Redefining Customer Experience

Do you enjoy bringing your car in for service? I never cared one way or another. Last week bringing my car in for an oil service turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.

Full disclosure: I always bring my car back to the dealership I bought the car from. I usually lease my car so I figure the car is really their property. And because it is a BMW, I only want BMW technicians working on it. But now that I (really) own the car, I still only want BMW technicians handling it.

To digress just a bit – but, not really, because this discussion is all about providing a ‘wow’ customer experience – do you remember a book Joe Pine co-authored back in 1999 with James Gilmore titled “The Experience Economy?” The full title was “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.”  It was Harvard Business School Press and the ISBN number was 0-87584-819-2. The link is here.

The main argument of the two authors is that “recognizing experiences as a distinct economic offering provides the key to future economic growth.” They also note that “mass customization automatically turns goods and services into experiences.” And yes, Joe Pine wrote a book in 1993 about mass customization titled “Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition” also published by Harvard Business School Press. That link is here.

So, why did I get excited about having a straight-forward oil service done?

I purchased my BMW from Foreign Motors West (FMW)  in Natick, Massachusetts about 4 years ago. Recently, FMW was purchased by Herb Chambers. Mr. Chambers owns some 46 dealerships selling a vast array of automobiles and other vehicles. I had been wondering how the FMW service (which was always excellent) would be changed because of the new ownership.

Here is the process: I drove to BMW of Sudbury (Massachusetts) and waited in front of a large door (I was quite early …. always am… drive my wife crazy). The service door opened and I drove into a large area. There was a “greeter” in front of me motioning for me to pull forward. After stopping at the spot she designated, she took me directly to my customer service representative (CSR). I handed my BMW key to my CSR who then entered the key into a reader (FMW also had this same capability) to capture current mileage, other readings pertinent to my BMW (what service was noted as needed by the on-board computer), and the specifics about me (work and home phone numbers).

I was directed to the waiting area inside the dealership. The waiting area was quite large and separated into distinct areas: a coffee bar with high-top tables in the coffee area, a semi-circular area with comfortable chairs facing a fireplace, and a business area with eight individual work areas. One of the business center work areas had a computer connected to the Internet. The entire dealership provides free wireless for their customers.

While the technicians took care of my oil service (and flushed and changed the brake fluid), I had two cappuccinos and a hot chocolate (made, I’m very happy to say with milk instead of water). The person making the morning drinks told me they even had little marshmallows for anyone who wanted them in their hot chocolate.

I had an opportunity to meet a very pleasant customer at the coffee bar and talked to him while I was waiting. (It turned out he was an independent insurance adjuster. What are the odds?)

But the piece de resistance for me was when I had to use the restroom. When I entered the restroom I heard CNN. OK, we have stayed at hotels that had television speakers in the bathroom. But no, that is not what I heard… not exactly. At eye-level at each of the urinals was a 7-inch television screen showing the CNN broadcast.

Now c’mon….. turning the waiting service area into an airline club area is, for me, a stroke of genius. My waiting time went quickly even though I had brought reading material for the 2010 State of the Insurance Industry Report I’m working on to publish to this web site late January 2010. The surroundings were extremely nice and very comfortable.

The CSR walked over to me to let me know my car was ready – and washed, of course – and took me over to it. Naturally it was inside just in case of bad weather. I got in, she raised the door in front of me, and I drove home anxiously waiting for my next service appointment.

What is your insurance company, agency or technology firm doing that provides such a great customer experience?

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 9:26 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Barry,

    Great story. Thanks for sharing. It comes down to brand – BMW brands themselves on a certain experience. Companies with strong brands tend to not just provide a differentiated product, they also provide a differentiated service around that product.

    This became painfully clear to me last year when I had a series of problems with my iPhone (data stopped working). I could barely get AT&T to answer a phone call, much less invest any time or money in helping me resolve the problem. Apple happily swapped out my phone TWICE, saying “I don’t think the problem is on our side, but just to be sure, let’s go ahead and give you a new phone.” After several hours on the phone, mostly on hold, it turned out the problem was squarely with AT&T.

    Insurance companies have perhaps an even greater opportunity here than BMW or Apple. There’s no tangible product, so the experiences of customer service – handling a claim, dealing with a billing issue, making a policy change – become the insurers brand. If an insurer continually provides a bad customer experience, no multi-million dollar ad campaign will fix the damage. Provide a great experience and your customers will do your marketing for you.


  2. The theme is interesting, I will take part in discussion. Together we can come to a right answer. I am assured.

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