Personalized Web sites are becoming automotive marketers' Internet tool of choice for customer relationship management.
That was the message at an automotive conference in San Jose, Calif., where representatives from Audi, DaimlerChrysler, Nissan, Toyota and various suppliers discussed customer relationship management.
Jim McGough, e-business leader at Audi of America, says the My Audi site, available through the audiusa.com site, has worked well for the company.
'My Audi allows us to discover things about our customers that we didn't know before,' he says. 'For example, we can see lifestyle affinities and how prospects and owners get the same information.'
The personalized Web site lets Audi owners and prospects save vehicle comparisons, buy merchandise and receive targeted offers.
Similar sites are available or under consideration at other manufacturers, including Toyota, whose revised Web site is being introduced this month. Irv Miller, vice president of the Office of the Web at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., would not divulge the site's cost.
The auto industry's distribution system adds to the complexity of developing a valuable customer relationship. Because consumers buy through dealers, it begs the question: To whom should the customer be loyal? To the dealership that sold the vehicle or the manufacturer whose brand is on the vehicle?
Robert MacNaughton, vice president of Cars.com, says automakers and dealers need to better coordinate their customer-retention efforts.
Cars.com provides customized Web sites that let customers schedule vehicle service and receive coupons for service; provide directions and maps to the dealership; and compare vehicles when buying or leasing new vehicles.
For designing a dealer Web site, Cars.com charges a one-time fee of $2,500, plus a monthly fee of $200 for hosting. The company also provides other services to dealers, including Customer Center. This is the dealer equivalent of the personalized Web sites offered by automakers. Cars.com charges $750 a month for this service.
Automakers see personalized Web sites - or the Internet, for that matter - as an element in a larger customer-relationship plan.
'We are using technology to connect with consumers,' says Tom Orbe, Infiniti Division general manager. 'We are striving for total ownership experience, which requires superior products, a superior ownership experience, and a superior dealership experience.'
Audi's McGough agrees.
'Web sites are just the tip of the iceberg,' he says. 'My Audi is a metaphor for a customer-centric way of doing business that goes beyond the Web site. Rather, it's a personalized way of communicating with our customers. We are going to expand our approach so the entire ownership experience is like 'My Audi.'