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Build a Better Customer Experience (& Build More Business)

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Design isn’t just for products---it should be a careful consideration in the overall customer experience. Case in point, with its “Dream it. Build it. Drive it” program, BMW is taking the concept of a personalized customer experience to a whole new level.

It’s common knowledge that when it comes to shopping for an automobile, most people dread setting foot on a car lot. That’s because the customer experience often includes pushy salespeople and plenty of exasperating negotiation with the dealer on a final price.

That's why a Financial Times article titled “Benefits of a Showroom Bypass” is so interesting. It mentions that BMW is offering buyers a way to circumvent the dealer showroom and custom build a car of their very own.

According to the article, BMW has long offered buyers in Germany the ability to customize their own automobile, from paint and interior colors to installation of custom features, such as grills and moonroofs. However, as the company has shifted production of some models to the United States, this option is also now available for U.S. buyers.

In designing the customer experience, BMW had to revisit many of its processes in order to offer customers a personalized encounter. First, there was website design on the front end and database design on the back end. (There are more than 70 million possible combinations of models, interiors, exteriors, and accessories.) Second, engagement with buyers throughout the process was a consideration. The company ships each customer a video of their particular car as it’s built---it’s the actual car in the video---so the process needed redesign consideration when “custom built” became an option offered to consumers.

Why would BMW go through all this trouble---especially when it doesn’t charge extra for a custom-built car? A few things come to mind, including better customer engagement and the creation of a unique and special “one of a kind” automobile that arguably enhances an image of status in the mind of the buyer. In addition, it doesn’t hurt that most buyers of a custom BMW end up spending more money to accessorize a car of their own.

There has been plenty of research in the field of customer choice---and how too much “choice” can ultimately lead to customer confusion. However, this appears to be one instance where a highly customized and personalized customer experience is leading to extremely satisfied customers and ultimately higher profits.

Questions:
• Does the concept of a customized automobile purchase appeal to you?
• Is “build to order” a concept applicable to premium products only?


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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.

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  • by Claire Ratushny Mon May 9, 2011 via blog

    Hi Paul,
    As you know, the mass customization model has been in use by some businesses for quite some time. Dell is a good example. So is Nike ID. Customers can pick and choose the components they want to customize their products. In some cases, the customer is invited to do it themselves. Kids love Build-a-Bear, for example, because they can design their own stuffed bears. Jones Soda allows customers to customize the labels for special occasions, so packaging can also be customized. And how about M&M's program that enables customers to do the same with the luscious little candies? I think this model can work well for many brands, if it's well executed and service is top notch, not only luxury brands. The brands I've used as examples prove that.

  • by Paul Barsch Mon May 9, 2011 via blog

    Claire, thank you for commenting on this column! Couldn't agree more that "mass customization" is a useful strategy for non premium products and you've given some great examples. However, while some auto manufacturers have long offered the ability to "customize your own car", I've not seen anything where the marketing function is as heavily integrated in the process - all the way to down to a DVD mailing of "your car in the making" - and it's footage of the actual car - not stock footage.

    What struck me here is the careful attention to detail in designing the customer experience with multiple touch points between manufacturer and end-customer throughout the process. Good stuff!

  • by Jim Watson Mon May 9, 2011 via blog

    Great article, Paul – I enjoyed reading it.

    While the concept of a customized automobile purchase doesn’t appeal to me (I’m not a “car guy”), I can certainly see the appeal for the large population of consumers to whom their automobile is an emotional extension of themselves. The idea makes perfect sense, and it’s good to see a manufacturer executing it so well.

    I think “build to order” can apply to virtually any product; premium or not. Claire has provided some great examples, and in fact, the Jones Soda example demonstrates how even a virtual commodity can be personalized, and in the process, elevated to non-commodity (and higher value) status.

    As the cost of technology continues to decline, more companies will be able to incorporate these personalization technologies and processes into their front office and back office operations. This affordability will likely drive an increase in the personalization of products from the premium down to the basic.

    Thanks again, Paul.

    Jim Watson
    http://bit.ly/efrxOg

  • by Paul Barsch Tue May 10, 2011 via blog

    Jim, thank you for pointing out that these "mass customization" techniques must be built into not only back end processes (those behind the scenes) but also front end customer facing processes. You are absolutely right that today's technology (and tomorrow's) will not only make this feasible but entirely cost effective. In fact, there are hundreds of case studies with proven ROI where front end decision makers (empowered by their business and enabled with technology) are making a difference in the bottom line of their enterprise.

    On another note, great blog Jim, I've added it to my RSS feed!

  • by Doug at Customer Experience Partners Tue May 10, 2011 via blog

    The comments to date seem to have focused on the mass customization in manufacturing. While there are many benefits to that approach, I imagine that you were thinking even more broadly when you wrote the headline “Build a Better Customer Experience”. You gave us one example of the personalized video of the car being manufactured. And you suggest a second change by reducing the time the customer actually spends with the sales person. But any other modifications of the Total Customer Experience (which we believe includes everything the customer sees, hears, touches, even smells in their interactions with the brand from first encounter online or in advertising, to the sales, delivery and service experiences, to customer communications, etc) that BMW has made that you can tell us about?

  • by Paul Barsch Tue May 10, 2011 via blog

    Doug, great question. I'll mine my network for someone that works in BMW marketing to answer your query. Thanks for the comment!

  • by JPK Wed Apr 9, 2014 via web

    I think BMW Group has a more impressive customization program - judging by the enthusiastic consumer following: MINI. Mini has been able to "premiumize" the small/second car segment behind a concept of personalization and a underdog attitude. Creating not what people need, but what they want. read more about customization as a tool for premium brand creation here: http://masstoclass.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/the-promise-of-bespoke-how-uber...

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