Gareth Dunsmore, Nissan: On building physical and digital bridges and creating an ideal customer experience

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Building the right customer experience has always been vital, but the continuing uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on organisations’ robustness.

The reason: to take into account changing consumer sentiment and habits. According to recent McKinsey research, the vast majority of countries have seen an overwhelming number of citizens try new shopping behaviours since the pandemic began. Emerging economies such as Brazil (84%) and India (96%) saw the highest numbers, while for most of Europe, such as Italy (69%), Spain (66%) and the UK (63%), the figure hovered around two-thirds.

The automotive industry is by no means unaffected. A Capgemini study found that before Covid-19, just under half (44%) of car buyers did all their research online. Today, this has risen to more than 52%.

Nissan has observed these trends keenly – and Gareth Dunsmore, region vice president, brand and customer experience, is particularly watchful. With 17 years’ service at the company, Dunsmore’s career has encompassed sales, product management and – what he calls ‘the most rewarding of his life’ – running Nissan’s electric vehicles division.

Having spent the first lockdown living in Paris before recently moving back to the UK, the environmental effects, as well as behavioural ones, have not gone unnoticed. Indeed, Dunsmore notes that Parisians could get a rare unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower as the smog disappeared.

“From a consumer perspective, automotive interest collapsed as a mirror image to Covid growing in February, March and April,” he tells MarketingTech. “When it came back, the percentage of electric vehicles was significantly higher.”

The electric Nissan LEAF, therefore, remains front of mind. “We want to continue promoting that, continue pushing that,” adds Dunsmore. “We hope as things change, as we come out of the second phase of Covid, that the investments around not just electric vehicles but also renewable energy is consistent and could go hand in hand.”

Dunsmore is in charge of the AMIEO region, created earlier this year as part of a wider operational realignment and which encompasses Africa, Middle East, India, Europe and Oceania. A broad remit, certainly; so how do you create a consistent customer experience across all?

One of the biggest trends, he notes, is mobile-first engagement. In India – where 96% of McKinsey respondents had altered their buying behaviour – it is ‘almost all mobile-based’. The overall figure is nearer 70%. While this was a pre-Covid trend, there is more to add.

“It’s also understanding that customers aren’t starting and finishing their journey,” says Dunsmore. “What we’re predominantly seeing is people will engage with the [Nissan] site in the evening or morning on mobile. During the day they’ll shift to laptops and desktops, perhaps as they’re working, and then they’re back to their phone, and perhaps also palming that off to a partner or friend.

“That ability to bounce between devices I think is absolutely key, and we’ve seen that more so during Covid,” he adds.

For dealerships, where according to Autotrader among others, around three quarters of car sales in the UK are made, it’s slightly different. The partnership between manufacturer and dealer is key, Dunsmore notes, in helping the customer along their journey at the right time. Earlier this month, Nissan Saudi Arabia launched a WhatsApp account for customer service, as well as to help understand when customers are ready to speak to a third-party.

“Our dealers are absolutely our partners with this and many of them have strong mobile and digital presences as well,” says Dunsmore. “But our job is to allow customers to move on to that physical or more personal engagement. That’s something we’re working very hard on, to try and anticipate and make sure that when a customer is ready, we can pass them off.”

Nissan has another ace up its sleeve in this regard. Shop At Home, launched in July, is a one-size-fits-all arena for new and used cars, buying options, and accurate information.

“Some of the biggest pain points customers have in the industry is the lack of transparency; making it hard to find what you looked for previously, or understanding the best deal without having to hunt around, or ask three different people within the same chain and getting three different answers,” says Dunsmore.

That said, Nissan estimates more than four in 10 customers still want to go into the dealership to have that final, face-to-face discussion. Shop At Home is therefore not a question of competing with dealerships, Dunsmore says. “It’s not a matter of that – it’s more about giving the customer the power to do things in the way we want to do it,” he adds. “We need to make it simpler and easier.”

Dunsmore is speaking at the virtual DMWF Europe event on November 24 around the new digital landscape and the importance of brands delivering a unique customer experience in such uncertain times. Noting how many customers still prefer the in-person experience, he argues that physical combined with digital is the optimal goal.

“With all the effort and investment in digital, never forget the first job for any brand is to try and get people to turn their towards you and think ‘what does this brand stand for?’ Why is it there, and if it wasn’t there, would I miss it?” says Dunsmore. “I think there’s an element of that you can do with digital, but for me the best way is a combination of a really amazing, rich, immersive physical experience with digital amplifying it.

“Once you’re engaging with them, really try and think on their terms,” he adds. “We shouldn’t be arrogant enough to presume that we know exactly what every single individual customer wants to do.

“In many environments, there isn’t either the luxury of completing the purchase fully online, or the customers want more than just an online experience. How you create that bridge is absolutely vital, as well as investing in that, both in terms of data transfer and making sure you’re creating a digital to physical bridge in a way that adds value to the customer.

“I think there will be many, many years yet where that physical engagement is just as key at the end, but it can be enhanced with creating the right digital bridges.”

You can find out more about DMWF Europe and register here.

Picture credit: Nissan

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