Joseph Michelli is a long time friend and speaker/author I greatly admire. He has studied, written about and spoken for some of the world’s best brands.
His new book, Driven to Delight, is a primer on how Mercedes Benz cares for customers. I asked him to contribute the following guest blog.
By show of hands, how many of you want to be taller, thinner, wealthier, and/or more attractive? Keep your hand up if you want to serve others in ways that cause them to feel a personal connection to you? Ok, you can put your hand down now.
I suspect that if I framed the last question in the context of your work life you would also raise a hand to a question like, “Who wants to deliver experiences for co-workers and/or customers that drive emotional engagement, loyalty and referrals? In a recent Forrester Research study 92% of corporate leaders raised their hand when it came to placing customer experience excellence on their list of strategic priorities.
Now to one last question, do you think customers are feeling the love that should flow from all those leaders prioritizing customer experience? In a word – “NO.”
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), customers are less satisfied then at any point in the last 9 years. Yikes. All that prioritization and customers still aren’t satisfied let alone engaged, loyal, or likely to advocate on behalf of most brands.
Enough with the questions, lets take a look at how leaders at one brand cracked the code on customer experience elevation (in fact that group of leaders has positioned their brand to be repeat winners on ACSI’ customer satisfaction metric for the automobile sector and moved from middle of the pack to the top of J D Power’s Sales Satisfaction Inventory in just two years). That brand is Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) and not so coincidentally they are the focus of my latest book titled Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.
How did MBUSA create a customer-obsessed business? Here are 4 key takeaways for leaders wanting to develop a customer-centric culture:
- Draw a Picture – A tired but critical concept in business is “leadership vision.” Mark and I have a friend named Terry Paulson who notes the “difference between a vision and a hallucination is how many people see it.” At Mercedes-Benz USA, leaders took the time to actually capture their vision of customer-service excellence in an artist rendering which depicts the current state, action plan, and future for the brand. That image is distributed widely and repeatedly to all stakeholders.
- Make and Keep Promises – If you don’t ever want to be held accountable, never ever make a promise. At Mercedes-Benz USA, however, leaders made 3 promises captured in a video referred to as “The Standard.” Those promises were that “every department will be mobilized, every touch point of the brand will be examined/refined, and every dealership will be trained and equipped.” Each of those promises were fulfilled and organizational trust galvanized and facilitated rapid change.
- Off-Load to On-Load – In a world where it seems “more is more,” leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA appreciate that resources are finite and people can’t we tasked with ever-increasing demands unless something is “gotten rid of.” In the artist rendering, you can see a dump truck which serves as a reminder that some initiatives must be abandoned and priorities must be reshuffled to make room for change. As a quick example of asset reprioritization, the long standing practice of offering roadside assistance to anyone who owns a Mercedes-Benz vehicle (many of which were purchased from a private party and never serviced at a dealership) was limited to those who have either a purchase or service relationship with a Mercedes-Benz authorized dealer. This change allowed resources to flow to loyal buyers and first-time purchasers of entry vehicles like the CLA.
- Immerse Culture – MBUSA leadership was surprised to find that a larger percentage of individuals who work in dealerships hadn’t spent considerable time behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz. Through an evolving series of programs, every employee of MBUSA, its dealership, and its financial arm Mercedes-Benz Financial Services (MBFS) travel to a multi-day culture immersion program near the Mercedes-Benz production facility in Vance, Alabama. These individuals not only tour the factory but also drive performance vehicles on the test track, and take SUV’s to the off road course. Participants are also immersed in the brands rich history of innovation and safety. Moreover, they are trained in how to deliver delight to every customer, every time –no excuses. While not every leader has the resources to fund a multi-day, offsite brand immersion program, all of us should be able to help our new hires and existing employees experience our products, learn about our history, and understand how our branded experience should be delivered.
While I have just scratched the service of lessons I learned from the leaders at Mercedes-Benz, I hope you will take the time to dive deeper so you inspire your people to consistently be Driven to Delight your customers.