Tesla Model S P85+ cluster with zero range

Elements of Experience Design: The Power of Platforms

Experience Design is one of the biggest and most important trends in the changing automotive landscape. As automakers grapple with the future of an industry that can no longer continue to pursue ‘business as usual’ it’s inevitable that changes must occur. In this fourth installment of our Experience Design series we explore the power of platforms.

So far, we’ve explored the risk posed by poor customer experience. We’ve also looked at two components of excellent customer experience: understanding customers’ jobs-to-be-done and the importance of reflecting the emotional and social context of those jobs. In this final article, we’ll look at platforms and their role in delivering an excellent customer experience.

Imagine that you’re the loyal owner of a small, premium car. Made by a larger group that also produces sports cars, they also offer car sharing and financial services.

One day, you decide to get a sports car from the sister brand and visit the dealership. You’d like recognition for your loyalty to the group, but because you don’t exist in their system, they treat you like a brand new customer. Proving yourself to an indifferent salesperson is hardly a deal breaker, although it undermines your sense of value in the brand.

Later, you move to a new city. The group’s car sharing service is in place and you have an online account from your days owning the group’s cars. You try to use your details to sign-up for car sharing, and they’re not recognized. You submit to the pain of creating another new account.


Three brands, one company, and a broken customer experience. Images: PR Web/RBM of Atlanta/Sebastian Ballard


Settled into your new home, you decide to get the latest version of the car you’ve loved for years. You head to the dealer – again, you’re treated like a stranger in a strange land – and decide to lease the car. Hopeful that your loyalty and prompt payment will be rewarded with a better deal, the system, and the salesperson again draw blanks. Again, you start from scratch.

This scenario isn’t a customer experience nightmare. It’s real, based on research we’ve conducted with automotive groups over the last three years.

Large organizations are typically structured in silos — Brand A, Brand B, Car Sharing and Finance and so on. These silos will often have separate customer databases and sales and marketing processes. Management politics are also often focused on protecting the silos, not building a great experience across them.

So while the customer sees one organization, each brand and function views the customer as their own. There’s no recognition of customer’s group-wide revenue potential.

Experience design is more than just creating individual front stage experiences like great in-car technology, an enjoyable purchase process, and a useful car-sharing service. As with any theatre production, those experiences should feel like they’re part of a whole that’s delivered consistently and coherently. That relies on process, people, and technology working in harmony backstage. In the world of customer experience, this is the realm of the platform.

Apple’s platform allows the seamless sharing of music, documents, and photos across devices. It also ensures regular software updates and firmware optimizations for hardware and excellent in-store service. The platform enables consistency and coherence that is just as critical to their success as their design. It also underpins Apple’s customer retention by making it undesirable to leave the platform.

Tesla Model S P85+ cluster with zero range
Tesla remotely unlocked extra range for owners escaping a hurricane in Florida. Image: Wikipedia

In the last two articles, we explored how Tesla has created new experiences around buying and charging their vehicles. However, these are just two distinct experiences. The real magic occurs when they’re brought together in a consistent, coherent customer experience by the underlying platform.

It’s this same platform that allows customers to receive over-the-air updates to their vehicle’s software.

With it, Tesla has improved existing features. They unlocked extra battery range during a hurricane in Florida for example. They’ve also provided new ones, like the integration of Spotify, the music streaming service.

Contrast this experience with that offered by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). In 2015, the company discovered hackers could control its vehicles. In response, FCA asked millions of owners to download software to a USB stick and run an update. This process took at least an hour of the owner’s time and some technical knowledge. The alternative was a visit to a dealership, which required even more of the owner’s time.

Without an underlying platform, FCA delivered a value-destroying, disjointed customer experience.

Power of Platforms - Jeep dealership
After you’ve learned that your vehicle can be hacked, do you really want to go back to the dealership? Image: Wikipedia/Bitburg

In the introduction to this series, we looked at the value of customer experience and the risk to manufacturers that don’t get it right. We also highlighted that consumers will find it increasingly easy to switch to brands that deliver excellent experiences.

We’ve also explored what it takes to create an excellent experience. Understanding customers’ jobs-to-be-done, recognizing their cultural context, and building platforms for consistent and coherent delivery are all critical components.

In our daily work, we’ve applied this approach to various industries with great success. It’s heartening to see it implemented in the automotive sector through the example of Tesla.

But apart from this niche offering, the crown for the best automotive customer experience is still up for grabs. Not to mention the revenue, customer retention and market share that come with it.


Founded in 2012, Form Trends tirelessly covers the automotive design industry in all corners of the globe to bring you exclusive content about cars, design, and the people behind the products.