In past years, the creation of value and the roles customers and dealership employees played in a typical service experience were very distinct and separated. The cost of products and services was determined by the market. The price of an oil change was based on market pricing, and the value of the service was determined by competition. If your price was higher than the next guy, then your business suffered.
Now, access to information has become so ubiquitous that everyone can shop a price from their smartphone in a matter of moments. These days, the determination of value has essentially become created by our peers.
Marketing and sales began hundreds of years ago in the market-transaction process. If you were shopping at the local bazaar, for example, you knew who had the best products because communication was very local and linear. Your neighbors or family members told you the best places to shop. This system of “word of mouth” business has existed since the beginning of time.
The development of modern marketing created a whole new system for how people found the best places to shop. Businesses began paying specialized companies to convince buyers to shop with them. Customers soon began buying products and services that weren’t necessarily the best or the cheapest. They were the ones that companies spent the most to market and promote to. But customers soon became disenfranchised, feeling that they were being taken advantage of and preyed upon. Corporations no longer appeared to have the customers’ best interests in mind.
Next came social media and the development of peer-promoted marketing. “Friends” on social media would rate or promote products and services, helping us better determine where to shop. If a friend, or even someone you knew only through interaction online gave a product or service a 5-star review, you’d still take that into account before making a decision.
Social media became such a juggernaut of marketing that a poor online reputation could destroy a business’s entire reputation. Businesses became so concerned about their online reputations that companies formed solely to assist those businesses in improving online reputations. Now, it’s very difficult to identify real online reviews from fake ones. In fact, Amazon now has to indicate next to each review whether the person purchased the product or received it for free in exchange for a positive review.
Yelp also had its fair share of issues with the truthfulness of its reviews. There have even been occasions where online battles of “fake” reviews were waged to damage the reputation of other businesses. A study from the University of Illinois, Chicago, stated that 30% of online reviews are fake, and that that number could double by 2018. Which takes us to the next step.
So what does “user-defined” mean? In the early days of social media, the only content posted was the content supplied by the users themselves. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter only exist today because users posted self-generated content. So, for our purposes, the content is self-generated or “user-defined.”
This user-defined approach can also be applied to a purchasing or service experience. In this scenario, customers become the co-creators of their own personalized experiences. In his book, The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value, C.K. Prahalad states, “In this space, value lies in the co-creation experience of a specific customer, at a specific point in time, in a specific location, in the context of a specific event.”
This brings us to the front step of the dealership’s service department. It’s the service department’s responsibility to not only provide great service but to also ensure that customers are co-creating their experiences. The biggest challenge is doing the same thing with each individual customer.
The days of the “one size fits all” set of processes are long gone, and the opportunities to move toward a unique co-creation experience are limitless. We need to start the process of client engagement by looking at feedback from our customer bases. We can provide a great experience by listening to our customers and giving them what they want, while realizing that the brand is the experience, not the product or service itself.