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Monday, April 19, 2021

CEO Spotlight

How is a new electric automotive brand keeping ahead of the curve? A successful customer experience example by Polestar

Tim Heldmann, Chief Marketing Officer, Polestar

While tech giants such as Airbnb, Amazon, and Uber keep raising the bar on successfully delivering their customer experience, the automotive industry has been lagging behind due to its resistance to adapt to the digital consumer. The automotive sector of the future can be very different from that of the past and of today. Those car brands that are eager to remain relevant to the digital consumer are going to be able to make the next age of mobility.

As a Millennial, in 36 years of my life, I think I entered a car dealership only once. How are car brands interacting with consumers like me who expect nothing less than a reliable and hassle-free service, personalised omni-channel communication, a fully digital experience and real-time social-media interactions? As I am currently writing my book on customer-centricity, I am interested to know how Polestar, a Swedish new electric car brand owned by Volvo, is doing in this regard. Tim Heldmann, Chief Marketing Officer, shared how Polestar is putting their customers at the centre of their business strategy and enhancing customer experience through connectivity.

Ilenia: Over the last few years Polestar has been rethinking their business and revenue model by integrating the use of softwares into the equation, which as we know is the means that carries the experience. What can you tell me about Polestar infotainment? 

Tim: Apple taught entire sectors the new retail experience, where you suddenly had the feeling “the retail staff are not like the classic 60 years old sales men in suits who want to push the sale”. But Apple also taught us the normality that we can switch from one screen to the other; the smartphone, the tablet and now the car. The infotainment system in the most new car today is pretty much like the smartphone was five years ago. At Polestar, we wanted to replicate a state-of-the-art infotainment that is very similar to what consumers are used to today: their current smartphone. We want to get the car experience closer to how people interact and use their smartphones, in fact we got rid of the old-style car navigator and we integrated Google’s Android Auto including Apps like Google Maps, which provides a seamless experience from the phone to the tablet, and now to the car.

Ilenia: In the past, I dealt with car brands for work and I remember their belief was that although they had to sell to a household, they needed to appeal to men, however women are the final decision makers in many households. How is Polestar connecting directly with consumers like me who would be intimidated by dealerships?

Tim: It’s a very good question. Our people working in our retail spaces are a lot younger than those we used to hire years ago, so it’s more like you’re getting into a flagship store of a California based tech company where you really have a chat with them. Our brand is not designed specifically for men or for women but for human beings. In the past, the reason why you went into a car dealership was because you wanted to negotiate the price. The prices were called ‘list prices’, which indirectly indicated that the price could be variable. We wanted to get rid of that whole embarrassing and manly gambling. We are completely transparent, so the price you see on the website is the same price that you see in the retail store. You don’t go into an Apple store wanting to negotiate the prices, the prices on display are the prices you pay.

Ilenia: The corona pandemic has completely changed the game for retailers but I believe the game changed long ago with the advent of digital. How is Polestar dealing with both the pandemic and the disruption of the retail sector?

Tim: Our retail spaces are really adaptive to what the consumer wants. We have a lot of screens that have a technology called “proximity sensor” where the digital signage changes based on the proximity of the visitor. For example, when people look at the screen and come closer to it, it means they are interested, therefore they get additional information displayed. We wanted to minimise the “intimidating feeling” by adding screen projections and projections on the ground so that the customer can navigate through the space on their own. We created a complete end-to-end digital seamless customer experience, taking the car configuration in the mobile app where the customer can save it, come into the store and with the help of a NFC reader, they have the exact same car configuration.

In terms of how the pandemic has disrupted us, our spaces are still open as we have had a huge amount of online pre-orders and many of these want to physically see the product and try it. Of course we have all the precautions in place but if a customer prefers to buy one of our cars online we offer a return policy of up to 30 days as we want to take the hassle out of the life of customers.

Ilenia: This is excellent! I have seen that Polestar is ditching the traditional private ownership model for a rental and shared driving scheme, such as the subscription model. Why is this and how is it going?

Tim: There are three options of owning a Polestar car. The old school buying model, you have the cash and buy the car. The classical leasing option and then there’s a subscription model, which is essentially a monthly flat rate. By choosing this option you decide how long you want to drive the car for, a year, two years or three years and everything is included. We bring the car, we service the car, we bring it back to you, we deal with all the paperwork related to the insurance and etc. It’s very plannable, hassle-free and digital. The car comes with the digital key which is connected to your smartphone. You have your smartphone in your pocket and as you approach the car, the door unlocks. So you don’t have to take out the old bulky keys. We wanted to offer our customers an easy way of dealing with having a car and you can share the digital key with your friend if you want to share your car.

Ilenia: Although consumers have already been exposed to high-tech in some ways, they are still reluctant to see customer-facing robots, driverless cars or highly automated cars. How is Polestar balancing the human touch and the technology? 

Tim: When it comes to topics like autonomous driving it is still a bit down the road. They require quite sophisticated support assistance and I am sure we would definitely add these features in the future but Polestar’s brand promise is “pure progressive performance”. I think the joy of driving is that for a driver who actively drives their car, they enjoy driving. As you asked me about the software earlier, take the center display as an example, we are not going to overwhelm the driver with information. We are only going to show information that is relevant at that point in time, but once your hand gets closer to the screen there’s additional information coming up.

Ilenia: We have been seeing a lot of changes over the last 5 years. The climate change challenge is pushing governments to take responsibility for the mobility infrastructure. For example, reducing the transportation infrastructures, looking at digital mobility solutions and limiting people to own or driving a car in a city. How is Polestar innovating around this type of disruption?

Tim: Together with the responsibility for the environment we care for the society and for the next generation to come. We are putting quite a big focus on that whole aspect of sustainability but electric cars per se are not super sustainable.  If you replace a combustion engine car with an electric car you still have the same amount of cars going into the cities, but it’s a very clean way of getting into the city. In terms of the next generation of mobility, public sharing is not a focus for Polestar. If you want to share a car with a friend or with a family member you can actually send a digital key to them and they can open and use the car through the use of the Polestar app. We are giving the ability to share the car with your small circle of people because right now 96% of the time cars are unused. It’s exactly what governments want to see – the shared use of urban mobility.

Ilenia Vidili
Ilenia Vidili is a passionate customer-centricity advisor, keynote speaker, entrepreneur and author. She’s been inspiring and advising C-level executives on how to embrace customer-centricity as the key that unlocks the future of businesses. Her latest contribution to a handbook of research was based on why customer experience is the new competitive advantage. Ilenia Vidili's customer-centricity book Journey to Centricity is out in spring 2021. She’s worked with NEC, Bayer, ARM and more. She is originally from Sardinia where she often retreats to find a quiet place from her business travels. Ilenia Vidili is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.
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