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.
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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….