I recently moved back to the Ayala Automotive division after 16 years in other subsidiaries.
I was surprised by how much has changed and not really surprised by how much has remained the same.
The greatest changes were in the products. The cars of 16 years ago did not have the electronic components that we are seeing today. These are not just bells, whistles and cup holders. These are new features that add to the safety and comfort of drivers and passengers alike. Cars have become smart. Electronics have taken over for better engine control. New cars are covered in sensors and cameras that see what is not visible to the human eye. These electronic sensors monitor speed, wipers, fuel, passenger presence to ensure that seatbelts are fastened, or driving characteristics that indicate fatigue, and traction to ensure complete wheel control. These modern cars are amazingly equipped with complex software that empowers drivers and mechanics to know the status of the car.
There is also growing talk of self-driving cars in the near future. Some foreign manufacturers claim that these are already available in their markets. They have equipped these cars with additional GPS, cameras and controls that allow for autonomous driving.
These future cars beam out signals to other cars so they can “see” danger where drivers cannot. They are equipped with radar to allow cars to be set automatically to maintain safe cruising and alert the car to safely brake to avoid collisions. These cars have microphones for voice command, and vibrating sensors in the seats that alert drivers of hidden dangers.
These cars of the future are being launched in other parts, but the question is, are we ready to adapt to them in the same way that we gave up slide rules for calculators and later computers? These automotive innovations are, after all, just computerized tools. I wonder how many drivers would give up the joy of driving a new car if it was legally required for safety reasons.
Another change that I immediately noticed was the shift to mobility outsourcing. A lot of companies and even individuals are outsourcing their transportation requirements (think Uber). A big component of our sales is directed toward corporate clients like pharmaceuticals and hotels. A lot of them have shifted to third-party providers who buy the cars and maintain them. This outsourcing trend seems inevitable as these corporations do not see fleet management as an intrinsic part of their business that provides value.
Some have simply admitted that they do not have the competence to run this operation.
There is also a growing trend for young urban professionals to give up the aspirational motives of owning a car, especially with the traffic in Metro Manila, the lack of parking and the cost of ownership for an asset that may be underutilized. It’s a good thing that we are seeing growing demand for taxis and other public chauffeur services.
While it is true that so much has changed, so many constants have remained the same.
The sales process still starts with identifying the needs of customers and matching them up with the solutions that best suit their requirement. We still do not sell SUVs to individuals who may just need a sedan to go to church.
We have to deliver the same level of customer service that was expected before. In fact, with the many options that are available to clients, they actually expect more from us, dealers. Customers expect us to deliver the correct products and services on schedule and to be prompt on their requests. They expect good manners from everyone they meet, from the guard who greets and opens the door for them, to the sales executive who is expected to say ‘thank you’ on every delivery. Customers expect professional treatment, which means a complete explanation of product features that is simplified when necessary, to provide a clear understanding of the different features of the various cars. We have to show that we truly care. In the end, all customers are single individuals, even if they represent large corporations and we have to treat each of them in a very personal manner.
So much has really changed but the bottom line has remained the same, it’s the level of customer service and satisfaction that would set us apart.
Ned Goseco is currently COO of IDI—Volkswagen, an Ayala company. He is also a Director and Executive Vice President of FINEX.