Mercedes-Benz hasn’t only figured out how to build great machines – they’ve also cracked the code on delivering world-class service. By following the LEAD approach, your organization can improve your customer experience too.
Today’s post is by Joseph Michelli, author of Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
The first time I met Mike Figliuolo – Managing Director at thoughtLEADERS (approximately 8 years ago), we were both listening to a speaker from the Ritz-Carlton.
Across that span of time the world of business has changed dramatically! Innovation and technology have proliferated, consumers enjoy universal access to the Internet, and people are continually connected to one another and their favorite brands through mobile devices.
Also in that time long-standing or innovative brands like Radio Shack, Blackberry, or Blockbuster have lost their luster or disappeared altogether. Conversely, other brands like Apple and Starbucks continue to remain relevant to a changing consumer.
As products have become increasingly similar and better, today’s great business differentiator centers around the “experience” in which products are delivered. As such, many leaders have been tasked to shift from product-centric to customer-centric cultures and strategies.
The path to customer experience excellence is a crowded (a Forrester Research study shows that 92% of leadership teams have it as a strategic priority) and tricky one (the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows consumer satisfaction approaching a 9-year low). So who is making this important transition effectively? What are some of the key behaviors leaders in these brands focus on to succeed when so many others fail?
Over the past several years I have been fortunate to work with the senior leadership at Mercedes-Benz USA and chronicle their efforts to take that iconic brand (known for over a century of commitment to innovative engineering and safety) and position it to deliver a customer experience befitting the brand promise “best or nothing.”
While the details of that transformation can be found in my recently released book, Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way, here are four key behaviors emphasized by Mercedes-Benz leadership and they come in the form of the acronym LEAD:
Listen – On January 1, 2012, Steve Cannon moved from vice president of Marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA to CEO and started his tenure by listening. “In the first sixty days, I sat down with people in every department to identify our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. What crystallized to me from those conversations was that we had an extraordinary opportunity to improve the experience customers encountered when they purchased or received service on their vehicles. As a leadership team, we believed that an investment in this area would result in a disproportionate return.” Ongoing investments included training programs that explored the nuisances between passive and active listening as well as exercises on how “good questions” lead to customer solutions and team listening leads to resourceful innovation.
Empathize – Leadership at Mercedes-Benz provided training that distinguishes between listening (an “intellectual” process of comprehension) and empathizing (a concerted effort to emotionally understand another person). Employees gain insight on how empathy requires hypothesizing about the likely emotional experience of those they serve. Empathy is also an opportunity to connect with a customer prior to jumping into action. It involves words like, “so I can imagine you might be feeling,” or “wow, that probably was frustrating.”
Add value – In a world of rapidly changing technology and an “app” for everything, human interaction must offer something unique and special. Technology tools make life easier, help us gain information with a push of a button, and keep us connected in a virtual sense, but they can’t replace the need for human contact. When customers opt to be served by a person (for example passing up self-service kiosk) those customers expect people to do things that automation simply can’t. Those customers are looking for people to “add value” through their expertise or create options that fixed computer programs or algorithms can’t. When leaders share stories of customer experience excellence they instruct and inspire team members to deliver added value.
Delight – Leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA know that solid service brands remove pain points for their customers. “Getting service right” and “making things right when they go wrong,” however, are just table stakes in business today. By contrast, outstanding customer experience providers satisfy during interactions AND forge strong emotional connections with customers. Those connections build customer loyalty and referrals.
Mercedes-Benz USA leaders set their brand on a path to “delight” customers by exceeding consumer expectations in small and large ways! Leaders at MBUSA not only taught key concepts but demonstrated their commitment to LEAD (Listen, Empathize, Add Value, and Delight) all those they serve. By understanding the people want not only to be cared “for” through service excellence but also to be cared “about” them through personal interest, thoughtfulness, compassion, and concern for their needs, well-being, and future – Mercedes-Benz USA leaders inspired trust and expedited change!
Essentially, when staff experience true LEADership they become Driven to Delight!
– Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., is the author of multiple books including The Zappos Experience, The Starbucks Experience, and Leading the Starbucks Way. His latest book is Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way (CLICK HERE to get your copy). In addition to writing best-selling books about enduring business principles, Dr. Michelli hosted an award-winning daily radio program in Colorado Springs, Colorado for over a decade.
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