How Ford And Volvo Are Embracing Next-Gen Experience Management

Meghann Showers

This illustration picture shows a person watching the 2021 Ford Bronco Family World Premiere on a … [+] computer in Arlington, Virginia on July 13, 2020. – US automaker Ford unveiled new versions of its legendary Bronco 4×4 on July 13, hoping to attract a new generation of enthusiasts 24 […]

If there is one thing I’ve learned through the years, it’s that positive experiences drive engagement and sales. Whether it’s experience with a brand, product or service or with an employee, best practices require a holistic view of every touchpoint of any business. This ranges from online experiences like how easy it is to click through a website, to product experiences and reviews, to the promotional offers consumers receive and the channels through which they are sent, to how they engage with the employees of a business. And like all things, the success of these engagements starts and stops with data.

These days, we are hard pressed to find an industry that hasn’t been gathering troves of data on customer interactions and purchases. The smarter ones then use AI, or machine learning, or predictive analytics solutions to crunch their data in an effort to align every interaction with consumer preferences. However, this is often easier said than done. And more times than not, the process is an act of futility. Why? Because people change, preferences change, the environment in which people are living can change from one week to the next. They can lose their job. They can start a family. They can get a raise. 

A classic example is a friend of mine receiving an offer for a wedding tuxedo based on past behavior when he is, in fact, 40 years old and already married. It’s life’s twists and turns that make it incredibly difficult for companies to predict and stay in alignment with what their customers want and need.

According to a December 2019 Deloitte study on customer experience, companies are challenged to pool the budget to pay for customer data management tools (55 percent), find a single solution that meets needs (43 percent) and create a unified data management strategy across all lines of business/teams (41 percent). As for customer experience data management maturity, ONLY 5.6 percent of survey respondents had an average score of 4 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5.

In my mind, the reason that this process has remained so elusive is because, at the core, companies are using past purchase behavior to predict what will be most effective in trying to understand and target their customers. 

Customer experience solutions report on what customers previously experienced to define what they will want in the future. It’s time to move on to Next-Gen Experience Management, the prediction of where to go in the future.

In the coming articles, I am going to take a look at the four components of successful Next-Gen  Experience Management, including customer experience, brand experience, product or service experience and employee experience. I will highlight many industries (like Automotive this week), but you should know that I believe the points made here apply to many, many industries that engage with “CUSTOMERS” like Retail, Consumer Products, Travel, Leisure, Entertainment, Health Care and even Financial Services. In fact, you must think of a “CUSTOMER” as both external and internal.

Here’s a bit of an intro:

Next-Gen Experience Management

Unlike static data sets that rely on past behavior, true and effective experience management must be about engaging consumers on an ongoing basis to better serve them through every touchpoint. That means gathering voice of consumer (VoC) insights on engaging with employees, determining how a customer can be involved in products, and the most relevant offers that will resonate. Next-Gen Experience Management inspires and shapes a dialogue between a customer and a company or brand that resonates through holistic experiences.

There are a few companies that are already doing facets of this well. Ford is relaunching its iconic Bronco, for example, tapping into the brand’s multi-generational history (Ford built Broncos from 1966 to 1996) while aligning with customers’ real time preferences. The “Build Your Bronco” program is engaging the community by involving potential buyers in designing their own, and developing storytelling around the Bronco brand. Broncos have had a cult following and have been difficult to find. The vehicle, which is assembled in Michigan, has also generated excitement among workers who will build the vehicle, and Ford has offered opportunities for the interior designers to meet the workers building the product. “It’s in a class all its own with the styling and so many other attributes. It’s what people want,” said Erik Williams, plant manager. “It’s an honor to build one of the most iconic brands in our legacy.”

However, it will be equally important for Ford to not only engage with buyers, but with the dealers, who very rarely have any input on the vehicles coming to their lot, and with employees including salespeople in order to deliver a consistent level of excitement and brand affinity. Having voice of consumer data will also equip sales people with unique opportunities to cross-sell at the dealership. It’s about understanding the customer base, and offering them a unique experience. Maybe dad has a Lincoln, but the 16-year-old son is ready for a Ford. A dealer would never know this without asking.

Volvo is consistently recognized for quality and safety, and is also a great example of a company that views employee engagement and morale as central to the production of quality products. CNN recently published a story by Pehr Gyllenhammar who was the CEO of Volvo for 24 years. Gyllenhammar notes that offering a good salary is only part of the employee morale equation. Making the work more meaningful and more interesting is also key. One of the actions he led during his time at Volvo was to change the way the company assembled cars, without sacrificing either efficiency or profitability. He moved workers away from single-repetitive tasks toward small teams, with each team responsible for the assembly of a single system in each car. The move made a remarkable difference in the health and attitude of Volvo’s line workers, who embraced performing different kinds of jobs within the overall task assigned to the team. Volvo became known as a workplace in which human-centered designs and concepts created better, more interesting jobs, which led to improved worker well-being, high quality products and increased profitability.

By comparison, Mitsubishi Motors in this recent piece reported “lack of unity among the rank-and-file with management, and a reluctance to acknowledge that ambitious mileage targets couldn’t be met.” In February, Consumer Reports recommended not buying a “Mitsubishi Outlander” because of the poor quality, and the vehicles were included in this Worst Cars Introduced This Decade list. It appears employee engagement correlates very closely with product quality which ultimately correlates to consumer experience and brand experience. These are all interrelated and must be constantly monitored by engagement methods to gain understanding to specific poins of view so that decision makers can model the predicted outcomes and plan for the next step to be taken.

This year we have seen twists and turns in the psyche of people around the globe like possibly no other time in history due to COVID-19 among many other assaults to the senses. And never before has it been more evident that in order to keep pace, companies and brands must engage everyone involved in their ecosystem in real-time looking toward the future and not just reliving the past behaviors. It’s time to stop looking backward. Historically companies and brands dictated product offerings, without taking into account consumer demand. The next generation of experience management must begin to incorporate real-time sentiment and the voice of the consumer or face a lot of wasted effort and diminished loyalty.

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