Sep 06

Evangelism as Marketing? Pish. Just Take Care of Me

I used to work for BMW. As a company, BMW is obsessed with getting your feedback. They don’t send you a survey in the mail or via email–they have someone call you who asks you five questions about your buying experience. This isn’t the passive survey email you ignore in your inbox–this is BMW actually hiring someone just so they can call you to make sure everything went okay. Here’s the other kicker: your salesperson’s income depends not only on how much money they bring into the company. It also depends on the scores of this very survey, which is why you can count that your buying experience should be very positive. BMW puts its money where its mouth is.

Call a BMW 750 a Nazi sled–I don’t care. From the moment a concept for a car is created to the moment you drive it off the lot, each employee cares that you love your car. You can claim that’s what they have to do because they cost so much, but I know for a fact that there really isn’t a lot of profit margin in BMWS. They just see it as their means for being a sustainable company.

BMW is publicly traded, but is primarily owned by one family. An American corporation might say, “Oh, we can cut costs here in the suspension and the leather. We can fire this guy, or we can have a recall just so we can find other problems with the cars we can charge them to fix (which, sadly enough, happens). That means one extra point of margin in each car, which earns us X more dollars a year.”

I don’t care if Scott Monty is on Twitter. It’s hard for me to have a love affair with American car companies based of empirical knowledge. I’ve driven a Mustang GT and watched the back end squirrel about when I wasn’t even flooring it because Ford can’t build a suspension that transfers power to the ground. My sister’s Chrysler minivan needed a transmission after 38,000 miles. I saw the paint flake off a Suburban’s inner console when it only had 200 miles on it. I just can’t recommend American cars because I’ve worked at a dealership and have seen them come in on trade and am never impressed. They flood the market with fleet sales too, which means your American car is worth less because it is less rare.

Here’s the saddest part: I want to be able to recommend American cars. I want Ford to beat Ferrari at Le Mans like they did back in the 60′s. Engineering wise, they really don’t compete with their Japanese and German counterparts. Service-wise, I’ve heard of some really shady practices at American dealerships.

So I don’t care if you have a company evangelist. I care that you have customer evangelists. Just take care of us. We’ll take care of the evangelism for you.

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  • http://www.motorphilia.com Aaron Manley Smith

    Hey Michelle, You and I feel the same way here . . . but I need to take you on a tour of some of the new American cars made. As much as I hate to say it, they’ve come a long way over the past couple of years and the new Ford Taurus coming out is far from an embarrassing car . . . it really does handle on par with a BMW 5-series and if you take a look at the rear end of the new Expedition it’s actually independendent — a la’ Land Cruiser . . . Also, here’s a real kicker . . . Consumer Reports is now Recommending Fords!!! . . .. What’s next? Cats and Dogs sleeping together?

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Aaron,

    So when is your Taurus coming in?

  • http://www.sitesketch101.com Nicholas Cardot

    I agree with your assessment. I think American companies are hurting for a reason. They need to produce a better product. They need to step it up a notch.

  • http://www.scottmonty.com Scott Monty

    You’re right. You can’t have a love affair with an American car company based on empirical knowledge. Which is why I would respectfully ask that you get out and drive one (or many) before you express that love (or disdain, as the case seems to be).

    I could quote you all sorts of statistics, awards and other comparative numbers and it wouldn’t make a difference. You need to actually see and experience them up close. And I invite you do to so, either at your local dealership, or through us.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company
    @ScottMonty

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Scott,

    I worked at a dealership just three years ago though, and it was actually my job to help sell the non-BMWs on eBay. I’ve driven everything from a Ford Focus to a Mercedes Rentech SL600 to a Porsche 911 Turbo. I had to deal with people angry with the resell values of their domestic cars. I’ve also driven just about everything (save the Tesla :( ).

    Stats, awards, and numbers would actually mean A LOT to me, and I don’t mean the kind that talk about pile-driving a car into a wall. Why? Because I know that the early 2000 model F150 trucks had abysmal safety ratings and that people were getting crushed in their own cars. The roof used to cave in, OR, because the hood wouldn’t crumple the way it should have, people would get crushed by the impact of the car in front of them as well as any cargo they had in the back. Here’s an article by an attorney:
    http://www.bestattorney.com/2000-ford-f150-supercab-products-liability.html

    I see American cars’ weight distributions. They tend to put a lot of weight in the front so they can make more cabin room, which amounts to severe understeer as well as creating trouble for you when you get rear-ended. Every BMW has near perfect 50/50 weight distribution because 1.) it handles better 2.) it’s safer. I’ve never seen the understeer you see in Japanese and cheaper American cars in a BMW or the violent and quite unsafe oversteer of the Corvette, Mustang or the Viper. Physics matter to a car, so if you can show Ford has fixed this problem, I’d be happy knowing that less people would die in them.

    I’ve seen a BMW M5 that flipped six times and read the email by the guy who was in it who walked out without a scratch. The cops were literally looking for bodies and did not believe him when he said it was his car. That’s what happens when you make cars to survive races or the Autobahn instead of ones that simply pile-drive into walls successfully. Accidents happen in many forms.

    I have a high school friend who died in a too-common accident when her Ford Explorer rolled over after her tire exploded. Her name is Ashley Fuhrman and she was 19. This is her story:
    http://www.usatoday.com/money/consumer/autos/mauto974.htm

    Don’t even get me started on Jeep. Just call your insurance company for a quote on liability for a Wrangler. You’ll notice it’s cheaper because it costs less to pay for a funeral than it does to pay you to be messed up for the rest of your life.

    So you will have to pardon me for being suspicious when Ford and other American companies refuse to participate in international races that help me compare their innovation and safety records. You will have to pardon the fact that as a BMW employee, I took pride in BMW’s service, safety record, and culture. And you will have to understand that I am perfectly justified in being at least suspicious when Ford claims it’s turned everything around in just the three years I’ve been gone from the industry. I’m not saying it is impossible, but it is highly improbable.

    I’m a proud American and I love my country. I just know that if I step out of a Dodge Viper in the wrong way, I will burn my leg.

  • http://strategyweb.wordpress.com/ Oscar Del Santo

    How very true, Michelle! And how often do I find myself reminding my customers!

    That is the whole point about the social networks and the social media: giving the end customer a platform so that they can express how much they like our products or service and we can thus increase 'word of mouth' until it reaches viral marketing proportions.

    They – crucially not us – have to become our evangelists.

    Thank you for this pithy and timely post.

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  • Tim Mahoney

    Michelle you are so right about the Mustang’s propensity to sidestep on takeoff, even if it’s a grandma going to the grocery store. Chrysler did have a big problem with automatic transmissions. They just don’t seem to hold up. And this is from somebody who’s family has driven Chrysler’s for the better part of a century. But there is a good side to Chrysler. My brother bought a Dodge Omni brand new in 1980 or 81. When we finally took the last piece of it ff the road, the manual transmission had somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 miles on it. unfortunately, telling people how good it was never occurred to us, so the miles were never officially documented. We just knew that when we needed a good transmission, we would haul this one out of wherever it was stored, and put it in. I remember how my dad hit a black marble statue head in the middle of the road. He was escorting a wide load at night and it looked like it was a black trash bag. When he hit it, it busted the case, and he drove it like that for another 20,000 miles. I’m not sure what he had to do about fluid, but it apparently didn’t keep him down.

    I’m not saying all Mopar transmissions are like that, but I’ve found if you treat a Mopar right, it will always bring you home.

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Tim,

    That’s pretty exceptional. My friend’s Mercury Contour (a Ford product, mind you) totaled out after 75,000 miles. The repairs due to wear and tear cost more than the value of the car. Hmm.

  • http://www.mikeintheshell.com Michael M

    Michelle,
    I wanted to add that our motor industry did this to its self. Reputations like these aren’t built over small periods of time and rare occasional issues or even just a few vocal customers. The American auto industry behaved as if it didn’t care for a long period of time and because of that they have to pay their dues. It’s either going to take a long time to win back our trust as consumers OR they’re going to need to really hit it out of the park (and keep doing that) and it doesn’t seem like they are.
    I think the consumer will always make a much better and more convincing evangelist than any a company could hire.
    .-= Michael M´s last blog ..Lawrence Lessig =-.

  • http://www.theparacast.com Gene Steinberg

    BMW, eh? We struggle to pay for ours, but it is far and away the best car I’ve ever owned.

    Peace,
    Gene

  • http://www.motorphilia.com Aaron Manley Smith

    Michelle . . . I always loved your passion and you put it down far better than I can on paper — or, um, web.

    American car companies are sort of where Korean car companies were about a decade ago. They are starting to make a very good product and it’s going to be under rated for a while.

    I’m probably not ever going to order my own Taurus, but that’s because I own my own dealership and have some freedoms many people don’t have.

    But if someone were to ask me about getting a great handling and nice 4door sedan with good room for under $40,000, I’d recommend a 2007 BMW 5-series — al’ la 550 or 530. But if they INSISTED on a new car, I’d then say the Ford Taurus SHO is a very very very strong contender and worth a look at.

    Save the trunk, it’s not a bad car to look at either. . .

    I’m really interested to see how the new American cars are going to fair on the pre-owned side for peoples resale values.

    With drastically increased reliability, quality, and chassis designs . . . these car’s might just have us “motorphiles” eating humble pie.

    On another note, in relation to resale values. I made this quick post to explain why some cars are worth more than others pre-owned when they shared the same MSRP new: http://blog.motorphilia.com/?p=72

  • http://www.socialfly.com Ray Hernandez

    Kudos to BMW! Just think if doctors were paid like that. Salary based on the scores that patients gave a doctor. Our healthcare system would be completely different if people had to care that much to get paid well.

    And I’m totally with you. I wish I could be proud and pimp out American car makers, but there really isn’t anything that is great about them.

    I wish they would just remake 1969 vehicles rather than redesigning them and making them plastic. I’d be first in line to buy a 2010 camaro that was actually steel and based on the real 1969 camaro, and just had state of the art equipment under the hood.
    .-= Ray Hernandez´s last blog ..Rent your Photo Booth today! =-.

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  • Rob

    The Corvette that races in the Lemans series won in 2009, #2 & #3 in 2008, #2 in 2007, #1 in 2006, #1 & #2 in 2005.

    Isn’t that pretty good?

    The Caddy CTS is pretty nice for an american car. Not all american cars are bad, just most of them.

  • http://www.michellesblog.net Michelle Greer

    Rob,

    That’s a different class than the one I was interested in. The Corvette races against other muscle cars like Aston Martin and Panoz. But yes, it is cool that Chevrolet actually races in Le Mans.
    .-= Michelle Greer´s last blog ..The Mark That Your Company Culture is Broken =-.

  • Doug Denny

    Hi Michelle,

    I’m a biased source (for reasons I’ll explain below), but I wholeheartedly agree with the premise you outline in your post.

    As a Rackspace employee, we live and breath the Net Promoter concept (www.theultimatequestion.com) whereby we measure our successes customer by customer by asking them a single, simple question: Would you recommend our services to a friend or colleague?

    And while we’re certainly not the only outfit around to make use of this practice, at Rackspace this idea is so ingrained in our collective thoughts that even simple soldiers on the ground such as myself use this question as a guidepost to influence our decision making daily. The concept extends well beyond the boardroom and into the hearts and minds of the customer facing employees who can make the most impact.

    My point is this: The realization that creating promoters or evangelists or whatever you care to call them is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to be effective with such a strategy you first empower your employees with the ability to have the types of interactions with customers that create promoters. And then you must incent them to pursue those interactions (much like you describe in your BMW example) at every available opportunity.

    I think this very blog comment serves as the perfect example of the power of promoters at work. I have personally gained nothing by taking the time to write this response, yet believe in the concept enough to tout it to an acquaintance and the world. And I’ve been empowered in the sense that I can do so without fear of some marketing suit (no offense to marketing suits) reprimanding me for speaking candidly about our brand.

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