After having spent long periods living and working in South Korea and Turkey, you are now back in Germany. In your view, is there such a thing as the global customer – that is, a mindset shared by customers all over the world, irrespective of whether they come from Seoul, Istanbul or Stuttgart?
Well, Mercedes-Benz customers around the world certainly have one particular thing in common: exacting demands when it comes to service and quality. They will settle for nothing short of the best. These expectations are the same everywhere, and are the standard that guides each and every Mercedes-Benz employee. In other respects, though, I have noticed that customer requirements tend to vary greatly, and are becoming ever more individualized.
Can you give us some specific examples of how they vary?
Let’s look at Asia, for example: Seoul is home to around 10 million people. So you would think that demand for compact vehicles such as the smart would be high. But in fact, Koreans are much more inclined toward sedans such as the E-Class or S-Class. In China, demand for seven-seaters is especially high. Cars are used differently there, and tend to seat many more people than in Germany, for example. Our customers in Europe and North America gravitate toward entirely different mobility solutions.
Mercedes-Benz uses the acronym CASE to describe the company’s strategic future focus. How do these four areas correspond with customer demands?
CASE centres on the everyday issues people deal with, regardless of whether they drive a smart or a Mercedes-Maybach. CASE stands for connectivity (Connected), autonomous driving (Autonomous), flexible use (Shared) and electric-drive systems (Electric). All developments that take place within these areas focus first and foremost on our customers and their needs and wants. We call this principle “human-centred innovation.” And in this respect, there are lots of fascinating questions we want to find the answers to on behalf of our customers. How can I remain continuously connected so that I can control all the things my car can do via my smartphone? Or think about autonomous driving, about the coming age of self-driving cars. How will I use the time I spend in the car if I no longer have to steer it? We are also very focused on “E” for electromobility. How can I get from A to B in a way that is both ecologically sound – that is, emissions-free on a local level – and comfortable, and doesn’t require me to recharge the batteries when travelling for longer periods? “S,” for “Shared & Services,” also centres on people, with one of its focal areas being shared mobility. How can we adapt our personal mobility solutions to best accommodate people’s increasing desire for flexibility? We have lots of very clever people working on these and many more questions.
The term “customer” is undergoing a change in significance, don’t you think?
Indeed. In future, our customers won’t necessarily be defined as such simply by the fact that they own one of our cars. We are focusing increasingly on mobility services such as car2go, which enables customers to book a Mercedes-Benz or smart whenever they need one, and moovel, an app that offers highly individualized mobility solutions. These are the directions the trends are moving in.
What can Mercedes-Benz do to one day turn the highly mobile generation of digital users into loyal customers?
By offering them the right products and services. Interconnectedness in our cars is becoming increasingly important.
How do you pick up on digital trends?
As a company, we monitor the corresponding developments very carefully. On top of this I have my own personal trend scouts, who are my teenage children and their friends. They don’t read newspapers or magazines, don’t watch the news on TV, but are pretty well-informed all the same. They are also absolutely uncompromising in how they judge what we as Mercedes-Benz do on social media.
You say there is nothing that drives business like personal customer contact. Why do you feel this is the case?
For one thing, direct contact and conversation are very important to me personally. Moreover, our goal at Mercedes-Benz is to offer our customers the best possible products and services. In everything we do for them, we want them to be able to feel both our strong innovative spirit and our passion for the company’s history and tradition. And direct conversation is the best way of conveying this.