Aston Martin has replaced its ageing customer relationship management system with Salesforce’s cloud platform in order to improve personalisation of services for customers.

Aston Martin car drivers shouldn't struggle to feel like they are members of an exclusive club. However, that was the problem director of global marketing at Aston Martin Dan Balmer wanted to solve by modernising its CRM software.

“Our customers felt like they were buying into a community but increasingly they didn’t feel that way, so we were letting people down,” Balmer told Computerworld UK at Salesforce’s Dreamforce event in San Francisco.

Salesforce adoption

Part of the challenge in improving customer service was changing the culture within Aston Martin itself, said Balmer.

It started with a simple rule: “No one in the business was allowed to have an opinion without data to back it up,” said Balmer.

“Andy Palmer our CEO has lived and breathed automotive and he is an engineer by training, like me. He is someone that believes everything begins with data, whether it is an engineering problem, a marketing campaign, whatever it may be.”

The first step was migrating customer data away from a system that wasn’t fit for purpose.

“Our core data was locked away in another CRM tool,” said Balmer, adding that it was actually an off-the-shelf ERP tool.

“We developed it so much away from its core that it was not scalable, updatable or even relevant today," Balmer said.

Balmer said the migration to Salesforce was tough, despite taking just 22 weeks. This was due to the added pressure of the upcoming DB11 supercar launch, which “wouldn’t have worked” otherwise, according to Balmer.

He said that previous product launches would involve the collection of physical letters of intent, instead of adding leads to its CRM platform, leading to inconsistent data and sales projections.

Now they have 160 internal Salesforce licences and 1,100 community licensed users across its network of 166 external dealers using Marketing and Sales Cloud.

“The biggest win has been data awareness,” he said. “Everyone in the business is on their phone having access to data in real-time. I got tired of putting charts into PowerPoint presentations, so I just leave the chart blank and say ‘refer to your phone’.”

Einstein capabilities

Balmer said he is interested in the machine learning capabilities of the recently announced Einstein enhancements to Salesforce clouds, especially around getting a deeper idea about their customers and how they are likely to behave.

Read next: What is Salesforce's AI powered Einstein product? When can customers try Einstein and how much will it cost?

He gave an example around their ‘art of living’ experiential scheme. “We had a dozen customers pay to come to Goodwood Revival festival with us and during the course of that weekend we are learning more about those people. We’re talking to them, taking data, we are almost interviewing them.

“That data has to sit somewhere and that is where Salesforce comes in, learning passion points and deep levels of data. Now Einstein could help us to predict their future behaviour - not just to sell cars, but [for] future experiences.”

Digital channels

Balmer admitted that they are still limited in their reach to customers through digital channels.

“We are still largely email marketing-based,” he said. “SMS is something we are looking at, and things like WeChat and Weibo accounts in China, because email marketing isn’t a strong channel in Asia, which is a big market for us.”

Read next: Renault to roll out Salesforce globally to put it ‘in the drivers’ seat for change’

As a luxury retailer though there are concerns around text messages as a channel, as Balmer said: “We like to come across in a more polished way so maybe SMS is too quick and cheap, so we have to find a balance.”

One way Aston Martin could use SMS is to trigger a customer survey to be sent out whenever someone comes in to pick up a car. This would trigger an alert in Salesforce and prompt automated marketing, setting a threshold for customer satisfaction around that process. The company could then jump on any low scores they get back from the survey.