What is the role of the human in the agency model?

What is the role of the human in the agency model?

11th April 2024 · Arvato · Blog

Mike Orlic, Business Development Director, ArvatoConnect

Should the new automotive “agency model”, where OEMs sell direct to the consumer and use dealership partners to provide elements like delivery and servicing, mean a mainly digital, automated customer experience?

While today’s car buyers have a greater appetite for digital contact channels and automated solutions, and the agency model provides new opportunities to deploy these, customers still value the human touch.

This was reflected in a recent YouGov poll of UK adults that we commissioned around appetite for automation.

Only two per cent of respondents said that they’d be happy for every one of their interactions to be fully automated. Many more said they’d be comfortable for all interactions to be primarily automated provided there is some human interaction when there are issues (14%), or for their interactions to be primarily human-led, but with some degree of automation (23%).

Meanwhile, there are suggestions that – among some demographics – demand for in-person experience within the automotive purchasing journey is actually on the rise.

As Stephen Ryden-Lloyd, Global Head of Ecommerce at Nissan, observed at our recent second annual mobility forum, held in partnership with changemaker: “Ten years ago a buyer visited a dealership seven or eight times. It went down to one or two in the intervening years but it’s going back up again because Gen Z likes to physically experience things.”

agency model

Eyes on the road

Brands can’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach – a rigid customer purchase journey that only offers an option for technology- or human-led approach in specific areas.

The challenge, then, is delivering flexibility based on an optimised blend of technology- and human-led touchpoints.

The best solutions will offer digital touchpoints where they’re appropriate and valued, but allow customers to jump out of a digital journey at any point to seek human support. They will be able to track exactly where a customer is in the purchase journey, and seamlessly share information from various touchpoints and stages, so that wherever a customer moves to in their journey, the technology- or human-led support is able to seamlessly pick-up from where a previous touchpoint left off.

This all fundamentally rests on brands’ ability to build customer journeys that are designed around their actual needs, and that corral and orchestrate data securely – something that sounds obvious, but that is still so often missed or hard to put into practice.

Research we conducted for our Digital Deficit report found that 86% of UK automotive brands aren’t gathering customer feedback on how their current processes are delivering. Meanwhile, 70% don’t have an overarching data strategy, and – most concerningly – nearly four-fifths (79%) aren’t confident they can protect the data in their care.  

Sharing, caring

How exactly does designing around customer needs and data orchestration help with this all-important flexibility, and what might it look like in the agency model?

A thorough understanding of what customers are comfortable with will help brands identify that point where it is appropriate for digital solutions to be deployed, and indeed, where they’re actively desired – with that option of human support on hand.

For example, an OEM might determine that most of its customers are happy to use entirely automated channels when they’re browsing vehicle options – for example, using a chatbot on a website to gather information on specs and basic price – but some customers may like to be able to switch to speak to an agent when it comes to making a purchase.

This insight gives brands the ability to confidently deploy digital solutions, safe in the knowledge that they’re ‘right’ for that time, and that customer, in that place.

With this, they can protect the customer relationship, while making the most of the benefits that digital solutions offer. These include giving more time back to agents to further support customers. For one of our automotive clients, we designed a chatbot solution that handled more than a fifth (21%) of enquiries, resolving basic questions about products and services, ultimately enabling its team to spend more of their time on the most complex questions and issues.

Once brands have pinpointed the right ‘mix’ of technology- and human-led support, they shouldn’t stop there. A next step is reviewing how they can augment their agents with technology, in line with customer appetite, to keep driving better experiences and free-up capacity.   

Using our data mining platform, Arvato Discovery Engine (ADE), a premium automotive brand was able to pinpoint exactly where these opportunities were – uncovering a ‘utilisation gap’ of 19.4%. This was time that could be unlocked by using a smart mix of technology tools to support agents, such as AI-powered transcription and content capturing solutions.

Building relationships, bit by bit

A fully-integrated data strategy helps unlock that capability for a customer to seamlessly engage and re-engage, at any point in their journey, at any touchpoint and regardless of whether the interaction is with the dealership or OEM. 

It means that agents will always have access to up-to-the-minute data on customers – knowing exactly where they are in their purchase journey, and what their previous interactions with a brand have been.

It will help ensure that any data captured in conversations with agents is recorded so that it can then, in turn, be leveraged by digital or automated solutions at a later point, so that customers can seamlessly resume a digital journey after switching to a human interaction.   

Done well, this can unlock significant upsell and cross-sell opportunities. If a customer mentions to the dealership on a test drive that they’d benefit from an optional extra like heated seats, and this information is seamlessly passed on to the OEM by storing on a shared Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, then the OEM can make sure it’s factored-into sales conversations at the right time. This is regardless of whether this conversation is being had through an intelligent chatbot, directly on the phone or face to face.

In an ideal situation, the outcome of that sales conversation can even then be fed back to a digital touchpoint at a later stage – for example, an online portal where the customer is finalising their vehicle’s specific configuration.

It also avoids issues of ‘looping’ – customers being redirected from touchpoint to touchpoint, and being asked to provide the same information again.

For example, if a customer gives an OEM information through a chatbot at an early stage of their purchasing journey on how they plan to use the car, and then are grilled by a dealership agent during the test drive on the same information and then once more again during the final steps of purchasing, it’s likely to cause significant frustration. In the worst cases, this could cause them to abandon a sales process or even recommend others against purchasing from a particular brand.

Making changes

With the right customer insight and data sharing capabilities, both OEM and dealership will be in a strong position to design purchase journeys that meet customers’ preferences for in-person, digital or automated support, and to seamlessly bridge the parts of the purchasing journey that are in-person, agent-led, digital, or fully automated.

As Nicola Murphy, Leader Customer Experience Manager at Metro Bank, and ex-Volvo and VW Group, also commented at our forum: “It should be a joyful journey – not like pulling teeth!”

Wall-to-wall digital, and complete automation is unlikely to be the answer. The human is still at the heart of, what is usually an emotion-led automotive buying process.

At ArvatoConnect, we have more than 50 years of experience helping global mobility brands reimagine, shape and deliver their customer experience processes to help deliver seamless journeys that delight. You can find out more about our automotive solutions here or to explore how we can specifically help you with your challenges, please contact enquiries@arvatoconnect.co.uk.

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