Blog post

How to Build a Vehicle Companion App Your User Will Fall in Love With

Hear from Viraj Tank, an Engineering Lead at MBition, Mercedes Benz Innovation Lab, who is speaking about the digital innovations for automotive products

December 11, 2019

5 mins read

The development of navigation and infotainment software, connected services and pleasant user experience are all about users. And user feedback becomes an indicator of the quality of the service. We had an opportunity to talk with Viraj Tank – Engineering Lead at MBition, Mercedes Benz Innovation Lab, – about developing software for Mercedes-Benz vehicles and it’s successful usage on the market.

How do you gather market feedback from the users of the Mercedes-Benz vehicle companion app and how do you process it?

We have different channels. Of course, we have layers and stages, on which we collect feedback. But before we are going on the market, we collect information from analytics, doing different user experience studies and analyzing the work of our dealership. We heavily rely on data collected and, based on that, different teams (especially Marketing and Sales teams) take major decisions on what customer feedback needs to be addressed by the Technical development team. The second stage is passing the feedback to our Back Lab so our system product owners make the joint decision on what to do with it, how critical is it, and what do we need to do next. Last and foremost, the Technical development team puts it on a proper Sprint and address it accordingly.

What are the key indicators you track and analyze?

Oh, there are many of them. Performance and stability, as I said in my presentation, are the highest priorities for us. Thus, we are constantly monitoring, if we are facing any downtown or any connectivity problem in a particular region or not. We really need to rely on early detection of the problem. Moreover, we have a 24/7 Support team. If there is a hight-security or major-impact problem, then this team can act directly to resolve, deploy or fix it very fast (or at least address it). For example, a cloud provider fails in its region, so we would like to know about it very fast. With the help of the Support team and constant monitoring, we can properly address any problem that occurs.

How do you evaluate which features should go live on an iPhone app and which ones on Apple watch? Do you have a prioritization process in place?

It is another complex process, of course. We always need to foresee what is the most important feature for the user. Therefore, the priority is the user- and customer-centric approach in our work. Our teams always try their best to provide Android and iOS users with everything, so we do not differentiate these two platforms. However, there are a few features, which work better on Google home or Apple watch, for example. That is why, we always analyze it based on user research of the Customer study team, evaluating the relevance of the feature and passing it to the Product owner team.

What are the most used features of the Mercedes-Benz vehicle companion app?

There are a lot of features that depend on a region and customer’s needs. For example, in the snowy regions, such as Canada or several states in the USA, the feature of the remote start of the engine and preheating of the car is the most relevant for many users. Just imagine, your car is fully covered by snow and you want to find it, so you can remotely start your engine and say “preheat the car” and then you can drive it comfortably.

Another user case is a remote lock of the car. It’s a really common situation when people go out and forget to lock their cars. In those cases, they receive a notification like “I noticed that it has been already 15 minutes that you are away and the car is unlocked, so do you plan to come back soon or should the car be locked right now?”. One single action can lock your car and you can be sure of it. Of course, there are only a few user cases among many others that have different market and time specifics in their features.

Not all drivers are common with connectivity. How do you communicate the benefits of connected car features?

We have different channels to reach out to our users. For example, Marketing and Sales teams are effectively working on customer satisfaction and communication, implementing different strategies. Nevertheless, the most effective way of reaching out to customers is to showcase use cases. It doesn’t matter if the users get all the technical terms when the problem occurs, because only a strong demand for solving a particular problem can help us to work on it and present the solution immediately. For MBition, it is so much easier to help the customers when we know about common cases and can give advice or develop a marketing strategy based on the previous use cases.

What monetization strategies will take over in the next 5 years?

Now we are creating a whole platform for monetization initiatives. Once we have a secure channel, stable and reliable platform, then the possibilities are endless. For example, insurance, partnering and sharing. As I said, the platform can give customers various possibilities to have a pleasant experience in driving their cars.

Today, we have the statistics that point to the need to share car usage while the owner is at work/away/not using the car. Most of the time, people use their cars for approximately 4 hours a day. However, the rest of the day could bring some benefits to the customer too. Car sharing can help users effectively transform all those unused hours into real money. This monetization feature means letting someone use your car during those hours when you are at work, returning it when you need it. Now, there are more and more such use cases that we can incorporate into one platform.

The success of any initiative depends on the positive experience of its use in the market. The implementation of the really important and necessary features in the software for Mercedes-Benz vehicles today is based on user experience analysis. The demand for certain features not only shows the problem areas in the work of Marketing and Sales teams but also allows the rapid introduction of new technologies that will be in demand. MBition shows an example of the successful development of digital solutions that precede introduction of the unique intellectual technologies in each Mercedes-Benz car. What else can we expect from a modern car? We will see this very soon.

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