Revving Up the Customer Experience
For most of its storied history, Mercedes-Benz has been a very product-focused company, and with good reason. The brand was built on the quality and durability of its luxury cars. In the last decade of the 20th century, however, a few upstart brands started challenging Mercedes-Benz in its luxury space. These luxury upstarts, such as Toyota’s Lexus and Honda’s Acura, didn’t have the history of Mercedes-Benz, but they were willing to offer something more: unbeatable customer service. For example, Lexus dealers were required to sign a covenant that included the statement, “Lexus will treat each customer as we would a guest in our home.”
When Steve Cannon moved from vice president of marketing to CEO on January 1, 2012, he decided that Mercedes-Benz USA would battle to be the best of the luxury car manufacturers in customer service. As recounted in Driven to Delight, by Joseph A. Michelli, a consultant who worked closely with the Mercedes-Benz USA leadership and author of books such as The Zappos Experience, The Starbucks Experience and the best-selling Prescription for Excellence, Mercedes-Benz USA has met the challenge.
First, a Map
It wasn’t, of course, an easy journey. Unlike Lexus and others who were starting from scratch, Cannon had to overcome the entrenched product-focus mindset at the heart of the company. Another challenge, as described by Michelli, is that most of the leaders and employees who would need to buy in and implement a new customer-focused mindset were not employees of Mercedes-Benz USA; they were employees of the more than 300 Mercedes-Benz dealerships in the U.S. Part of the customer service issue, in fact, came from this structure. Customers would find excellent service in one Mercedes-Benz dealer, and then find in another dealership that, as one patron explained, employees almost expected customers to be grateful for the opportunity to buy a Mercedes-Benz.
To begin moving in the direction he wanted, the company had to understand where it was and where it needed to go. Eventually, a map would be created that showed, through an artist’s rendering, the “current state” of the company, the desired “future state” of the company and, in between, the multifaceted action plan to achieve the future state. (Reproduced in the book, this creative and engaging map almost makes one think of the detailed maps of J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings.) As Michelli emphasizes,“Driven to Delight” is the label for the aspiration and vision captured in the map and “was not an initiative. It was a long-term strategic journey — one that would require many years of investment, oversight and stewardship.”
At the National Dealer Meeting of April 2012, Cannon was prepared to explain to all the gathered Mercedes-Benz USA stakeholders how the company would move forward toward this ambitious vision. The retreat ended with an internal marketing video, “The Standard.” The video then outlined the three leadership promises that would make the Mercedes-Benz name “as famous for our total customer experience as it is for our legendary engineering.” Those three promises were every department will be mobilized, every touchpoint in the brand will be examined and refined, and every employee at every dealership will be trained and equipped.
Michelli describes in detail how Mercedes-Benz achieved each of these three goals, driven by a small Customer Experience team that was divided into a metrics subteam to measure the customer experience, and a strategy team to address the issues highlighted by the metrics team. Beyond the three promises, Michelli describes the people, processes and technology initiatives that further advanced the company towards its customer delight goals. While keeping the narrative engaging, Michelli expertly translates the Mercedes-Benz story into a practical manual for any company to refocus on its customers. Move over Zappos. Here comes Mercedes-Benz.
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