Shhhh! Customer Listening in Progress
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Shhhh! Customer Listening in Progress

David Mingle, General Director, Customer Experience, General Motors [NYSE: GM]

Change is constant in the world of customer experience management. The tools we use to interact and engage with customers today can quickly become outdated with the next big technology innovation. Staying on top of the tools available to interact with customers is an obvious key to seeing real improvements in customer service and even a company’s product offering.  

General Motors is a prime example of the need to stay innovative when engaging with customers. In 1933, GM established the automobile industry’s first full-time consumer research department. At the time, the team sent three million mailings a year to GM and non-GM customers, achieving a remarkable 25 percent response rate. Recipients were asked about GM products, upholstery textures, colors, vehicle designs and technology, and their feedback was incorporated into GM vehicles. The approach, which seems prehistoric today created a wealth of data and the findings led to as many as 185 vehicle improvements including longer bumpers, rubber-padded pedals and the partial elimination of running boards.

  ​Active listening is not just hearing and robotically responding to customer feedback, but interpreting the intended meaning and communicating that understanding to your customers 

We have come a long way from doing mailings. Today, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, brand and online-shopping websites, social media and vehicle connectivity, businesses have a unique opportunity to use technology to revolutionize the customer experience and incorporate the voice of the customer into product development.

Considering the exponential growth of social media in recent years, GM created a global Social Media Center of Expertise (CoE) in 2013. The CoE has grown into a global network of around 600 social practioners from the marketing, PR, communications and customer care teams, with the goal of making our decision making more effective, timely, and customer-centered.

Since launching the CoE, we have learned plenty about our company and our customers. Here are a few of the lessons we have learned.

Centralize your social media team.

Integration is hard and does not happen overnight. GM had three different functional areas trying to “own” social media, each with their own goals and key performance indicators.

The teams had to lock themselves in a room and agree on roles and responsibilities, eventually deciding marketing would lead brand building and channel management, communications would handle news and reputation management, and customer care would focus on resolving current and prospective customer issues and questions—with appropriate integration points to ensure seamless interactions with our customers.

Give your social media team the resources they need.

To foster even greater collaboration between the functional areas, we relocated the U.S. social media customer care team to our headquarters in Detroit, Mich. So they could interact daily with their brand marketing and communications counterparts. We built a Social Media Command Center, a high-energy, state-of-the-art engagement environment featuring dozens of wireless work stations, multiple collaboration rooms and 18 HD monitors that display a wide variety of social feeds.

In North America alone, GM staffs 26 full-time social media customer care advisors covering more than 150 owned social channels from GM, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac, and approximately 85 earned sites such as automotive enthusiast forums. These advisors are assisting customers seven days a week, averaging 16 operational hours per day, adding up to an average of more than 6,000 monthly interactions on both an in-market pre-sale and customer care basis.

Be active listeners.

Active listening is not just hearing and robotically responding to customer feedback, but interpreting the intended meaning and communicating that understanding to your customers. This practice ensures any issues are communicated properly to the product development and manufacturing teams, fixes are made to current products and lessons applied to future ones.

Our advisors actively monitor vehicle owner forums and other social media platforms to identify potential issues, and they are empowered to provide real-time customer feedback to brand quality and engineering leaders. In some cases, our social media advisors flag issues earlier than we may discover from traditional customer surveys or dealer feedback.

I wish I could tell you there was a quick way to incorporate connectivity into current business processes and become a truly customer-focused company. It takes strong leadership focused on providing a best-in-class customer experience, an honest look at current processes, a culture shift from simply “hearing” customers to really “listening” to them, and most importantly, taking action.

At GM, we are guided by the idea that we need to put the customer at the center of everything we do. Every decision we make needs to answer the question— “What is in it for our customers?” By doing so, we have tested the resolve of some employees, but the reward has been significant.

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