I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. J. David Power III, founder of JD Power & Associates, during the Fall Conference dinner at the Wharton Mack Institute for Innovation Management with the Mack Institute Program on Vehicle and Mobility Innovation (PVMI). (Additional discussion summaries are available through the conference link.)
Dave Power was the keynote speaker the following day. Sitting next to him at dinner and discussing his company’s beginnings from his kitchen table in southern California reminded me that any big change requires persistence, creativity, passion and commitment. Not to mention enthusiasm.
You see, Dave Power has an unshakable commitment to the Voice of the Customer. He pioneered the role customer feedback would play in corporate excellence, initially in the automotive sector and later in other manufacturing and service industries.
By understanding owners’ perceptions of the performance and quality of their vehicles, Dave Power revolutionized the automotive industry by amplifying the relevance of customer satisfaction as a consideration of product design, quality, and engineering – and sustainable profitability.
Also recently, The Boston Consulting Group published its annual list of the top 50 most innovative companies. For the first time, there are more automotive companies than consumer companies in the top 50, and more automakers than tech companies in the top 20.
I mention this report because it calls out 5 sources of innovation, with one of the attributes being a focus on the customer. Today’s most innovative companies are listening to their customers.
Clearly, the need to put the customer first hasn’t changed since 1968 when Dave Power started his business. But technologies have changed.
Innovations such as social media and technology-equipped vehicles have created new opportunities for automotive executives to tune into the Voice of the Customer and collect direct feedback about how their products are used and perform once they leave the factory floor.
Consider how today’s big data advancements and new technologies can provide automakers with deep, insightful perspectives on the ownership experience, moving beyond the market research initiated by Dave Power toward increased overall engagement between the manufacturer, the dealer and the owner.
By doing so, automotive companies can understand: Are customers actually behaving as they say they are? Do owners’ actions reflect their survey answers? Is what’s being reflected through social media indicative of what we hear in surveys? And, they can begin exploring why.
When adopting these new technologies, it’s also important that any insights gained are proliferated enterprise-wide and turned into action, allowing the 1000’s of daily tactical decisions to be aligned with corporate strategy.
Armed with this information, automakers can both implicitly and explicitly add to broad brand promises by creating new, strategic business opportunities and connecting with consumers as individuals. The business transaction is seen from the customer’s point of view – as an individual or a household in a one-to-one multi-year relationship.
To execute on discoveries revealed through the Voice of the Customer, every decision maker is provided with the information they need, when they need it - whether executives, designers, engineers, marketers, welders, assemblers, shippers or dealers. Decision makers are empowered with data-driven insights derived from the same data source - a single, authoritative version of the truth.
Dave Power recognized the advantage of having the truth. As he stated during the Fall Conference, “Information collected across the industry—not tied to any company—is very powerful.” This can be said for information collected across a company as well.
From Dave Power’s kitchen table to today’s innovative companies, listening to the voice of the customer remains critically relevant to an automaker’s long-term success.
Your customers notice.
UPDATE: a video interview with JD Power III, recorded during the Mack Institute for Innovation Management's Fall Conference, is now available.