Russell Wager, VP of Marketing at Mazda, shares the automaker’s strategy for improving customer experience and creating brand advocates by starting with employees and dealers.
Russell Wager is interviewed by CX Factor host and CEO of Fanatics Media, Mark Fidelman, with additional questions from CX influencers Christine Crandell, President of New Business Strategies and Shep Hyken, customer service expert, author, and speaker.
Mark Fidelman: Welcome to CX Factor, the Oracle sponsored series that features executives from top brands delivering insights on creating the most engaging, effective customer experiences. I’m Mark Fidelman, host of CX Factor.
In this edition of CX Factor, I speak with Mazda’s Vice President of Marketing, Russell Wager, as we take a look under the hood of the iconic car company’s global transformation. I ride shotgun as Russell talks about how Mazda is exceeding the limits of customer expectations.
The first question I have is, how do you define customer experience at Mazda?
Russell Wager: For Mazda, we are looking at customer experience from a brand value management perspective. Brand value management, to us, is about creating advocates and giving people the reason that every single time they interact with Mazda, whether it’s in their vehicle or at an event, it gives them a smile.
A lot of people think that after a customer has purchased a product, the job’s done, and that’s the last thing. That’s actually where the job of the brand – to make people want to stay in the family and repurchase again – begins.
This summer we had a brand new CX-9 that launched and we took a lot of journalists, like yourself, to it to get a little understanding of what it’s about, and then on the last day, we invited 10 of our loyal CX-9 owners to fly to San Francisco. We paid for them, put them up, had the same presentation by designers and engineers about what the new CX-9 is about, and treated them to a nice weekend.
Mark Fidelman: In 2014, your customer surveys – and this is public – came back and they were kind of mediocre, so what’s happened? Because that’s totally changed. What’s happened between 2014 to kind of bring your customer or your fan experience to a higher level?
Russell Wager: What we found is, we weren’t able to tell enough of the stories of why people should be part of the Mazda family. We put a program together. It’s called Drive Beyond, and actually, we started our inside-out strategy employees first. We’ve taken every single employee through a brand immersion, and now we’re in the process of going through our entire dealer body to get them a little bit more up to speed on brand history of Mazda. That’s the first step.
Mark Fidelman: Is there anything you empower your employees to do to make the customer experience better?
Russell Wager: Let’s go with dealers. Historically with our dealers, we would have a budget for them for ‘customer goodwill’. If somebody comes in and their warranty is two months out and something happens with the vehicle, there was a little bit of money for them to help take care of that. We’re getting rid of that. We’re basically asking our employees, and ultimately our dealers, if it’s the right thing to do for the customer, then do it.
Mark Fidelman: What tools and technologies are you using to manage all of these relationships?
Russell Wager: We’ve actually, this past year, started using the Oracle DMP and SRM tools. Part of our issue is, we have had a one-way dialogue with customers for a really long time. We’re trying to figure out how we can make that into an actual conversation, a two-way back and forth. We want to make sure, using some of those tools, that we’re able to have the right message to the right people. It’s a simple thing, but just not something we’ve been doing pretty well up until this last year with the Oracle DMP and SRM.
Mark Fidelman: What are the goals and KPIs that you have for true customer experience success?
Russell Wager: We look at a lot of different KPIs. One of the things that we are definitely trying to change from a marketing perspective is the brand opinion. We’ve been trying to focus on giving people, again, some of those why stories, the history of Mazda, so that they get a better opinion – more than just the vehicle that they know of. That’s one portion of it.
One of the things that you’ve probably seen from Mazda over the last several years is our move to a little bit more premium. You can see it in our car designs. You can see it in the technology in the car. We’re tracking a measure of, are people willing to pay a little bit more for a Mazda?
Mark Fidelman: All right, Russell. I’m going to cut to Christine Crandell, who’s the President of New Business Strategies, and she’s got a question for Mazda about influencers.
Christine Crandell: Hi Russell. Influencers have a tremendous impact on the awareness and consideration stages of purchase journeys. When I was in Europe, I saw that car manufacturers were targeting mothers-in-law because they were the primary influencers of the type of car that first-time mothers were purchasing. My question to you is, how is Mazda leveraging influencer marketing, and can you give us a best practice?
Russell Wager: That’s a great question. We did an Ice Academy in Crested Butte, Colorado. We invited a lot of journalists. We wanted to talk about our all-wheel drive story. Then we invited some of our customers, and then we even gave them a little extra of driving an MX-5 Miata with the top down on an ice track in negative 18 degrees, but they had a blast.
They key of all this was, they went back and they talked to all of their social circles about not only all-wheel drive technology, but the fun that is happening that Mazda gives you if you’re part of the Mazda family. It was outstanding. We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome on that.
Mark Fidelman: Now, Russell, we’re going to Shep Hyken, customer service expert, author, and speaker.
Shep Hyken: If I buy a Mazda in Saint Louis, Missouri, Los Angeles, California, or New York City, the cars are going to be the same, but not all dealerships are the same. Some are definitely more customer focused than others. What are you doing to create a more consistent customer experience within your dealer network?
Russell Wager: We have been working with our dealers on showing some best practices, and giving them some tools to help their sales people understand the expectations that customers have nowadays when they walk in. We’ve been putting programs in place here in the U.S., first with our employees, trying to get our employees to understand what our brand is all about and how we can be more customer focused.
And at the same time, we are now starting to have the same conversations with our dealers about what the brand is about. It’s about Mazda’s philosophy. It’s about the reasons why we do things that benefit the customer, and at the end of the day, we’re trying to ensure that we put a smile on every customer’s face.
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