In a typical year, upward of 30 million vehicles in the U.S. are affected by recalls. We expect this number to grow as vehicles increase in complexity and are built with more parts that could break or malfunction. Swiftly driving these recalls to completion is critical. After all, consumer brand perception and loyalty, manufacturer financial penalties and, most important, consumer safety are on the line. Yet today, fewer than half of vehicles 5 years old and older get recall-related repair services. As a result, recall campaigns last not weeks, but years — consider the ongoing Takata airbag recall.
It has become increasingly clear that traditional recall campaign management needs a revamp to be more proactive, engaging, optimized, agile and data-driven.
This can be done by focusing on four core areas of improvement:
1. Going beyond VIN: With time of the essence, effective vehicle owner notification is nonnegotiable. For older vehicles that may have changed hands several times, this process is particularly complex — and a likely variable in why very few vehicles older than five years are taken in for recall repairs.
While VIN remains a source of truth, it must be validated with multiple data sources to ensure the accuracy of owner information. This not only improves and streamlines owner outreach, it also helps eliminate the "false notifications" of previous owners that can needlessly damage a brand.
2. New ways to notify: Snail mail has long been the relied-upon form of recall-related communication with consumers. The use of paper mail notifications is, after all, a requirement set by NHTSA. But on its own, it lacks effectiveness. Our research shows that the type and frequency of notification a vehicle owner receives has a significant impact on completion, and that digital is a smart way to go. While two-thirds of owners who receive mail-only notification complete recalls, the figure can jump to 90 percent for those who are also notified via other channels such as phone, text or email.
Responsiveness increases further with direct engagement, such as a conversation at the dealership or repair facility during a scheduled maintenance appointment or through touchpoints such as roadside assistance. Consumers also respond well to follow-up, with completion rate increasing by more than 8 percentage points when a second notification is received (beyond this point, completion rate decreases).
3. Motivation, access are key: Recall completion is much more than just notification; consumer motivation plays an integral role. Our studies have found that of the vehicle owners who do not act on their recall notices at all (i.e., did not attempt to schedule a repair, representing approximately 65 percent of consumers who did not reach recall completion), many indicated they were simply unconcerned or forgot. There is a clear opportunity for greater consumer education, including a change in the type of information shared in recall notices and the style in which it is communicated to encourage clearer understanding.
Further, scheduling remains a barrier. Approximately one-third of consumers who don't complete a recall do so because there was no convenient time for the repair, the shop or dealer lacked the appropriate parts or there was too much hassle involved. The key is making this process as easy as possible. Automatic follow-up when parts are available, prearranged vehicle pickup and drop-off from home, loaner cars or alternative transportation options can nudge completion rates and drive consumer satisfaction. For those consumers who have completed repairs (10 to 15 percent in our experience), an easy-to-use, branded reimbursement portal with automated logic can reduce administrative overhead while creating a positive, streamlined consumer experience.