Lessons General Motors Teaches Us on How To Become Customer-Centric


General Motors has made a remarkable come-back from the brink of failure in 2009. And large part of that is a result of its shift from traditional automotive products to a customer experience company.

GM’s business goal today is to be the best in customer experience across any industry. They don’t compare themselves to Ford, Toyota or the Volkswagon Group but to USAA, Starbucks, and Amazon.Brands that have successfully achieved cross-functional customer alignment and continually innovate experiences in response to evolving customer needs and expectations.

GM’s path to becoming customer-aligned is an interesting one and therein a role model on how to successfully transform from a product to a customer-centric organization. While GM’s transformation is unique to them, there are valuable lessons for anyone involved in customer-alignment.

Getting Started

The CEO is critical to a successful transformation. They define the approach, are the champion, hold teams accountable, defines what success looks like, and model daily the behaviors that they want their organization to embrace. In other words, the CEO owns this and needs to get their hands dirty.

Mary Barra, General Motors’ CEO, doubled down on customer alignment transformation by rewriting the company’s vision and values when she took the helm. She communicated these through an internal video called “earning customers for life” which demonstrates, from the customer’s perspective, what a great experience is.

GM’s approach to customer-alignment is a series of pilots, small projects and initiatives. The pilots are defined based on journey map data that identified where initial low-hanging fruit and key opportunities were.

Dave MingleOpens a new window , Global Director of Customer Experience StrategyOpens a new window and Enterprise Experiences of General Motors, is a strong believer in the value of journey mapping to discover and understand the relationship lifecycle of personas, key interaction points, and micro-moments of pain. “Getting the organization to focus on micro-moments of pain is critical to changing the customer experience,” he shared.

Learn More: Top 5 Retail Customer Experience (CX) Strategies for 2020Opens a new window

GM knew that becoming customer-aligned was, at the root, change management and that requires people, process and systems to evolve. “The opportunity is to get past the vision discussion and on to ‘how do we turn a silo centric legacy system business’ into one that is truly engineered to deliver customer experiences,” said Don SchuermanOpens a new window , Chief Technology Officer of Pegasystems, a customer engagement and operational excellence platform, and key IT ecosystem partner of GM. “What I see happening in enterprises that are doing this right is a top-down and bottom-up culture commitment coupled with a strong vision of what the company wants the customer experience to be.”That empowers everyone, not just the front line, to deliver the desired experiences and helps employees change how they think about their role.

Before Mingle’s team jumped into journey mapping, they reviewed existing information and defined a hypothesis on what customers valued, experience pain points, and root causes. That equipped them with a clearer focus as they launched journey mapping, using qualitative and quantitative techniques. “To get started – some journey mapping is needed. Organizations need to do just enough analysis to have an educated belief and then get it out there to test and learn from it,” said Schuerman. “In many organizations, the danger is trying to do something perfect instead of good enough. What is the minimum you can do that is loveable by your customers and have a net improvement knowing that you are going to iterate on it?”

To achieve this, Mingle kept initial journey mapping at a high level by targeting North American personas as defined by GM’s brand management and documented those interactions and moments that mattered most. That gave the team not only a manageable place to start but a realistic path to success without causing duplicate work down the road when more detailed segmentation journey mapping would be done.

GM’s initial mapping identified six customer journey stages:

  • Learn
  • Shop
  • Buy
  • Onboard
  • Use
  • Own

To GM’s surprise, the Onboard stage was a high pain point. By the time the customer reached this stage they had been through what can be a long and stressful experience of the Learn, Shop, and Buy phases.Certain customers even reported some level of buyers’ remorse primarily because they didn’t understand what they had just purchased. The team learned that one of the root causes of dissatisfaction was a lack of education on the vehicle’s features, how to properly use them, etc.

Based on journey data, initial customer alignment pilots were prioritized and success defined, which helped secure internal seed funding. Pilots that achieved success and earned ROI within a business unit where advanced to the next stage of the process and rolled out across the organization.  According to Mingle “Getting the strategy approved is easy. Implementation is harder because business unit leaders are not always aligned on short- and long-term customer experience investments, especially if it impacts their short-term metrics.”

The customer alignment transformation focused first on fixing the Onboarding pain points. Pilots focused on enrolling customers in services and education programs within the first 30 days of car ownership. Some of those pilot programs that have been successfully rolled out across GM include enrolling all customers in OnStar Services, the Owner Center and encouraging them to download a GM application to their smart phone. “When customers don’t go through the ‘how to’ modules that we know address likely pain points, the owner center and app may prompt the customer to complete the activity,” said Mingle. These interactions provide a persistent connection between the customer, the car and GM. Dealers were also provided with a more structured process to follow in Onboarding customers and how to anticipate and proactively address problems. Fixing the Onboarding process was a significant and very visible win that touched every business unit.

Mingle’s advice is to “Eat the journey, one bite at a time. “

Schuerman recommends doing “one journey at a time. **Pick a journey, not a channel, that has a clear outcome attached to it and fix that**.” The very act of doing that touches multiple parts of an organization and highlights changes needed – retrain employees, change brick / mortar layout, redo processes, etc. – to support the target outcome.

Journey mapping a process or stage will naturally result in numerous variations of that journey based on the product and persona researched; each variation represents a slightly different set of experiences. “Pick the stages or processes that have a high degree of commonality and focus on researching and documenting the variations,” advises Schuerman. “Then reuse the journey map for additional products/channels/personas to find differences – building off the commonalities.”

Mingle’s fledgling customer experience group was formalized into the Global Connected Customer Experience Team which reports directly to Barra.The global team now has about 30 members and is measured on customer loyalty, CSAT, service retention, digital engagement, and connectivity leadership.

Learn More: Director Of Customer Experience: Role, Skill Set And Job DescriptionOpens a new window

To avoid the common problem of spotty functional group buy-in when companies set up dedicated CX teams to ‘own’ the customer experience, GM took deliberate steps to seat ownership within the business units. They achieved this by socializing pilots and soliciting ‘hand raisers’ from all levels and functions in across business units to help execute pilots. Mingle’s team trained and worked with these employees on how to storytell the results within their own business units which earned the CX team and the many ‘hand raisers’ credibility.

Today, the six journey stages are owned by functional groups. Sales and Marketing owns Learn, Shop and Buy. The corporate CX team owns OnBoarding, CX governance, and the digital customer experience. Customer Care and After Sales owns Use and Own stages. These three teams bring the customer journeys to life across General Motors.

Lessons Learned

  1. Discover key micro moments through journey blueprinting; build on them by mapping additional personas and sales situations.
  2. Technology is not “the” silver bullet to achieve customer alignment; it requires end-to-end streamlining of processes, data and culture.
  3. Integrate CX methodology into the product development process; define what success and failure looks like for each journey step.
  4. Process owners must be held accountable for bringing each customer successfully through their journey segment and to the next process point and process owner.
  5. Data and infrastructure are the glue that stitch together new experiences and enable employees to do the right, informed thing.
  6. Story tell in ways that matter most for each audience; tune each story to the interests of internal business leaders and link CX results to each leader’s goal structure/metrics.
  7. Change the behavior of distribution channel partners with incentives tied to specific CX metrics to motivate partners.

General Motor’s New Customer Experience

In bringing its vision to life, GM discovered that connectivity changes the customer journey, positively. In response GM is integrating their customers’ digital life with their vehicle.

In connected cars, every time the customer turns the key the car is telling GM something about how the car is performing. That enables GM to offer highly personalized services and targeted discounts. For example, data captured by vehicles can be used to offer safety recommendations to customers on how to drive better. If you’re a good driver, you could share that data with your insurance company for a discount.

Connectivity produces a lot of data – within which lie opportunities for new products and services. “We do not share customer data with dealers unless there is a specific event like a maintenance schedule, and only if the customer has consented,” said Mingle.

Of the 12 million connected vehicles on the road, 4.5 million have 4G LTE which turns the car into a mobile hot spot and keeps customers connected with their digital lives. In 2016, that resulted in 200 million customer interactions. GM uses Pegasystems to handle 200,000 OnStar in-car calls per day from drivers last year and automate over 1 million decisions an hour. The goal is to make it easy for customers to enjoy their car.

General Motors currently uses the Pega Customer Decision Hub and the Pega Platform to power their standalone decisioning engine that drives capabilities into all channels their customers use to interact with the company. When a customer contacts General Motors, the Pega solution uses rules, predictive intelligence, and machine learning to drive the next best action regardless of channel for consistent, relevant interactions. Additionally, the Pega Platform provides a model-based environment that enables General Motors’ development teams to easily make changes as they need, so customers see continuous improvements in service.

The lessons General Motors has learned in how to transform into a customer-aligned organization are applicable to everyone. The key lessons are:

  • Start small by picking a customer segment, product line, or business unit.
  • Come to terms that this is change management, not a one-time Sales or Marketing project.
  • Journey map through the buyers eyesOpens a new window the journey stages, key interactions and pain points.
  • Adopt a proven methodology, like the Sellers CompassOpens a new window , to guide you through the process.
  • Secure funding and support by storytelling the ROI in ways tailored to leaders’ metrics.
  • Involve employees to own the pilots, it increases success and momentum.
  • Established a funded (small) central CX team as a COE, the rest of the company owns CX.

If GM can make this transformation, so can you. Where are you getting stuck?