Opinion by Martin Schwenk, managing director and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India

Technology has drastically altered the way we live our lives. It has disrupted everything that we do – the way we travel, the way we work, the way we transact, communicate, shop, eat  and even the way we buy cars. Every aspect of our lives is somehow centred around a particular form of technology.

The way you and I act as consumers today is markedly different from what we were ten years ago. We had the internet then too. However, our first touchpoint with a brand or product was often the physical store. Today, the smartphone has put the power and potential of the internet in people’s pockets moving the first consumer touchpoint online and onto a screen. This little telephone has dramatically transformed our lives.

The customer journey today is not linear but resembles more of a network of interactions between customers, the brand, retailer, third party information sources and the product. The consumer tends to jump from online to offline consumption back and forth. This is making communication strategies complex. Therefore, brands need to constantly innovate.

Customer-centric journey essentially means a personalised customer interaction on all levels of communication or transaction. Just like so much of our lives, our consumption has also shifted into the digital realm. This has forced companies to rethink marketing and engagement strategies. The shift of consumption into the digital realm has opened up opportunities as well as thrown up challenges. Companies can speak directly to their consumers.

Of course, so far, shopping for a car is still a more physical and tactile experience than is, say, shopping for a watch. Customers still want to walk into a showroom, experience what a car feels like to sit in, examine the fit and finish of the interiors first-hand, take it out for a test drive. Product segmentation has taken on an all-new dimension. Dealerships are creating a bespoke ambience for different categories of cars, heightening the sense of engagement a customer feels when he/she interacts with a car in the flesh.

What’s more, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality and embedded screens are informing a customer’s purchase decisions in a more relevant and transparent way than ever before. As physical as the experience of buying a car still remains, there could well come a day when the spread of digitalisation makes it possible for a consumer to experience a car in just as much detail without actually setting foot into a showroom.

At Mercedes-Benz, we want to make buying a car as easy as ordering a book online and we have invested multimillion dollars into creating an unbeatable customer experience for the future. Globally, we have been investing in mobility, which goes beyond the actual vehicle and will continue to expand this commitment. With the world riding high on the digital wave, a focus on Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric (CASE) strategy has the power to turn our entire industry upside down. However, the true revolution is in combining them in a comprehensive, seamless package that is surely customer centric.