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Confusion rules?

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At ICDP, we have recently completed a new round of consumer research, this time asking regular cross-sample of the population (so not just car buyers, but also those who do not currently own a car, and even those who do not currently drive) what they make of the growing range of alternatives to traditional car ownership, notably shared-use mobility schemes, flexible subscription models, and more inclusive forms of leasing.  Are they aware of the schemes, would they consider using them, and might accessing a car this way even replace other cars that they currently own or use?  PRESS RELEASE
The headline findings, that only 16% of respondents across France, Germany, Italy, and the UK were actually aware of the subscription models currently being rolled out by a number of different manufacturers, and that inclusive leasing schemes, arguably a much more familiar product, still only scored 41% awareness, should serve as a stark reminder of the gap between topics that are ‘all the rage’ within the industry, and the actual awareness levels (not to mention readiness to buy) of their intended users …
Notwithstanding the fact that there is some considerable way to go in spreading the word about how the industry would like us to ‘access’ cars in the future, it is clear that the ‘monthly payment’ is becoming the norm for an ever-greater proportion of car owners and users.  Whilst the UK new car market has long been dominated by business and now personal leasing and contract hire, other European markets where consumers have historically been less in thrall to ‘cheap credit’ are now catching up; the penetration of leasing and PCPs in the French retail new car market has grown from 13% in 2009 to 48% in 2016 for example.
But if the future is one of monthly payments for a ‘contract’ giving access to a car, surrounded by an ever more complex ‘bundle’ of additional features, options, complementary services, loyalty rewards, etc. (everything from the ability to switch cars, to mobile data plans, to service and warranty packages, to ticketing for alternative transport modes), then the industry would do well to study how complex customer contacts and contracts are handled in other service sectors … for lessons on what not to do …
I recently received the latest bill from my home phone and broadband provider.  I will spare their blushes by just saying that they are one of the UK’s largest, but experience suggests that the same comments often apply to their competitors too.  I say ‘receive’, but as is the way nowadays, what I actually got was a notification of a payment that would imminently be taken by direct debit, so too late to be queried if I thought that anything was amiss or needed changing, plus an invitation to view the bill itself on their web site.  The last time I logged in, it thought for a moment that I was someone else, which scarcely reassured me that their data security infrastructure is up to scratch.  The site itself is labyrinthine – actually finding the bill takes about 10 clicks (assuming you are using a browser that it cooperates with).  Repeated invitations to ‘view your bundle’ led to broken links, and the special upgrade offers that dominated the screen led either round in a circle, or to packages that are not available in my area.  I logged onto the site hoping to establish what it was that I actually pay for each month, how long I have left to run on my contract, and what my upgrade options are.  I found none of this information in anything remotely approaching easily-digestible form.  I wanted to get a view on whether I am paying over the odds for my current ‘bundle’, and then maybe look on a price comparison site at alternatives, but now I have no idea, so I have given up.  I guess this is one way of ensuring customer loyalty …
I don’t want my future car ‘owning’ experience to be like this, and nor should it be.  If the benchmark for the car companies is the level of customer service provided in some other sectors offering product/service ‘bundles’, then the threshold to beat is in some cases remarkably low.  The industry should be aiming much higher, but in doing so, it needs to remain ever mindful of the gap between its own perception of its products and services, and the level of understanding (or even of interest) of the typical consumer.  The last time we conducted car-buyer focus groups (we are planning some more for later in the year), it quickly became apparent that very few people could even remember whether they had signed up for an optional service plan when they bought their car, let alone what the plan actually covered …
Written by Andrew Tongue

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