China’s auto manufacturers have done very well selling cars to drivers born during the 1980s. They need to learn how to sell aftersales service to them as well.
If you own a car in China, then you are more likely to have been born during the 1980s than any other decade. Around half of all car owners in the country were born between 1980 and 1989 and in climbing behind the wheel of their first cars, this generation has driven rapid recent growth in the Chinese auto market. Now the future success of auto brands will come to depend on understanding their needs as car owners.
If brands want to build loyalty and drive repeat purchases amongst this 80s generation, then they need to deliver the very specific aftersales experience that they demand. They won’t manage this by following the same formula that they developed for those born in the 60s and 70s. And they won’t do it by trusting to the stereotype of younger consumers as rebellious, self-centred and cynical.
The 80s generation is approaching its prime: married, becoming parents, with an average income three to four times the national average and an expectation of being in charge. At work, they are breaking into the ranks of management or running their own businesses, and as they desperately try to preserve work-life balance, they’ve come to depend on the car to help them get closer to being in several places at once. Their income makes them less price-sensitive than previous generations, but the pressure on their time means that they demand a car-owning experience that can meet their particular individual needs. The closer that auto brands can get to this, the greater their ability to drive aftersales revenue and preserve market share.
Workshops I can walk away from
Waiting whilst a vehicle is serviced is simply not an option for the 80s generation. Time spent sitting at a dealership undermines either their busy working schedules or precious time with family and friends, and so a servicing set-up that allows them to multi-task is essential. They gravitate towards retail and leisure complexes where cinemas, shops and leisure parks are all within walking distance. Any auto brand that can put workshops into such environments could go a long way towards ensuring that precious time isn’t wasted.
Constant, convenient connectivity
The 80s generation has grown up with technology, and they expect auto brands to use that technology to stay on top of their needs. They love Weibo, a Chinese social network that’s very much a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook. And they prefer instant messaging service WeChat to spending time on the phone. Auto brands should make use of these channels when communicating with customers, offering promotions and arranging aftersales appointments. But there’s no need to stop there. The drivers of the 80s generation expect intelligent vehicle systems to take the initiative when it comes to their own servicing, prompting them when it’s time for a tune-up. And real-time updates on the progress of services are another valued way that brands can leverage technology to help save their customers’ time.
A new form of status, a new form of service
Status remains hugely important to all Chinese car owners – but for the 80s generation it’s important that their vehicle wins respect for them on their own individual terms. Demonstrating individuality is absolutely fundamental to their emotional connection to their cars, and personalisation rather than sheer bling for the sake of it is the preferred way of making a statement. Refitting options that can give cars a more individual style can be a powerful USP for auto brands. But the desire for a more personalised approach doesn’t end with the vehicle itself. Whereas polite, friendly service staff are a priority for older car owners, the 80s generation demand a more tailored approach that respects their busy lives: pick-up services, off-site options and the offer for dealers to take care of fiddly tasks such as taxing and insuring vehicles. Think a concierge for cars, and you are definitely on the right road.
China’s 1980s generation love technology, they depend on it – and they demand a great deal of it as well. Cars are no different to any other hi-tech device in this respect. As auto brands will soon come to understand, selling customers the device is only the first part of the game. If they want those customers to recommend them, to spend money on profitable aftersales services, and to come back to buy again in the future, then they need to ensure that the experience of owning a car, and the aftercare service that they receive, fulfils the promise of the product.
Lei Lin is Chairman of Kantar TNS Sinotrust. He founded Sinotrust in 1992 and it grew rapidly to become a leading automotive research provider.