In this Q&A we speak to Rich Green, President of UK and Automotive Europe, about his experience during the pandemic and what the crisis means in the way of changes for the industry moving forward.
No conversation at the moment can avoid COVID-19 and how companies have adapted to the pandemic. How has Assurant changed its ways of working?
As a global business, we acted swiftly and deliberately to focus on three guiding principles: safeguard our employees, deliver for our customers and business operations and support our communities. As many organisations did, early on, we transitioned our employees to working from home, including our call centre agents. This has been critical to maintaining support for dealers and customers throughout the pandemic. All call centre agents from Crewe to Forest of Dean are working remotely and will be for the foreseeable future, continuing to provide the high level of service that our clients and their customers expect to receive from us. Over the last 12 months, our Net Promoter Scores have consistently been above 58.
You mention some of the ways Assurant has adapted. What have been the biggest challenges in the automotive sector?
It goes without saying the pandemic has had a significant impact on the industry. From European OEMs to independent dealerships and service chain partners, every business has been affected. Across the UK, dealerships were unable to open for 10 weeks and, when they did, a lot changed.
As the industry emerged from lockdown, there was a whole new significance as dealers looked to adopt reserve-and-collect trading models. With the vast majority of car sales starting online and recognising that many customers would be seeking reassurance before visiting a showroom, dealers needed to think about how they could build this reassurance into their digital journey.
Since re-opening mandates that showrooms must be ‘Covid-19 secure’ having completed a full risk assessment and taken all necessary safety and sanitisation steps to minimise risks, promoting these measures is a natural value-building opportunity.
The pandemic has forced dealerships to adapt their services and sales practices. Now dealers have re-opened, which of these should be kept as part of their long-term business?
During this crisis dealers have had to do a lot of real-time evaluation about their business model. In many cases they have focused on online sales with a click and collect system. There are a range of new online channels emerging, including complete online delivery services. However, for such a significant purchase, it’s difficult to replicate the level of advice and customer service you get in person. Therefore, dealers need to think about how to offer a complimentary proposition where the digital experience reflects the physical one.
Whilst choosing a car will increasingly happen online, dealers can concentrate on the value add-ons during collection. Offering appropriate extended warranties, service plans and GAP insurance ensures the consumer feels protected, but also loyal to a dealer for repairs.
What are the best ways to make sure people keep coming back to dealers, and not just have a one-off car purchase?
There’s a range of different services dealers can offer to keep clients coming back. Again, offering cover for maintenance costs through extended warranties, service plans or GAP insurance, is a critical way of maintaining an interest in the entire lifecycle of a vehicle. If customers have a warranty through you, they are more likely to come back to get the car fixed or purchase a new one.
We recognise that the product alone isn’t enough, it’s also critical to get the customer service right. What I’m most proud of at Assurant, is the wide range of experienced account managers and field employees who are on-hand to support our clients, as well as the call centre agents who process claims and queries promptly. Having a great layer of customer service means loyal customers and a better customer journey.
There’s been a lot of discussion about a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic. How can dealers be mindful of this whilst managing the increased interest in vehicles?
The pandemic has turned the way people think about transport on its head. There’s been a marked decrease in road usage but, over the next 6-12 months, it is likely public transport could take the biggest hit. People are starting to get back in their cars and the government is advising against using public transport if it is avoidable. This could present an opportunity for dealers as a number of consumers who previously relied on public transport may now look at purchasing a vehicle to get around.
However, there is an important point about how to retain the green benefits of lockdown. One of the things that is growing in popularity is electric vehicles. Demand for these is growing in the UK with over 170,000 registered last year* – the second highest figure in Europe. Demand for conventional models will remain strong with good value diesel and petrol engine cars for a long time to come. However, dealers should look seriously at the electric vehicles opportunity, especially given the government is banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035.
Will electric vehicles change the type of products that insurers offer? How do you think increased electric vehicle adoption will affect the maintenance lifecycle?
With fewer moving parts, such as a gear box, clutch, exhaust or catalytic converter, there’s less to go wrong in electric cars. Therefore, there could be less opportunities to have touch points/contact with the customer. This could be concerning for dealers reliant on keeping customers through the maintenance cycle. This means it’s even more important for them to find other ways to keep involved in a customers’ journey. To support dealers and customers during this transition, we recently announced the launch of EV One, a specific extended warranty for electric vehicles. It is an opportunity for dealers to support customers’ individual needs while creating a long-lasting relationship between the dealer and customer.
With so many new changes being introduced, what are Assurant’s plans to support the automotive industry moving forwards?
Although a lot has changed in the world recently, our ethos hasn’t. We will continue to ensure we use our decades of experience and expertise to deliver innovative products and services for our partners, creating products that add value to their business and their customers. We have new services ready to launch later this year and look forward to helping our dealers succeed for years to come.