With the rise of CRM systems and Big Data, the promise of AI is dominating marketing discussions these days. But the backlash against the excessive or improper use of AI has, predictably, followed right behind.
There's a good reason why. It's pretty easy to tell when communications from a company are driven by AI, and the experience is often, well, de-humanizing.
Don't get me wrong. I'm as happy as the next guy to have my yoga-classes sorted automatically. But I don't mistake the algorithm for a relationship.
These days, I find myself appreciating experiences where the company’s knowledge about who I am is balanced with a knowledge of who they are—and how they live out the promise of their brand in every aspect of the product/service they're delivering.
This post is about an example of that balance.
This is (Sorta) My Father's Oldsmobile
A few years ago, I inherited my dad’s car—a Lincoln MKS— and it came time for a visit to a dealership to mend the minor bumps and malfunctions the vehicle had acquired under the piloting of our teenage sons.
When I first engaged with a local dealer, I didn’t expect them to know anything about me; after all, I wasn’t even the original buyer. What I hoped to see was how Lincoln had edged out Tesla as the premium brand with the "greatest ownership experience."
And as events unfolded over the next week, I gotta say: Lincoln didn't disappoint.
So here are all the different touchpoints the brand and its dealer used to (a) acquire or capitalize on intelligence on me, and (b) fulfill the promise of the brand.
1. Downloading the LincolnWay App. Simple and polished. Acquired my VIN number to connect me to my vehicle, and prompted me to select the dealership most convenient to my home address. No hunting or pecking. It just worked. Score one for the guys in Detroit.
2. The Appointment Prep Call. A surprise to me—and a nice build on the app. A service technician at the dealership reaches out to ask more detailed questions and ensure his team has what they need to handle my repairs efficiently. Obvious? Maybe. Common? Hardly.
3. The Service Bay. The "premium" part of the Lincoln experience kicks in. When I pull into the service bay, the greeter puts a hang-tag with my name on the rear-view mirror. I'm handed a job ticket that details my requests accurately, giving me confidence the job will get done right. As a student of branding, I start picking up details that typical customers probably register but don't consciously see. There's plenty of signage and it's all on-brand—both for Lincoln and for the dealership. The service bay is decked out in colors that tell me I'm in a Lincoln shop. The place is safe, clean, modern and spacious. It occurs to me, as I make my way to the service desk, that I feel good about leaving my car here.
That’s when I realize that a car dealership just made me feel something. And I think, “These guys are good.”
4. Quote experience. Deeper into the process, the balance tips more sharply toward data acquisition. The service manager fires off a series of questions about our driving habits, and even though my data-acquisition guard is up, I can't help spilling the beans. We talk tires, brakes, routine maintenance. They learn the first names of my sons, who drive the car the most. I get the feeling these guys actually want to take care of my car. And again, I think, "These guys are good."
5. Courtesy Ride. Another surprise-and-delight touch. Now, I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a spanking-new Navigator, with a recent-college-grad driving me to the train station for my ride to work. In the door pocket next to me sits a dealership brochure, with shots of available new and pre-owned vehicles. (Being a Pica9er, I slip that example of modern print marketing into my backpack.)
6. Vehicle pickup: Right on time, I get an email notice that my car is ready. When I hop into the car, I notice it's been given a thorough cleaning, inside and out. My seven-year old car feels a little bit new, and I realize it's hard for me to decide where the brand leaves off and the dealership picks up in this experience of mine.
7. Customer Satisfaction Survey (Local): A typical part of the service experience, and one I usually groan about. But on this one, I do more than choose numbers on the typical scale. I add comments, mention people by name. In short, I'm in the midst of actual, human relationships.
After the visit, the expected email alerts start coming in. And of course, I don’t mistake the machined touchpoints for a relationship. But the fact is, they have greater power to attract and hold my attention, precisely because the humans have done such a good job of delivering on the brand promise. Which is to say, as Regis McKenna so famously asserted, “Marketing is everything. And everything is marketing.”
In some recent research that Pica9 conducted, we learned that more than 8 out of 10 major franchise and dealer-based brands expect their local networks to triple in the next five years (you can see some of those results ). Could this be because distributed brands understand that excellence in the human part of the customer experience is inextricably linked to success in the digital realm?
All my instincts tell me so.