Design isn’t just for products---it should be a careful consideration in the overall customer experience. Case in point, with its “Dream it. Build it. Drive it” program, BMW is taking the concept of a personalized customer experience to a whole new level.

It’s common knowledge that when it comes to shopping for an automobile, most people dread setting foot on a car lot. That’s because the customer experience often includes pushy salespeople and plenty of exasperating negotiation with the dealer on a final price.

That's why a Financial Times article titled “Benefits of a Showroom Bypass” is so interesting. It mentions that BMW is offering buyers a way to circumvent the dealer showroom and custom build a car of their very own.

According to the article, BMW has long offered buyers in Germany the ability to customize their own automobile, from paint and interior colors to installation of custom features, such as grills and moonroofs. However, as the company has shifted production of some models to the United States, this option is also now available for U.S. buyers.

In designing the customer experience, BMW had to revisit many of its processes in order to offer customers a personalized encounter. First, there was website design on the front end and database design on the back end. (There are more than 70 million possible combinations of models, interiors, exteriors, and accessories.) Second, engagement with buyers throughout the process was a consideration. The company ships each customer a video of their particular car as it’s built---it’s the actual car in the video---so the process needed redesign consideration when “custom built” became an option offered to consumers.

Why would BMW go through all this trouble---especially when it doesn’t charge extra for a custom-built car? A few things come to mind, including better customer engagement and the creation of a unique and special “one of a kind” automobile that arguably enhances an image of status in the mind of the buyer. In addition, it doesn’t hurt that most buyers of a custom BMW end up spending more money to accessorize a car of their own.

There has been plenty of research in the field of customer choice---and how too much “choice” can ultimately lead to customer confusion. However, this appears to be one instance where a highly customized and personalized customer experience is leading to extremely satisfied customers and ultimately higher profits.

Questions:
• Does the concept of a customized automobile purchase appeal to you?
• Is “build to order” a concept applicable to premium products only?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.