Oracle OpenWorld 2015 - General Motors’ crisis moment helped it drive social and CX through the business

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 27, 2015
General Motors has had a tough few years. It's filed for bankruptcy. It's been at the centre of a scandal. But now it is trying to be more customer focused.

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It’s been a difficult few years for General Motors - the owner of well-known US automotive brands that include Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac. Since 2008 the company has faced some seriously dark times. Not only did it suffer billions of dollars worth of losses as a result of the global economic crisis, which resulted in it filing for bankruptcy, but it also was at the centre of a faulty ignition switch scandal that has been tied to as many as 84 deaths.

What was one of America’s greatest corporations quickly became a company in crisis, over just a short few years.

However, as is often the case when faced with desperate situations, General Motors has said that this period has forced a time of reflection and a greater consideration for what is fundamental to the company’s future success.

Speaking at Oracle OpenWorld this week, Rebecca Harris, General Motors’ Global Head of Social Center of Expertise, explained how the company’s ‘crisis moment’ allowed it to better focus on and listen to its customers. She said:

For us it has come around the perfect storm. We had a crisis, the bankruptcy and then the ignition switch crisis. Those were significant things and we had lost sight of the customer over a few years. So the leadership took an active role refocusing the company around the customer and made some significant investments in doing that.

They appointed a CXO, Alicia Boler-Davis, that reports directly into the CEO. And we set about really mapping everything against the customer journey. Asking ourselves what good or what value this brings to the customer? As opposed to ‘just doing it’, as we did in the past. Identifying the pain points the customer has along the customer journey and eliminating those gaps.

It has to become part of that organisational culture. You have to have that change in your culture and you have to have that focus on the customer in the culture, otherwise you’re not going to fix this.

It’s not really about ROI

General Motors has implemented Oracle’s Social Relationship Management suite to help it better listen to and engage with its customers. Much of the company’s current successes - of which there are tangible examples - has been driven by the leadership’s willingness to invest in and embed CX into the organisation.

Harris describes Boler-Davis as a “visionary” and said that the top team at General Motors now doesn’t expect social and CX to immediately result in an impact to the bottom line - as they may have done in the past. It’s now a case of ‘we are doing this’ versus ‘if we do this, what will it get us?’. Harris said;

We have had leadership support to try things differently because we aren’t trying to prove the ROI. The ROI is: if we don’t do this how many customers do we lose and how many customers don’t come back? The functional integration has been hugely important for this to come together. From a social perspective, the people that touch this area are mostly marketing, communications and customer care.

Those teams have to be one face to the customer, they can’t be answering the customer differently. They have to all be one team. We have seen significant integration and improvements along that functional integration since Alicia came into play as the CX person. Leadership alignment about the importance of this space and putting commitment of people and resource into the structure to ensure its success.

And according to Harris, General Motors’ IT team is also central to this alignment and integration of customer facing teams. She said:

Marketing’s job is to make the pages look good, feel good, look like the brand, feel like the brand, engage. PR is really crisis, if there is an influencer on the page, helping with key message development. Customer care is to help customers take care of those problems. Underlined to all of that is the IT infrastructure that allows all those things to happens. So we have totally integrated the IT team into all of our stuff, they are part of our meetings with the regions, with the brands, they’re part of our strategy. Total integration.

If you take it up a level to the Alicia (CXO) level, it’s very similar in process. Alicia, IT and the marketing team are really defining what the strategy is, then Alicia and IT are in charge of building that. Then marketing is in charge of taking that build and applying it to their brand. If they’re not all in lockstep, they’re not going to win.

Some wins

Harris gave a couple of examples of how General Motors has seen a direct impact from its CX and social strategy on its business outcomes. The first of which is particularly impressive. Harris explained that when General Motors set about launching its new full size pick up truck, it noticed that it was getting some negative feedback across its social channels about a couple of features.

Listening to the feedback, General Motors was able to make changes to the manufacturing process in days, rather than months (or not at all), as had previously been the case. Harris said:

Early on we were hearing noise on the system that the steering wheels were hot to touch, the cool heated seats were also blowing hot air out to the back passenger. Not ideal and not what we want to happen. Certain things you’re just not going to find when you test. But [upon hearing the negative feedback] we were able to work through the quality organisation, as well as the manufacturing and engineering teams, to first of all take the steering wheel out of production. Only a small amount of vehicles got out with that feature.

Then we were able to work with the teams to get that vent pushing air through the bottom of the truck, versus to the back seat, in under 30 days on the manufacturing line. Which is huge for us, to move at that sort of speed. That previously could have taken 6 months, 7 months, 8 months for the information to get to the right guys, then we would have made a decision about how much the customers were going to be dissatisfied, how much it was going to cost - and then we might not have done anything about it.

Social gives us another way to listen, to get in there early and to do something different than what we have always done. You have got to be committed to spending the money and to go make those changes in the organisation.

general motors social
General Motors on Facebook

Another example rests on General Motors bringing its data back in-house to better understand what its customer’s experience with the brand, what its customers are talking about and as a result trying to bring a conversation to them about the products that is on their terms. Bringing the data back in-house has resulted in some successful social campaigns. Harris said:

At its core, if we listen we will be able to build our brand and we will be able to sell more products and services. We look at it from a couple of different ways - one way is strategic with our IT folks. And trying to bring all of our data back in-house. For a long time we bought product services via IT and we didn’t own that data. So we have an enterprise data warehouse strategy, trying to bring that data back in-house, so that we can help our customers better. Because we need to know, do they own five Chevys? Have they ever been to a dealership? Whatever that situation is.

We also use the listening data through Oracle SRM for various parts and pieces. For example, the Chevy team found through the data that they were getting a lot of conversation on Mondays [from customers] about the weekend, about how they were struggling to get through the day. So based on that they created ‘Make it through Mondays’.

Every Monday they go out and post some sort of engagement piece, to have that dialogue with their fan base. This has been a huge win for the team, the engagement scores are always high. It’s been three years in the making and there has been no decline.

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