Mercedes Benz CEO: Customer Experience is the New Marketing

During Tuesday’s CXPA (Customer Experience Professionals Association) webinar titled, “Customer Experience from the C-Suite: Discussion with Steve Cannon,” Cannon, the President & CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA delivered a vitally important message to all marketers interested in providing exemplary customer experiences.

“Customer Experience is the new marketing,” Cannon said. “If you don’t have a passionate, committed executive leadership team … you won’t get out of the gate unless you have that. It’s the most important thing we do. We have the most demanding customers on the planet. Customer Experience better be at the top of your list when it comes to priorities in your organization.”

Cannon said the table stakes for Customer Experience have changed.

“Now with social media and the connected environment we live in, a good experience can lead to thousands of connections and a negative experience can lead to potentially more than that,” he explained. “When I started three years ago, Customer Experience was our No. 1 priority. We put a team together under a General Manager who reports to me and we empower them to take a more holistic look at Customer Experience and map the customer journey. This has to be the heart beat within our group.”

Mercedes-Benz USA has an engaged dealer network, a highly engaged workforce, and high quality exciting products.

“You need an energetic executive leadership team to put words into motion,” Cannon said.

Cannon fundamentally disagrees with CSI, which takes the transaction and breaks it up into its component parts.

“Operational excellence is the ticket for entry,” he said. “We need to eliminate the word satisfied from our vocabulary. Satisfied for me is vanilla. We need to delight. We need to amaze. We need to provide extraordinary.”

Redefining metrics that define a great Customer Experience begins with employees.

“There is no way to deliver a great Customer Experience with miserable employees,” Cannon said. “One of the first baseline metrics we needed to define was employee engagement. There were some eye-opening moments for us and our dealers. We had stores where 80% of employees were disengaged or actively disengaged. You never get to a great Customer Experience unless you deal with your employees first.”

Aligning a corporate culture, specifically a leadership team, has to be firmly in place before anything else, Cannon said.

“I had to slow myself down and make sure the executive and entire leadership team was aligned,” he said. “Customer Experience was the battleground we wanted to fight on. We took a critical look at our organization and invited our GMs. They became co-architects and you have to get them to believe they’re part of it as opposed to a top-down edict.”

Another thing Cannon learned early on was that 70% of employees had never driven a Mercedes-Benz.

“We invested $4 million in a program that put 750 cars on the road for our employees,” he explained. “This allowed our employees to spend a couple of days behind the wheel. That’s tangible and worth something. We knew it was necessary to allow our employees to create good customer experiences.”

Another key ingredient in changing the internal culture at Mercedes-Benz was to invite all 23,000 employees over the next several years to attend an Immersion Session so they can see the standards by which the automobiles are built.

“It’s a rich history and an incredible investment,” Cannon said. “We are creating a rising tide among human capital across our business. It’s necessary to make connections beyond transactional to take us from good to great.”

In the third year of measuring employee engagement, Cannon said things have gotten much better.

“Employees are implementing Town Hall sessions and improving break rooms because they’re looking at the business through a different set of eyes,” Cannon said. “If you believe in Customer Experience, you’re going to have to make your employees believe that this is at the top of your priority list. If you say it’s a priority, you have to live it as a priority.”

Cannon refers to himself as the Chief Conversation Starter and Chief Evangelist.

“If you’re not the Chief Evangelist for Customer Experience, it’s not going to have the same intensity or urgency you’d like,” he said. “This has not been a perfectly architected trajectory toward a perfect Customer Experience. It’s like pushing a rock uphill every day and if you don’t keep pushing every day, you’re going to get run over.”

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