Mass Customisation

The Empowered Buyer – How Personalisation Makes the Sale

Written for on August 31, 2016

If you live in Australia, you know all about the special deals that car dealers offer at the end of the financial year (EOFY); and if you were in the market for a new car like me, June would have been your most expensive month!

After your home, the family car is most likely your biggest financial commitment, no matter how you finance that purchase. So picking the best vehicle that meets your needs and budget as well as factoring in the cost of ownership for the long term and the resale value is a significant undertaking. Buying a new car is also an emotional decision that involves more complex feelings such as status symbols, pre-conceived ideas, likes and dislikes – some acquired over many years as well as inherited from our parents – and, of course, options from family and friends. Who would have thought that buying a vehicle for getting us from point A to point B (mostly from home to work and back) could be so complex!

The challenge doesn’t stop there. Gone are the days of the Ford Model T’s “any colour as long as it’s black”; this is the era of mass-personalisation. Personalising your new car is also more than just picking the colour. Car manufacturers, like vendors in most industries, are well aware of the price-conscious buyers, so several features have been made optional. These features are not just cosmetic ones either; they range from engine or wheel sizes to safety features, sun/moon roofs, leather seats, etc.

Knowing that we start doing our homework online to help us with that decision, car manufacturers have invested in websites with a highly visual and graphical interface to help us in our selection process. We can even now get an online quote/estimate for the on-the-road cost as well as the mandatory call to action: book a test drive from the nearest dealer.

Being the detailed and analytical person that I am, I was determined that my decision process was going to be an educated one, and any influences and opinions from my father and friends could be debated using documented hard facts and solid information.

My first approach was quite similar to what I would do to select an insurance product: I looked for comparison sites to compare different makes and model features side by side. I was a bit disappointed by what I found, which was generally a clunky user interface and a lack of selection criteria. In other words, you need to know the makes, models and grades of cars you want to compare. The problem is, there are so many different cars! How do I come up with a short list?

That left me having to go through several manufacturers’ websites. I ended up making a short list of car manufacturers based on conversations with my mechanic, my father, friends and by simply looking at what I see on the road that “looked nice.” It wasn’t quite the start that I was expecting to have, but nonetheless, I had my short list of six car manufacturers.

However, things got a bit more complicated when I had to identify the actual models and grade(s) that could potentially fit the bill. Ultimately, I had to extract the information that was relevant to me and manually enter it into a spreadsheet so I could compare. One advantage of that tedious method was that I was also able to add other valuable information from other sources such as the cost of comprehensive insurance, registration and maintenance cost to get a feel for ongoing running costs.

At the end of the day, I ended up with two tabs – one that compared the shortlist of six different cars on a minimum set of key criteria then a detailed tab to compare the top two.

What I found interesting was how each manufacturer allows consumers such as me to identify their ideal car. This is where things also started to get complicated and frustrating since some options are not available across all base models or grades. Car manufacturers have created a hierarchy that goes something like: Make -> Model -> Grade -> Car. So to start with, I had to pick the right grade to get exposed to the features that I wanted. That sometimes caused problems, because I wouldn’t always know what the features would be until I had made that grade selection, and backtracking to select another grade often meant starting from scratch (sigh).

Another point of frustration was when I tried to compare side by side two different grades from the same model. One manufacturer had a convoluted method that required me to select a totally different model in which I had no interest, and then replace it with the one I wanted (sigh again).

None seemed to offer the ability to save my configuration so that I could return to it at a later date. This meant that I had to reconfigure vehicles dozens of times over and over again, which is an expensive purchase since a decision wasn’t going to be made in just a few clicks!

Lastly, what was also disappointing was that my online requests for booking a test drive fell into black holes. There were either no or very late follow-ups, and they were totally disconnected from my actual visits to showrooms.

So my advice to car manufacturers is this:

First, you’re doing great work with the visual appeal of your websites – the embedded videos and images look awesome.

However, remember that we consumers are channel hoppers

we sometimes start on a PC/laptop, but we also use tablets, smart phones and different browsers too.  So it needs to work and be responsive across all of those platforms. Then, of course, we are going to visit the dealer and go for a test drive. If I book a test drive online, I should get a call back within 24 hours at the most, and when I visit the dealer, they should know already who I am and what I want to test drive.

When it comes to configuration, given the growing number of options and variations, whatever technology you are using now isn’t cutting the mustard … sorry. It started well and gave me the expectation that I could “build my car” easily, but it failed very quickly. Your “configurator” didn’t allow me to start the selection process where I wanted with the features that matter to me. There wasn’t even the option to rank some feature categories such as safety or fuel consumption to narrow down the choices, and it didn’t allow me to go back and forth as I changed my mind or changed priorities (and I do that a lot). I didn’t get any guidance in the process, and the fact that after spending a few minutes configuring my car, there was no option to save it was also disengaging.

The good news is, there is affordable technology that does all of the above and more; it’s called Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ), and the best ones are integrated into your CRM.  It’s a game changer when it comes to empowering consumers to personalise a product, services or bundles of the two. How do I know that? Because I happen to work for one of the leading CPQ vendors on the market.

And for those who are wondering what car I ended up buying, I got the Mazda 6. It came out on top of my selection criteria and even has a bonus “zoom zoom” button!


Top Technologies & Digital Strategies Impacting Finance

Written for on June 21, 2017

As technology continues to advance, not all members of the financial community are adopting at the same rate. After visiting the Adviser Innovation Summit and AIIA luncheon with David Whiteing from CBA, she details the key technologies & digital strategies that are both exciting the financial community & concerning them…

Over the last 7 years or so, I have noticed an exponential increase in the pivotal role of technology in the financial services sector. Yet, there are pockets amongst financial advisers (that could be described as “fundamentalists”) who are resisting this technological tsunami.

For example, 59% of advisers who have a website are not updating it regularly and only 5% have added a Live Chat option, even though this is a must, especially to engage with millennials.  Social Media was also reportedly underutilised and only 25% of advisers were currently using Virtual Meetings.

The reality of customer communication in Australia now is that advisers need to be omni channel, this means they need electronic follow ups, correspondence, automation, website traffic monitoring and alerts.

Robo Advice

There has been a lot of talking and writing about Robo Advice, maybe too much; as Matt Heine from Netwealth explained there is a lack of understanding as to what Robo really is and does.

Robo is about augmenting, NOT replacing.

Personally, I’ve always looked at it as another distribution channel and “relationship incubator. Robo advice, means having a way to engage with a client in a low friction and low cost manner. Combined with suitable technology to support highly personalised needs analysisguided selling, amongst others; Robo advice can provide the means to deepen and broaden the relationship with the client over time.

While only 3% of the advisers are using Robo now, as many as 26% are planning to add it to their business model. We are familiar with some aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana and Alexa; but AI is also known to be very good at investing. Combining constraints, and self learning algorithms and predictors AI is now showing the ability to return 4 times better than human benchmarks.

Virtual Reality

The moonshot discussion of the Adviser Innovation Summit was about Virtual Reality (VR). Wealth management is notoriously linked to uninspiring spreadsheets that offer a poor medium in client engagement to discuss financial aspirations, plans and options. VR however can offer a much more immersive alternative of representing all that data, visualising it and understanding it.

It is predicted that by 2025, 85% of the advisers’ customers will be connected all the time, not just with mobile phones but also via devices such as wearables and other IoT around the home. Financial planning firms are now being compared and measured against the likes of Amazon, Uber and Tesla. People expect a frictionless and uninterrupted experience. For the 21stCentury adviser this is the realisation that it is about Man with machine rather than Man vs. Machine.

Customer Experience Centric Business

The undisputable role of technology was also reflected in David Whiteing, Commonwealth Bank’s CIO speech at the AIIA event. The engagement and customer experience has been increasing exponentially to the point that the bank is now an experience centric business. While the core function of financial services institutions are machine to machine transactions; what matters to the businesses are the

1 million conversations per week that occur with their customers.

Another customer driven aspect is the pressure to be at the low end of the cost curve, this means using more open sources and cloud based technology.  David Whiteing went as far as telling the audience that if our plans don’t scare us then they are not bold enough. Velocity is also critical, and improving resilience and reliability of apps with frequent updates is important. Ultimately however, it has to be something the customer wants and use. The biggest challenge can be to make customers aware of those new features.

Ethics & Data

What could be the biggest challenge ahead for financial services is not technological, it’s the ethical approach to data in particular that sourced by wearables and IoT.

As Matt Heine pointed out, underwriting is going to be influenced by genomics and insurance claims will refer to the claimant’s activities recorded on their devices. More and more devices and apps are being developed and consumers are adopting at fantastic rates however, the ethical conversation has not come to a head just yet. The topic is brought up however we are distracted by the next shiny pieces of technology and an ethical standard is yet to be put in stone.