When I was 10 years old, I heard my father and my Uncle Bob talking about the car they’d most like to own. Noticing me, Uncle Bob asked, “How about you, Harley? What car do you want to drive when you grow up?”
I immediately answered, “A Mercedes!”
My father’s eyes widened as Uncle Bob replied, “You have excellent taste.”
Forty years later, Mercedes-Benz still symbolizes “excellent taste” for me and millions of other people around the globe. It’s not just about high quality: The Mercedes brand sets a standard of comparison; it’s shorthand for “great experience” and “luxury.”
And that’s why we’re so excited that Stephen Cannon, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, is our lead-off industry speaker at Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East next week in New York. Cannon is just perfect as the keynote address for an event with the theme “Good Is Not Good Enough” — because for Mercedes-Benz, just being “good” would be a serious disappointment.
As we approach the event, Stephen was nice enough to answer some of our questions about the Mercedes-Benz customer experience. Check out what he has to say — and I hope we both see you out in the audience next week at the New York Hilton.
Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?
It’s that great time of year when I finally get to talk publicly about Forrester's Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in New York at the end of June. If you’ve ever been to one of our events, you know that we always have a theme, and this year that theme is “Why Good Is Not Good Enough.”
We picked our theme because of the good news/bad news story told by our Customer Experience Index (CXi) results this year. First, here’s the good news: The number of brands in the “very poor” category of the CXi is down to one out of 175 brands we studied. What’s more, only a handful of brands — 10% — are in the “poor” category. Together, those findings show that as customer experience improvement efforts got traction over the past year, the number of truly awful experiences dropped like a rock.
Now for the bad news: Just 11% of brands in the CXi made it into the “excellent” category.
Taken together, those two pieces of news mean that most brands are bunched up in the middle of the curve — not awful in the eyes of their customers but not differentiated either. I think of this situation as “okay is the new poor” or, in my darker moments, “the year of ‘meh.’” Regardless, it adds up to the same thing: A merely good customer experience is no longer good enough if you want incremental sales, positive word of mouth, and better customer retention.
At the intersection of technology, mobility, and consumer centricity, the automotive industry is kicking into gear. From the International Consumer Electronics Show highlights early this year to commercials aired during the nightly Winter Olympics coverage this week, it’s hard to miss the news and promotions around increasingly sophisticated in-car technologies. Vehicles are:
Evolving as channels for media consumption. Last month, Pandora announced that it would begin monetizing its in-car audience by integrating ads into its in-car stream tailored to consumers en route.
Becoming an extension of your network of connected devices. Google’s latest partnership with Audi, GM, Honda, and Hyundai promises to put Android OS-synched cars on the road this year.
Emerging as self-regulating “smart” devices in their own right. BMW’s recently launched “i” series boasts a navigation function that identifies the most energy-efficient route according to range and environment, along with other technology that improves vehicle performance and safety.
To better compete in the US luxury automotive landscape, leadership at Audi of America had focused on improving three fundamental areas: the brand, the products, and the dealership. And they had made huge progress.
But according to Jeri Ward, director of customer experience at Audi of America, “The customer experience had not kept pace.”
Troubling data points made that clear: Customer loyalty was at 40%, and sales satisfaction was in 26th place out of 31 brands. But what really drove the problem home was this quote from an Audi customer: “The whole time the salesman spoke with me, he was eating Skittles out of a bag in front of me.”
Just imagine that you’re trying to buy a $60,000 to $90,000 car from someone who can’t be bothered to stop cramming junk food into his mouth. Would that work for you? I didn’t think so.
In this excerpt from Jeri’s speech at Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East, she describes some of the tangible actions Audi took to solve this problem by creating a customer-centric culture that inspires passion for the Audi experience. The results the firm’s efforts produced are a testimony to its success: In just three years, sales satisfaction went from 26th place to 12th place, and the company has experienced 30 months of record sales.
As always, we welcome your comments! And if you're interested in seeing more great speakers like Jeri, check out our upcoming Forum For Customer Experience Professionals in Los Angeles in October and London in November.
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