Dec 112012

The author has posted comments on this articleAparna Ramalingam & Nandini Sen Gupta, TNN | Dec 12, 2012, 02.53AM IST
CHENNAI: Car companies are learning some lessons in customer care from the banking and finance industry by offering car buyers more personalised services in the form of relationship managers.

As the auto industry focuses more and more on retaining customers and improving brand loyalty in a highly competitive market, car companies are trying to offer either specialised sales experts or a team to handhold customers through their entire range of requirements from sales, service, after sales to insurance, finance, customization and accessories.

The idea is that the sales agent will be the one-person window for the customer in terms of all his requirements – just like a relationship manager is the personalised service interface for a bank. And it’s not just the luxury marques that are doing this – even mass market brands like Mahindra & Mahindra and Maruti now have specialised teams handling customers.

The focused attention is often concentrated on premium products. “We have created a Purple Club for buyers of premium SUVs like XUV500 and Rexton. The buyers will be connected to an M&M official who will act as the single point contact between the vehicle owner and the company,” said Vivek Nayer, chief marketing officer, automotive division, M&M.

The official will act exactly like a relationship manager and in case there is need for a service pick-up or some other issue like mechanical failure of the vehicle, the customer will just have to call their advisor who will arrange to have the car picked up and the problem sorted out.

For luxury brands like Mercedes Benz, a relationship manager is necessary to handle ‘niche requirements’ said director-sales & marketing, Debashis Mitra, Mercedes Benz. “We have a large portfolio of vehicles which caters to niche requirements of customers. There are ‘lifestyle’ vehicles such as the E Coupe, E Cabriolet, SL & SLK, ‘sports performance vehicles’ such as the iconic SLS AMG, G 55 AMG and ‘protection vehicles’ such as the E Guard, S Guard etc,” he said. “We believe that these customers have a different set of needs and they need ‘specialists’ who can handle their requirements. We therefore have a ‘Speciality Sales Team’ both at MB India as well as at some of our select dealerships where we have experts who are trained to handle the specific needs of these customers.”

Even a mass market brand like Maruti, for instance, has a norm that limits the number of customers each direct sales expert or DSE can handle in a month. The idea is to restrict the DSE to not more than five customers.

“We have a concept called ‘customer for life’ that allows the customer to interact with one person for everything from sales, after sales, accessories to finance, insurance and customization,” said COO-marketing and sales, Mayank Pareek, Maruti Suzuki. “To that end we have a norm that no DSE will handle more than five customers per month. Since 50% of customers are first-time car buyers, they need extra handholding. We have fixed five as the optimum number – less than that is under performance, more will affect quality of service.”

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