The Impact of Software-Defined Vehicles on Customer Service

As customer and vehicle servicing becomes more fragmented between digital and physical needs, focusing on reducing friction and creating a more seamless experience for vehicle owners should be paramount.

Chris Ahn

July 11, 2023

4 Min Read
Software-defined vehicle (Getty)
Software-defined vehicles present opportunity for outstanding customer service.Getty Images

Software-defined vehicles (SDVs) represent the future of the automotive industry with far-reaching implications for original equipment manufacturers in terms of design, customization, in-vehicle services, data sharing and customer service. As the industry rapidly shifts from hardware-centric designs to a software platform paradigm, the service lane experience and dealership business models may need to evolve accordingly.

Customer service representatives will play an increasingly vital role in the SDV transition as the driver features shift from fixed, hardware-driven experiences to dynamic, software-led ones, considering personalization across the broader mobility ecosystem.

While traditional internal-combustion-engine vehicles are mechanically complex, with drivetrains, transmissions and many engine components that must work together, SDVs, by comparison, are more technologically complex due to their software platform. This fundamental shift reduces the need for mechanical repairs for battery-electric vehicles and places a greater emphasis on diagnosing software-related issues.

Today, dealership service managers primarily serve as the customer service representatives responsible for handling most vehicle servicing cases on behalf of the brand. However, with the advent of over-the-air software updates managed by OEMs, the roles of managing and servicing vehicles become increasingly ambiguous. Nevertheless, both entities face a shared challenge of navigating the product transition while striving to create a seamless and hassle-free servicing experience for vehicle owners.

The Evolution of Customer Service Experience

The emergence of SDVs brings forth a fresh customer service experience within the industry, presenting potentially innovative post-sale opportunities. In contrast to the traditional approach of physically installed options, SDVs offer the prospect of software enhancements as a new avenue for post-sales customization, personalization and integration of the vehicle as a mobility enabler, integrated more seamlessly into the surrounding infrastructure (home, city, etc.).  

Take, for example, the improvement of a vehicle’s acceleration. In the past, this would require mechanical modifications, but now it can be accomplished through a simple software update, conveniently purchased online and delivered over the air. This evolution becomes even more intriguing when considering battery-electric vehicles. The close connection between software and modern BEVs introduces critical points in the service value chain. A notable example is the management of charging, a pivotal aspect of BEV ownership, where software-driven solutions have the potential to optimize charging times, locations and costs.

Physical Vs. Digital Service Lanes

Innovation often brings disruption, and the customer service realm is no exception. This disruption arises from the introduction of software, which challenges the traditional dynamics of the service lane experience, particularly in dealership service centers.

Historically, dealerships have been the primary customer service providers, playing a crucial role in vehicle maintenance beyond sales. They served as the intermediary between consumers and their vehicles, forming a direct connection.

However, the balance of power is shifting. With the increasing presence of updateable software in vehicles, OEMs have greater influence in previously dealer-specific territory. This shift toward software-centric servicing gives rise to a new “digital service lane” managed by OEM software engineering teams rather than service center mechanics.

As more vehicles transition to next-generation electrical architecture platforms, where OEMs develop and own the vehicle software code end-to-end, the digital service lane is likely to become the predominant platform for vehicle owners seeking servicing and maintenance.

Data Sharing Strategies for OEMs and Dealers

Establishing a balanced data-sharing ecosystem between OEMs and dealerships is crucial, considering the division of responsibilities. While OEMs own in-vehicle data and dealerships handle physical aspects such as part replacements and loaner vehicle provision, a symbiotic exchange of data can serve the interests of both parties.

While OEMs possess valuable data, the challenge lies in translating insights into actionable steps, which can be addressed by operationalizing data insights to provide personalized consumer recommendations. The sharing of data between the two is likely paramount in creating a superior customer service experience.

OEMs should move away from a speculative “what if” mindset and embrace decisive “no regret” actions. Despite OEMs owning a significant portion of onboard and offboard vehicle data, they cannot claim exclusive ownership of the entire customer experience, as dealerships still engage with certain vehicle servicing aspects.

This mutual understanding and data sharing can benefit consumers by enabling OEMs and dealerships to offer more comprehensive and efficient services that enhance the driver/operator experience across the ownership lifecycle. Whether it involves dealerships providing loaner vehicles based on OEM data or OEMs implementing fixes based on the dealer’s report, a strategic advantage is evident: an enhanced customer experience.

Chris Ahn_Deloitte.jpg

Chris Ahn_Deloitte

Prioritizing Customer Service

As SDVs reshape the automotive industry, customer service emerges as an important priority. SDVs open unprecedented connections to vehicle owners for OEMs – a space that dealerships have shaped and owned for decades. As customer and vehicle servicing becomes more fragmented between digital and physical needs, focusing on reducing friction and creating a more seamless experience for vehicle owners should be paramount. Ultimately, the success of SDVs may hinge on delivering exceptional customer service that caters to vehicle owners' unique needs and expectations, solidifying their trust and satisfaction in this new era of automotive innovation.

Chris Ahn (pictured, above left) leads the Deloitte U.S. Connected Vehicle and Electrification practice.



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