At the start of the 2000s, the customer experience (CX) industry was in a rut. We helped to lift it out of that rut by developing a new approach, shifting from market research to customer care, fixing and learning from problems as they arose. But it would take one more step to provide the industry with the structure it needed, one aligned with quality management (QM). How did this shift happen? And what did we learn from it?
Getting into the Field
In the year 2000, the BMW Group started rolling out a new quality management and performance development program. Called QMA, this program was deployed to dealerships in over 50 countries as a way to improve their performance.
From its early stages, I was lucky enough to be present for this project. My company, moveXM | TTR Group, was one of the main CX vendors for the BMW Group, and so we were involved from the concept phase. We helped the BMW Group to develop a system for measuring and controlling the impact of QMA on its three main target areas: customer experience, employee experience (EX), and profitability. These were the tools we would use to assess the performance of individual dealerships as well as the effectiveness of the program itself.
From the start, I was fascinated by this program. At moveXM | TTR Group, we were heavily involved in CX work at the BMW Group, providing data and reports as well as the tools to measure and improve performance. But I was based behind a desk far from any dealerships and seldom had the chance to see firsthand how businesses worked with what we gave them. I wanted to see the reality of CX work which meant to understand its implementation and impact on the ground. QMA was my chance to do just that. I took a BMW Group QMA training course, was certified for this work and took over coaching two BMW dealerships through the QMA program.
In many ways, QMA was like the ISO quality management system but developed specifically for issues that mattered to a BMW dealership. Its focus was on developing performance, taking into account BMW’s nature as a premium car brand, one whose reputation for quality was essential to its success. A certified QMA coach would work with a dealership over one to two years to implement the program, optimizing processes in every department of the dealership. From HR and accounting to used car sales and parts and accessories no department or function was left untouched. Even management itself went through the optimization process. At the end of implementation an audit was carried out to check that the process had been successfull.
Before the QMA program, moveXM | TTR Group had been working with the BMW Group on issue management. We had brought in a process where the service advisor at a dealership would check every day for feedback from recent customers and contact any who had raised issues so that they could be resolved. Implementing this had brought moveXM | TTR Group much closer to the daily operation at our clients’ sites. QMA brought us even closer. It was an eye-opener for us as a company and for me personally, revealing the reality of work on the front lines of CX.
Moving from behind a desk into the field showed us the challenges and pain points that operational managers faced in their daily fight to keep customers, employees and their management satisfied. This raised all sorts of questions. What were the tools managers needed to do their job better? What would make it easier to achieve those goals? What KPIs would support them in managing their businesses? Which processes should be re-designed to better meet customers’ needs?
In the past it had been common practice to send market research reports to operational managers on the assumption this would lead to improvement. Getting into the field showed that this was not enough. Without company leadership that was 100% committed to and competent in CX and QM, neither of these would work. Both CX and QM needed a focus on change management and culture-building if they were to succeed.
The central lesson we learned from these experiences was that CX is all about the quality of the core product or experience. CX and QM are not separate entities but deeply intertwined.
The Problems with Enchantment
When we talk about providing the best customer experience, people often talk about „enchanting“ the customer. They focus on flash and spectacle, the exciting extras. But once we started focusing on quality as the central driver of CX, we realized that enchantment was a distraction and one that wouldn’t help us achieve our real goals.
Back when I started out as a junior CX consultant in 1990, one of the first things I learned was that satisfaction is a function of expectations. If we meet the expectations a customer has, then they will usually be satisfied with the experience. But we don’t just shape the services we provide in line with expectations, we also shape those expectations.
Because of this, there are three problems with the „enchanting“ approach.
Problem 1: Expectations Are Not Constant
Expectations don’t remain the same. They are always evolving, and the services we provide shape that evolution. What seems special today will be seen as standard tomorrow as it becomes widespread and customers get used to it. What was once an enchantment can quickly become a basic expectation.
Think about cell phones. Twenty-five years ago, having a cellphone at all was a novelty for most people. If you were used to being tied to a landline, then the cellphone itself was an enchantment. Then cellphones became ubiquitous and they started competing to add novelties to remain enchanting. This led to the smartphone, and again, this was initially an enchantment. While most people could only use their phones to call and text, an internet connection was an incredible novelty. Smartphones too quickly spread, and so more enchantments were added. Cameras, apps, free texts and minutes, bundled services like Spotify or Netflix. Now an arms race is on, in which providers are constantly trying to outdo their previous enchantments.
Turning back to car sales, you can see a similar effect in the influence of showrooms. In the early ‘90s, a flashy showroom could make a big difference in customer satisfaction. Now, the novelty has worn off. An espresso machine and internet access won’t impress anyone. In fact, a flashy showroom has become a necessity. Without the things that were once enchantments but have now become standard, customers will be dissatisfied.
Enchantment doesn’t last. The innovations brought in to create it set new standards. Thanks to hedonic adaptation, the emotional buzz that customers initially feel on experiencing an exciting novelty quickly wears off. Attempts at enchantment set new standards, stop contributing to satisfaction, and become areas where we can let customers down. It’s almost impossible to keep enchanting customers, and very expensive to try.
Problem 2: The Backfire Effect
If you don’t deliver a high-quality experience in every encounter with customers, then your enchantment attempts will backfire.
Imagine that your car needs its air conditioning repaired. While you’re in the waiting room at the workshop, you get to play with their virtual reality station, and at the end, the staff member looks you in the eyes and offers you a firm handshake as he hands back the keys. Then you get in your car, head out onto the road on a sweltering 40-degree centigrade day, turn on your AC, and it immediately stops working. Would the virtual reality station still enchant you, or would it seem like a waste of money that could have been spent on better work? Would it help that the salesman called you by your name, looked you in the eyes, and gave you that friendly handshake, or would that add to the feeling of disappointment, that someone who seemed so sincere wasn’t doing the job you paid them for? More likely, you would feel added resentment at a place that was all flash and no substance, and which had failed in its most fundamental function.
This applies to products but is even more important for services. The human involvement in providing services is much higher. There are many more variables that are difficult to control and that can make your attempts at enchantment backfire.
Problem 3: Emotional Involvement
To create a sense of enchantment, you need the customer to be excited. But most products and services aren’t emotionally engaging enough to achieve this. Many customers will get emotionally engaged in a high-value, status-defining product like a car or something personal and fun like a holiday, but it’s very rare to find someone who will become emotionally involved in their toothpaste or in dealing with an aftersales help desk.
Even if it was desirable, it wouldn’t be possible to use enchantment to improve the customer experience for every product and service.
Focusing on Quality
Customers want to deal with competent and trustworthy business partners. Competent enough to do high-quality work the first time around. Trustworthy enough to keep their promises and provide support when you need it. A great customer experience is created by focusing on delivering quality, while enchantment is a vicious spiral that fails to achieve its goals while creating more challenging expectations.
But as I discovered from working on QMA, quality management is much more than the parts we see. It’s not just developing and applying a set of rules. It’s not just engineering and documentation processes. It’s not just being friendly to customers. It’s a way of life and work, a culture you create and maintain. To work properly, you need a change management program that addresses every molecule of your company.
Both QM and CX are moving targets, and that’s why you have to embrace change in this way. It’s impossible to get everything right. You’ll never reach a point where you can provide satisfaction in every single one of your customer encounters. Instead, good work is about the relentless pursuit of perfect QM and CX, knowing that you will never reach that goal but that the work you do along the way will bring its own rewards. As with life in general, CX is about the journey, not the destination.
All of these insights stemmed from getting out into the field and seeing the reality of QM in BMW dealerships. That hands-on experience let us at moveXM | TTR Group understand the way quality works and that our existing CX system wasn’t enough. We already had three steps – collecting customer feedback; analyzing that feedback to gain insights, and dealing promptly and competently with customers’ issues. Now we added a fourth step: developing and implementing action plans to improve performance by driving up core quality. Like issue management, the action planning module in our CX platform has since become a CX-industry standard.
We created a platform that integrates these steps, and so the management of customer experience, into daily work. Instead of an afterthought, the quality of customer experience is made central to working practices. It becomes the driver for everything a business does.