Mercedes-Benz addresses its culture in bid to improve buyers' experience
DETROIT -- Thank or blame the digital world and social media, but there's no hiding a bad dealership experience today.
Marketers used to believe people shared good experiences with three others and bad ones with 10 other people, Steve Cannon, 51, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, told the Automotive News World Congress on Wednesday.
Today, a customer having a good or a lousy experience at a dealership will connect via the store's free Wi-Fi and tell hundreds and even thousands of people via social media, he said.
Since becoming CEO a year ago, Cannon said he has pushed Mercedes-Benz and its dealers to improve the customer experience. In fact, it's his top priority.
"The need to deliver exceptional, truly differentiating customer experience has never been greater," Cannon said. "Our renewed focus on culture will help us live up to our tagline, 'The Best or Nothing.'"
The change started in 2006 when Mercedes-Benz looked at its own culture and launched an annual survey asking each employee about their job, boss and the company. "Early on, they were very tough graders," said Cannon.
Changes were made. Last year, Mercedes-Benz was No. 12 on Fortune magazine's list of best companies to work for in the United States -- and the only automotive company on the list, Cannon said.
Mercedes-Benz is now working with its 359 dealerships. It launched the "Driven to Lead" program and trained 11,000 customer-facing employees at a so-called "boot camp" last year, Cannon said. "Ultimately, it was both a wake-up call and a call to action that we needed to get better."
In 2012, Mercedes also conducted its first survey of dealership employees to measure how involved they were at the stores where they work. About 15,000 workers participated and dealers got the results for their individual stores, Cannon said.
Highly engaged -- or not
"We found that 63 percent of the employees inside our stores are highly engaged. That's pretty good. But it also means that 37 percent of the people who engage our customers every day are either not engaged or in some cases actively undermining their stores. That is not acceptable," he said.
"Our most engaged dealers are our most profitable dealers and deliver the best customer experience."
Mercedes-Benz also discovered that 70 percent of dealership employees had never driven one of the brand's vehicles. It launched the Drive a Star Home program that is taking a fleet of more than 700 vehicles to stores this year so dealership employees can drive them for a few days. "This is the kind of investment that you can only make if culture matters," Cannon said.
There is no guarantee these programs will boost Mercedes-Benz customer satisfaction scores this year, Cannon said. "But it's the leap of faith you make when people start mattering more than process."
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