday). We were very happy when we left the dealership – this car buying process that we all really hate doing wasn’t so bad after all.

unhappy!Fast forward – we’ve had our new van for a week of torrential rains and I opened the rear cargo area door to find that the carpets and pads are completely drenched. I’m leaving town on business for the week to CA on Tuesday. I call the dealership on Saturday and speak to the sales manager – I’m not happy. We’re in a holding pattern waiting for communication from the dealer. I start researching known water problems in this model year and protection nuances of the “Lemon Law”. I leave town and they send someone to pick up the van on Wed. I fly back on Friday night and a new 2012 Sienna is sitting in my driveway when I return home. They had delivered it that afternoon for a loaner after I had spoken to them from the airport in San Francisco that morning. Our van was at the body shop where they were trying to figure out the source of the water leak.

Meanwhile – the dealership’s customer experience management machine has kicked into gear completely in the dark regarding the experience we were having. We were getting email and phone follow-up surveys from Toyota as well as the dealership regarding our purchase and service experience. The internet sales associate was following up to thank us for the business. None of these people had any idea what was currently happening. Every additional email or call was a thorn in our side while we remained in limbo over this screwed up major purchase.

On the next Tuesday, we received a call from the General Manager of the Dealership telling us that they had figured out the problem, but they weren’t going to fix it. Long pause on the phone line. It turns out that the roof had been replaced at some point in the past year and the seals weren’t done properly. None of this repair history had shown up on CarFax or reported on the VIN to an insurance company or Toyota. False illusion alert for relying on those reports! They had purchased the vehicle at an auto auction where they purchase thousands of cars. The General Manager told us that he wouldn't ever feel secure about this type of repair and didn’t want us to have to worry about this in the future. They would write us a check for a complete refund of the entire purchase price and all related expenses OR they would like to keep us as a happy client and find a better upgraded vehicle from their own loaner fleet with completely known history and essentially swap it with no additional funds. We were shocked at this offer from the mouth of a “used car salesman” – having essentially expected to somehow get screwed in the deal. It wasn’t hard to make our decision. This dealer had the motivation to make us happy versus starting the whole multiple week search process all over again. Meanwhile, we also had a great new van as a loaner to use.

Happy!In the midst of the holidays, we evaluated and selected another van from their offerings – the next model up - they would take the loss versus releasing an unhappy customer into the local area. We made one trip there to do the test drives, make our selection and they then delivered the new van to us with all the paperwork and new registration. We had a potentially horrible experience turn around into a positive experience that we have repeated to many in our travels.

Now… back to the discussion around experience. Was this the work of one person – the General Manager of the dealership? Or was this because the overall organizational culture is highly focused on longer-term quality of experience? Are reputation-related decisions made to help their business grow in a time when there are lots of options for finding cars online? Was it short-term gain or long-term survival? Or were they fearful of my invocation of the Lemon Law? Water = mold/mildew = health hazard! All of my stereotypes about used car dealers were challenged (just a little bit) by this experience.

From my perspective – we can’t have a discussion in this area without talking about the components of this experience that are relevant to web experience management: Channel, Content, Interaction and Relevance. The auto industry is a perfect example of where alignment of the experience becomes crucial to a positive experience. How many different channels did I interact with during my purchase journey? I discovered the dealership via an internet search; researched the vehicles on their website and via my mobile phone; communicated with their internet sales associate via email and phone and visited their online and offline showroom. When I signed up for notification of availability of a specific model year, features and mileage range, I didn’t want to see emails that didn’t meet my criteria and waste my time. There were countless instances where what was listed on a dealer web site wasn’t available and the site hadn’t been updated to reflect the changes. Each time that happened – it wasted the precious time of a potential buyer and jeopardized the reputation of the dealership. The content I experienced along the way had a variety of value in decision making – ranging from images of the vehicles, 3D interactive video tours of the vehicles, reviews of the models, CarFax on the specific vehicles I was considering, current pricing, trade-in and blue-book values, loan-rates, promotional marketing material, social network and forum commentaries, as well as my personal social community following the saga and offering advice along the way.

Yet – our experience with the additional interactions and inquiries from Toyota, the dealer’s service dept, and their customer service survey follow-up all seemed to be disconnected from our specific experience that was happening concurrently. There was no complete 360 degree view of our experience. Yes – they had a very active customer relationship management follow-up program – but no connections to the full picture of what we were experiencing. What we were seeking during this process were interactions in context and relevance to what we were experiencing. Although the dealership saved face in making our purchase experience right in the end, in order to succeed competitively and win the loyalty of customers, they need to connect the dots and provide an experience that makes every online or offline interaction consistent, contextualized, meaningful and relevant.

Oracle WebCenterThe challenge of delivering and optimizing all of these factors is great and I don’t mean to minimize the effort required whatsoever. Just trying to get multiple groups within an organization to agree on what their unified cross-channel customer experience should be is an incredible challenge that really necessitates executive sponsorship for any of these initiatives to succeed. Oracle WebCenter is the Web experience management solution that enables organizations to use the online channel to drive customer acquisition and brand loyalty. Oracle can provide the tools and expertise to help drive your success in these initiatives, but without executive sponsorship and a culture that fosters good customer experiences across all channels – technology won’t solve all the problems.

Some of the issues that keep companies from attempting to provide a large-scale, multi-channel experience are eliminated with Oracle WebCenter. Oracle WebCenter enables business users to easily manage a multi-channel global online presence, requiring minimal IT support for daily tasks. Oracle WebCenter provides a highly scalable WEM platform with built-in content targeting and optimization, user-generated content, integration with social networking sites, end-user personalization with gadgets, mobile web deployment and integrations with CRM, commerce, ECM, and business intelligence.

The culture of an organization that promotes successful customer engagement using the online channel can enable organizations to attract and retain the loyalty of customers in an extremely competitive business environment. Doing so, however, requires addressing significant new challenges and additional dimensions of complexity in managing the online channel. We’ll hear more about best practices in this area throughout the week with a few guest bloggers from our team here at Oracle. So - stay tuned for more to come.

Thanks & we hope you enjoy the week!

-Michael

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Oracle WebCenter is the center of engagement for business—powering exceptional experiences for customers, partners, and employees. It connects people, process, and information with the most complete portfolio of portal, Web experience management, content, imaging and collaboration technologies.

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