From product to emotion: the BMW service design

by Perspective magazineInnovate20/04/2017

From product to emotion: the BMW service design

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BMW recently won the Customer Centric DNA Award in the Netherlands, a prize for brands that put the customer center stage. Remarkable for a brand that until recently focused entirely on its product. We asked Jan Horemans, Manager Customer Relations and CRM at BMW Group Belux, whether the car maker has changed tack.

“It’s true that we used to be more of a pure engineering company,” Jan Horemans agrees. “But we moved away from that position at while ago. It’s logical, given the current pace of technological developments. If we brought technological progress onto the market five years ago, we had a few months’ head start over our competitors-colleagues. Today it’s a matter of days. But what you can’t copy just like that is the feeling that you create in customers. So that aspect has become far more important at BMW over the past few years.”

Service vs. Experience

According to Jan Horemans, that feeling goes much further than just service provision. “Customer Service or service provision means going through a process. It’s about which services you offer and how you offer them. But just because you offer a certain service, that does not mean your customer will feel happier there and want to return. So Customer Experience goes much further. Attention focuses more on how a customer should experience service provision, rather than describing the service itself.”

The BMW experience

In 2014 BMW began rolling out the ‘Customer Treatment’ training course from its head office in Munich. All staff who come into contact with our customers have to follow this course. The dealers, of course, but also the call center, the after-sales service and so on. During the course, we work on the feeling that remains after a customer journey. 

For instance, suppose a customer has to wait in a waiting room while we check his car. Mostly, customers can go on working and drink coffee while they wait. We make the difference by asking the customer what he wants to drink and then bringing the coffee to him. These small touches make a huge difference and mean that a customer actually wants to do business with us.”

The right staff

Of course, this new approach stands or falls with the staff, Jan Horemans admits. “Previously we attached importance mainly to our staff’s hard skills (technical or theoretical knowledge). Now they are selected on the basis of their soft skills, too, their capacity for empathy and other emotional abilities. After all, it is far easier to teach someone with the right soft skills a number of new hard skills than the other way round.”

A new form of communication

According to Jan Horemans, communication at BMW has changed a great deal in the past few years as well, under the influence of this new customer-oriented approach. “Whereas in the past, in the standard marketing story we tried to send out one message to as many customers as possible, now we aim to communicate on a far more individual basis and respond to the specific questions and requirements of each customer.”

“That’s not easy, because many of our communication channels are still very conventional. We don’t yet use the digital possibilities to the full, but that will change. Again, it’s logical, because these tools give us a far more accurate picture of where people are in their customer journey at the moment.” 

 “Competitors can copy your technology, but not the feeling that you create.”

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