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What Happens in Vegas

leinbergerLast week’s trip to Las Vegas was probably the most profitable trip to Sin City that I’ve ever made.  I didn’t lose any money gambling.  I’ve found over the years that the only way to win in Vegas is to not lose.  And for me, the only way to not lose is to not gamble.

One thing that made it so easy to not gamble is the group of fascinating people I was there with.  The event was the 2013 Maritz Research Automotive Customer Experience Summit, a small conference with about 20 Maritz automotive clients, a dozen Maritz employees, and a handful of guest speakers.  I had the opportunity to meet with fellow Maritz employees I’d never before met in person, Maritz clients from over a dozen auto companies in the US and Canada, and intriguing guest speakers from Google, Sonic Automotive, The Futures Company, and Storytelling with Data.

The focus of the conference was on understanding and managing the customer journey.  The frank and open self-introductions from each of the attendees set the tone – this was going to be a day and a half of honest discussions about how auto companies can do a better job of retaining customers through the enhancement and management of their customers’ experiences.  Along with other topics, of course, such as effective graphs, NASCAR, and karaoke.

Tim Wilson from Google talked about the online automotive shopping experience.  The use of online reviews and social media is having a tremendous impact on how people shop for cars, and what kinds of expectations those shoppers have as a result.  We’ve heard a lot about the use of online reviews lately and their trust factor from my colleague Dave Ensing.

Marti Eulberg from Sonic Automotive talked about Sonic’s approach of building a new kind of used car company from the ground up, completely transforming the dreaded experience of used car shopping.  While our clients aren’t likely to be able to re-build the new car shopping environment and experience from scratch, there were plenty of take-aways from her talk that can be used to improve the new car shopping experience dramatically.  The primary message I got from Marti’s talk was the importance of putting the customer in control.

The Futures Company ’s Dr. Paul Leinberger talked about what we can expect in the future regarding the automotive customer’s experience.  Paul predicts that technology will have similar impacts on the car-buying experience as it has had on other product purchases.

Storytelling with Data consultant Cole Nussbaumer gave a great talk on creating effective graphs.  She presented several examples of how to approach the task of presenting data most effectively, explaining the why’s and why not’s behind each.

These presentations by outside experts were followed by talks from Maritz specialists (including my own less-geeky-than-usual (for me) presentation on how we use open-ended survey responses to better understand the customer’s experience.  Kudos to fellow tech-lover Eric Wong for correctly identifying the calculator in my shirt pocket as a TI-81!)  The end result was much food for thought, information that our clients can use for strategic and tactical decisions both immediately and down the road.

Take-aways were many, but for me (being the geek that I am), the winner was technology.  Technology provides a huge challenge, and a huge opportunity.  It enables the customer to be more informed and more discerning than ever before.  But it also presents us with new ways to engage with the customer to create a truly beneficial relationship for both customer and retailer.  Car companies need to stay connected with their customers in ways that provide value to their customers; technology (social media, mobile computing, text analytics, etc.) is the enabler.