By Tom Cheesewright (@bookofthefuture), Futurist
27 February 2014: Ever dreamt about flying? It’s an odd sensation. Like there’s an invisible force bearing you up, lifting firmly but gently on every limb. The sensation is not dissimilar when you put your foot down in a Tesla. No fuss, no fury, just a firm, insistent force from the seat behind you, driving you on. Very, very quickly.
Cruising around the streets of Barcelona in Tesla’s seven-seater supercar, it’s hard not to focus on the technology. The enormous touch screen. The endless tweakability. The clever powertrain. And, oh, that performance.
My chariot awaits… #MWC14 pic.twitter.com/CbpiZfZVeu — Tom Cheesewright (@bookofthefuture) February 24, 2014
The Tesla is designed to be connected. Media? You have the world’s internet radio stations at your disposal. Got a problem? An engineer can dial-in from base, diagnose and even fix the problem remotely. They’ll keep an eye on the car for you, keeping it secure and ensuring problems are fixed before they become critical. More technology, and very clever. But it’s how this technology changes our relationship with the car, and more importantly its maker, that really struck me. Once I’d stopped grinning.
A little detour into history is required here. In a past life I ran a digital agency, building websites and web applications. One of our biggest projects was a self-service platform for a car finance company.
Most such projects are driven by a desire to save money. This one was all about the customer relationship. The finance company had recognised an opportunity to maintain a relationship with customers that stretched beyond taking money out of their accounts each month.
Through the web portal customers could monitor their financial position, but also access relevant content: special offers, upgrade recommendations, and a dealer stock search tool. By staying in touch like this, the company’s executive team believed they could increase the chance that a new purchase was made on finance, from one of their network of dealers. They might persuade people to upgrade earlier, and get an early warning if people were struggling to pay.
A finance company could do this because the manufacturers and dealerships hadn’t. Through a number of projects in the car industry I learned that dealers and car manufacturers have, on the whole, been pretty poor at customer relationship management. The sale has been the important event. And while they absolutely want you to come back for servicing, the investment in ensuring this has been limited compared to other industries.
Beyond the Sale
The very nature of the connected car means this is almost certainly going to change. Because when you buy a connected car it is no longer about that one event, the sale, it’s about a relationship. A relationship reinforced every time you get in the car, and focused on making sure it is the safest, most reliable, and most entertaining drive possible.
Delivering this relationship successfully is about much more than the shiny gadgets in the car. It’s about data, process, and customer care. It’s about listening to the driver as much as the car’s telematics. It’s about the things that haven’t always been the strengths of the car makers or dealers. So how the market plays out in the coming years will be fascinating to watch.
Connected cars are packed with technology. And this will continue to catch the eye, especially when it is packaged in a form like the Tesla. But connected cars are really about long term relationships, not lustful attraction. If the car makers and their partners can get the processes right, in just a few years you might find yourself married to your motor, and its maker.