People don't want to feel like they're being stalked. We've all been surfing the web at one point in the day, only to have tailored advertisements appear to us later on. It can be a bit unsettling.
On the other hand, most people in an Amazon-shopping world want their buying experience to be as convenient and frictionless as possible. The same is true for rudimentary tasks such as getting around town and scheduling appointments.
This all applies to the dealership's relationship with customers.
Despite concerns about privacy, customers want dealers to know them better, according to Cox Automotive's recent Technology and Transformation of Retail Study. The study, which surveyed 532 franchised dealerships and 2,032 recent automotive customers over about four weeks last spring, found that 74 percent of consumers think a personalized experience at the dealership is important. That number rises to 87 percent for customers ages 18-24 and to 81 percent for the 25-34 age group.
Personalization can be borne from the vast amounts of data that basically everyone with an Internet connection coughs up regularly. But it can be useful to both dealers and, Cox says, to their customers, when automation and artificial intelligence are used for customer personalization.
Cox's study said 40 percent of retail and consumer-products companies are using AI-driven automation now, but that number is expected to grow to 79 percent by 2021.
Cox's study walked through a typical day with personalized automation and AI: Someone turns on Spotify to start their day, and their soundtrack is a personalized playlist. They consult Alexa on the weather, and then tell their Nest device to set their home's temperature 2 degrees lower. Next, they'll use Waze to determine the best route to work. They'll order lunch from a kiosk at McDonald's. Back at home, they'll ask Alexa the status of a package that's supposed to be delivered. They'll schedule a service visit for their car with a virtual assistant. Finally, they'll unwind with a show that Netflix recommended for them, based on their viewing history.
Still, most consumers believe the personalization benefits the companies more than it does them. And 58 percent feel personalization technology violates their privacy. And 56 percent feel it is "too creepy."
On the other hand, 68 percent of consumers don't mind companies using personalization technology if it improves their overall shopping experience. Particularly relevant to auto retailers: 67 percent of consumers said personalization technology will improve the vehicle buying process, and 63 percent said personalization technology will improve the ownership process.
The expected personalization extends to the service department. Almost nine in 10 vehicle owners expect a dealer's service department to know something about them when they reach out for an appointment, the study said. And about eight in10 consumers want to hear from dealers after the purchase.
Most consumers still say human interaction is a "necessary and irreplaceable part" of buying and owning a vehicle, Cox's study said. To that point, 62 percent of respondents said they still want to sign the final paperwork in person, with a dealer rep on hand.
Consumers don't want companies selling products to them to be creepy, but they do want the buying process to be personalized. As advancements in technology inevitably allow businesses to know their customers better, dealerships should behave like a friend, not like someone who needs a restraining order.