Q: These are desperate times, do you feel the online route for sales is going to work for Tata Motors, several auto companies are trying this right now?
A: I think thanks to COVID the buying behaviour, customer behaviour is going to be significantly different in the coming days. Thanks to the heightened awareness of social distancing, it is imperative for us, not only auto players but across industry to provide contactless buying experience. From Tata Motors we have moved in this direction, we have launched the ‘Click to Drive’ platform which enables customers to discover the products, have video brochures and take the entire sales process online and we are seeing fairly good traction around this.
Q: Tell us how the ‘Click to Drive’ functions? Have you been able to minimise contact with the customer completely? Is it only the delivery part where there is some sort of contact with the customer?
A: That is the objective. The car buying process actually takes upto 6 months, where there is a long period of discovery where the customer anyway searches online. However post that usually the trend has been that the customer visits our showroom, that part we have tried to take online. Today we have a platform where the customer can kind of raise his interest, we will give a call back to him from our side, take him through some video brochures. Very soon we will also launch functionality where the customer can have a face to face interaction over a video call with our product experts who will guide them to the right choice of their products. What we have also done is, brought all our 750 retail points online, so the customer can actually choose which is the particular dealership which he would like to be serviced from and a sales executive from that particular dealership will begin discussing with him online. From there the test drive if the customer requires it will obviously be offline, it will be a physical touch. We are trying to get the entire finance process and the documentation process online as well. Obviously the delivery as well can be executed at the customers place. So over the entire cycle probably there is only one physical touch if the customer wants to do a test drive. However even that we are trying to move into the augmented reality (AR) kind of a technology support where the test drive also could be experienced virtually.
Q: Do you feel that online sales platforms are here to stay and customer behaviour what we are seeing changing right now, do you think this will be the trend for at least the next two years, possibly?
A: Doing most things by remote, online, would be the clear trend that we are seeing. The customer doesn’t really breakup different areas of his life into online and offline. Work from home obviously now is largely working for everybody online, so the online meeting places are doing a great job in breaking down the distances. For a customer a work from home, online meeting place is no different from an online booking portal. So it is about how to physically breakdown distances and enhance digital experience to make it as similar as possible to what the physical experience is. So that is where the real trick lies and the better we execute it, the better success we will see. One thing I would like to add is, I do not think it is a fad which will go away in two years, if anything I think it will continuously keep progressing and this would probably be the new norm is what anticipate.
Q: What about customers coming to dealerships, is that process going to change? Are you putting in certain protocols to make sure that your staff at dealerships, your customers are safe as well?
A: Customers coming to dealerships right now is non-existent. Going forward we have to ensure that customers have confidence that their visit would be safe. We are putting a lot of protocols, extremely stringent standard operating procedures have been set – right down to the number of times different surfaces are disinfected, what is the chemical that we use for disinfecting different surfaces, from the desk to the test drive cars, what are the high touch points within a car when customers drive it, so a detailed package has been percolated down to our dealerships which are being followed.
Q: When it comes to online sales because you feel that this will become the new normal going forward, how much or what are the kind of resources that Tata Motors is putting into the online platform?
A: Marketing budgets – it doesn’t make sense to market right now in the traditional formats. Getting customers to discover and learn about our products online is the key going forward. Media online, it is a myth that it is not expensive, it is quite expensive there as well. While I wouldn’t try to commit any kind of numbers, spend on digital has significantly gone up as part of total marketing budgets over the last few years. From this year I anticipate it to go even higher, rough ballpark would be about 20-25 percent of total budget probably would be dedicated to online experience and online discovery for the customer.
Q: What happens post COVID-19, there is no demand right now, no dealerships are open in the country, how soon do you expect demand to pick up once this lockdown is lifted in different parts of the country and what will be your strategy to push sales?
A: One of the clear indicators that are coming out of countries which have moved past or have managed to flatten and even hammer down the curve is that there is a need for a personal bubble when they move out. We see that many customers have kind of gravitated towards having their own personal transportation which in this case is a car, so I think the same thing is going to play out in India as well. The demand for personal transportation will increase. We estimate that the demand for entry level cars, affordable cars would really go up and that would be a kind of silver-lining in the dark cloud around the Corona. So, my estimate is about a quarter after things get back to normal, we will see the markets really picking-up.
Q: Will resuming production in the month of May be a challenge? Tata Motors plants, plants of other automobile makers have got a go ahead from the government in certain places but do you think production can happen if there is lockdown in different parts of the country?
A: As automakers we are obliged to follow what is responsible apart from what is mandated. From Tata Motors we have not yet given an official stance on this but we will take a responsible route towards society and our own employees and follow that route.