Aymen Ismail, Head of Customer Engagement Solutions at smart Europe GmbH talks about driving change in the automotive industry by utilising data to create a true omnichannel experience for the modern customer. He also introduces the issue of perception that exists around customer experience and creates a disconnection between companies and their customers.
The issue of perception around CX.
82% of marketers believe they deliver great customer experiences, but only 8% of customers think their expectations are being met. This is what Aymen refers to as the 'issue of perception' around CX, which causes a big disconnection between what leaders perceive as good customer experience and what customers perceive from their interactions with the company. According to Aymen, the problem lies in the fact that leaders see everything from their point of view, and keep using buzzwords like 'customer-centric' without thinking about the entire customer journey in the right way. For this reason, he encourages businesses to do some yearly face-to-face sessions with customers to bring them in and listen to their feedback. This way, leaders will be able to understand customers' perceptions of their services and know where to improve.
Being data-driven and customer-centric.
Being customer-centric also requires being data-driven, as businesses need to use data in the right way to be able to serve their customers right. One way in which smart Europe is doing this is through the concept of creating an urban companion, meaning not just a car, but a product customers can rely on and that will create a seamless experience for them. The car will therefore be connected to their engagement center and at all touchpoints employees will have the right data to support the customers, reactively or proactively, according to the situation. Captured data will then be used to create useful and valuable insights into the customer experience.
Another way the urban companion supports the customer is by having an ecosystem of services that can be connected to the customer's phone and shared with their family and friends. This provides a much more personal interaction that effectively builds a relationship with customers.
Creating an effortless employee experience.
Aymen also emphasized the importance of creating an employee effortless experience, as leaders need to think of the customer journey as an iceberg, with the employee journey being the bigger portion at the bottom that ultimately affects the customer experience.
This article summarises podcast episode 71 ”How to Deliver Omnichannel Experience in the Car Industry" recorded by CX Insider. For more information, listen to the episode, or contact Aymen on his LinkedIn profile.
Written by Alessia Trabucco
Full episode transcript
Aymen: You're driving your car and you've got a call on your phone that says, 'Hey, Mr. or Mrs. Customer, we have realized that there might be a potential problem that can happen in the future, so we want to schedule for your service appointment.' You've got to call before your problem even happened and you've got a solution for this issue. So you can actually have your car still with you and you can continue driving without having any interruption in your experience. This is what we call proactive and data-based customer services, and this is all because we get all the usage data from the car and all the other data that we have and we create meaningful insights out of it. We don't just use the data we'll capture the data. For the sake of having data, we have to create meaningful insights.
Valentina: Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of CX Insider. Today, Adam and I talked to Aymen Ismail, head of Customer Engagement Solutions at smart Europe. In today's episode, we will talk about Aymen's views on how car companies create omnichannel experiences, whether these are new brands or legacy companies. I hope you'll enjoy this episode, and if you do, please don't forget to let us know on our LinkedIn page. By the way, this podcast was brought to you by ACF Technologies, Global Leaders, and Customer Experience Management.
Valentina: Aymen is someone you would call a global citizen, being half Dutch from his mother's side and half Egyptian from his father's side. Aymen's multicultural heritage allowed him to gather experiences from all around the world, and that includes his personal and work life.
Aymen: Due to the fact that I come from this multicultural background, I enjoyed the culture, so the result of me traveling around the world, living in many countries, I have traveled, I think, to more than 50 something countries in the last ten years, is that I got to be introduced to many different cultures, whether on a personal level and knowing how they react on a daily basis and how they deal with their lives, but also from a job perspective. I actually learned a lot about how different cultures deal with their customers, and the customer cultures are actually quite different if you go to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States or the North Americans and South America. And from there, I developed this passion. And this passion basically came from my personal experience with brands where I suffered a lot, calling their contact centers to get solutions or going to website to try to sort certain things during my processes there. And I realized that more and more that companies are not doing more than they should do or are not doing enough in order for them to help their customers have an easier life. And that's where I started my career. I started a contact center agent a very long time ago, 21 years ago, I think, where we used to sell certain international lines to customers in the United States. While I'm sitting in Cairo in an office in the middle of Cairo, we used to call it, we used to sell ice to Eskimos. So it wasn't an easy job that we had, but I gradually grew from there. So I worked in the contact center business, I worked as a salesperson, then I started managing teams, then I started moving up the ladder, and that's when customer experience sparked my interest when I was in the Middle East back in 2007 and it was something quite new there. And from there I actually started learning more about it and I started developing a strategy for an insurance company, which was quite a hit because we were the first to develop an actual customer experience strategy with actual packages of work for the customers. And it resulted in me starting speaking about it as well because it was sparking interest from many different industries, whether telecom, the media, or so on. I worked also in the media industry, so it was quite interesting and unique for me to see the different ways of dealing with the customer in that industry then moved to telecom financial services, and then actually I landed where my passion is the automotive industry.
And five years, actually six years back, I sort of worked for Mercedes Benz. I had the privilege to travel around the world, know the customer cultures, whether it be to be where to be, to see work for the passenger car airlines, and work to develop contact center businesses, especially on the omnichannel side across the world. I implemented many different strategies and services across 50+ countries in Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and Asia. And now here I am, I'm at smart, I'm where my passion is, and we are restarting our brand with the new product and new services greenfield approach when it comes to all the technical infrastructure. And I'm able to do what I believe customers deserve, which is to create an effortless experience together with our chief experience officer, where we want to actually have a seamless approach to everything related to customer experience and customer journey, but also my side where we want to create remarkable experiences in every interaction the customer has with us, whether physical or whether digital.
Valentina: According to a survey, 82% of marketers believe they deliver a great customer experience, but only 8% of customers think their expectations are met. Why is there such a big perception gap?
Aymen: Let me put it this way, I think the majority of the leaders believe that they actually provide the best customer experience that they can provide. I think it's an issue of perception because the majority believes that when you talk with their customers, the customers say, no, they don't actually deliver exceptional customer experience or customer services. And I think the problem is we see it from our point of view, sitting in our seats as leaders and thinking from our perspective while we use the buzzwords, Hey, we are customer-centric, we focus on our customers, customers are at the heart of everything we do. But have we actually thought about it in the right way? Having spoken with our customers, especially the ones that we lost, the ones that actually don't speak to us directly in our surveys but actually speak online, have we checked what they are saying about us in the blogs or in their social media groups where most brands don't actually go there and see what's going? And this is where the problem is. It's this disconnect between what we perceive as an exceptional customer experience and what the actual customers perceive from the journey that they have with us. And I think once we start listening carefully to everything that is said, and that's not just by deploying voice of customer surveys, checking the five-star ratings that we actually develop by, but by going to where they are in their own communities and the blogs. And I encourage sometimes to do some face-to-face sessions on a yearly basis where you have customer clinics, bring your customers in, the ones that were happy with you and the ones that were really upset and had multiple complaints with you, sit down with them and just listen and you'll be surprised with everything that they will tell you because you'll realize, Oh, the direction that I was heading to is actually working, I need to do something about it because what the customer is telling me about the way they perceive my services is completely different from where I thought and where my surveys actually show me that I'm performing very well.
Valentina: In today's world, omnichannel options are expected from the majority of customers, and the bar is only getting higher. So let's dive into how exactly omnichannel is built in a company like smart.
Aymen: I think at smart Europe we are very lucky with the leadership team that we have, whether my boss or our CEO, Derek Adelman, or better with our chief experience officer Bjorn Schick, or our chief operational officer who is also responsible for the sales part, Andre. The three of them have this vision, and this vision is let's try to create this dent in the automotive universe. We're not going to do what we always do. We need as a company and as a leadership team to actually prioritize customers as much as possible. And it's all about the effortless experience. It's all about how the customer perception is of what we do, not what we see should be there for our customers only. And how can we make life easier? Because in the end, we're a brand that delivers a product that customers will use on a daily basis. And we need to make it secure. We need to make it actually a brand that customers can rely on. And our mission is to create an urban companion with our brand and our services for our customers. So from there, we decided as a company that we will create this by creating a seamless online journey were customers that normally go to the physical showrooms to perform the test drive or to actually talk about the brand and maybe even go there to buy the brand and sign the contracts and so on. They actually go to the website and they can perform everything there. They can schedule their own test drives, they can even proceed with buying the car online, and customize it. They don't have to have a salesperson to actually guide them on the journey. And what I'm doing here is that I'm making sure that I'm connected completely with every touchpoint that we have with our customers via our engagement center. And across this journey, we will be able to have the data that we need from our customers based on interaction data, engagement data, whatever data that we can get from the customer based on the GDPR framework, of course, and the privacy frameworks that we have. And from there, we are able to personalize certain offerings for our customer's personalized interaction channels with our customers. Because I'm a customer, for example, that doesn't like to call a company to understand more or doesn't like to go to the physical showroom to get more information. I would like to do everything in the palm of my hand with my phone while I'm on my WhatsApp or my iMessage or using the Facebook messages or so on or other messages that are out there. So for me, I would like also the communication back from my brand to be the channel that I prefer. And from there, this is what we're doing. We decided, especially on the customer engagement side, that we will be where the customers are.
We will connect our engagement center to every touchpoint and every channel that is out there, and from there we will still have all the data visible for everybody that is using our systems to support the customers, whether reactively or even proactively, when the customers need us to, don't need us to support, but when we need to actually perform certain activities for them, for them. And let me give you an example, you're driving your car and you got you've got a call on your phone that says, 'Hey, Mr. or Ms. Customer, we have realized that there might be a potential problem that can happen in the future. So we want to schedule your service appointment.' You've got to call before your problem even happened and you've got a solution for this issue. So you can actually have your car still with you and you can continue driving without having any interruption. In your experience, this is what we call proactive and data-based customer services. And this is all because we get all the usage data from the car and all the other data that we have and we create meaningful insights out of it. We don't just use the data and we'll capture the data for the sake of having data, we have to create meaningful insights.
Adam: And I was going to ask and you said something in there, you said the word Urban Companion, which I love. And I think you've kind of answered what you just said. But. Is the whole theory about it being a companion, the fact that it is connected almost like a live and smart stroke your vehicle or actually feeding back to you what it wants, let you just use the example that I might need service because something's happening? Is that where the companion comes from? Can you tell me a little bit more about Urban Companion? Because I've not heard that term before and I love it. I think it's a really great idea.
Aymen: Let me tell you, my perception of Urban Companion and more than the company is one. But for us, Urban Companion means staying connected with your customers. And as a customer, especially in this digital world that we have, everything is digital. Everything can be performed from your phone or from your laptop. And this is what we want to do, give you a customer the control of the car and of everything around the car from their phone and also connected with the communities. But what I believe we will deliver with being an urban companion is having an ecosystem of services that the customer can actually utilize and share with family and friends. And the car will not just be the car, the car will be a part of their lives. I'm using the car, but I can perform certain services there. I can sit down in the car and chill and actually play games or even message people in the car or even have a video chat in the car if I want to or watch Netflix or so on and so forth as other brands are already doing this and so on. And we want to take it a step further. We want to build this relationship with the customer. That's a love relationship. This is not just a car, it's not just an urban companion, You have this love for the brand, smart has always had what we call brand lovers, those fans that loved everything that smart stands for, and we still want to take it where we are growing right now to the same level. And we're growing up and we're having bigger cars, but still, the love connection that we had with the previous cars, we want to keep it with our current line of cars that we're going to have.
Adam: So I have literally just come into my head. So you obviously worked in telecom I also worked in telecom and I remember when the iPhone came out and it's fair to say that the iPhone completely changed mobile phones, absolutely did, they gave a good user experience. The customer experience on an iPhone was far greater than BlackBerry and far greater than Windows phones and Symbian phones that Nokia made. And it completely changed, and Nokia and things died as a result of what you've just said, which actually sounds pretty exciting. Do you see the car as being almost like another mobile phone? Is that like what you're saying? Are you saying that there's no reason why you're sitting in your car, you're on a motorway, that you shouldn't better do all the stuff you should better do on a phone?
Aymen: Actually somehow, yes, of course. We need to make sure that if the customer is driving, they are safe. And certain applications, certain things that they normally do with their mobile phones cannot be done while they're driving. But if you're waiting for your car to charge and right now you have to wait sometimes for your car to charge. You need to feel that the car is another mobile phone, it's another tablet that's in your phone. And you should do the same things that you do with your phone in your car. And that's actually the game-changing factor that Tesla has challenged us all in the automotive industry with the way they developed their UI, UX, with the developed their digital component inside the car and made the customers feel more connected. And I want to go to social media. I see a lot of these videos of those Tesla enthusiasts that are showcasing themselves playing a game on their car while they're charging it or actually watching a movie together while they're sitting out, sitting in the car in a nice area, and just enjoying being inside the car. The car is not just for me to use it to go from A to B, it is now a companion. And it's new. New digital tablet or digital mobile phone. And that's where the cars are heading.
Valentina: In our previous episodes, you heard from a legacy out-to-brand, how they utilize their technology systems. Well, now you can hear a different perspective from a newer brand.
Aymen: So I'll tell you this, we learned a lot and we still learn a lot from Mercedes Benz as one of our motor companies or from our Chinese motor company, Geely. There are a lot of technology lessons learned, let me put it this way, that we got out of them. But what benefited us as the new smart, let me put it this way, is the fact that we decided that we saw Greenfield approach legacy systems while they have been developed for reasons and they actually perform in a certain way. But it doesn't allow us to connect with our customers. The way we need to connect to this century and in this time of pandemic came in, a lot of companies realized where we are right now is not the right direction. We need to do something about it. But for them to be able to change from the legacy systems where everything is in-house or everything's on-premise, where systems are not that well connected with each other, takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of cost behind it, not for them to realize it. And that's why and I think that was a decision that was even before I came in, when we were still a small project, we were not even a company. I came in at the end of 2018, and beginning of 2019, and I already heard that decision from my boss, the CEO, and he said, we're not going to rely on any system that is there. We're going to start from scratch. And why we're starting from scratch is because we are going to be a data-driven organization and we are going to be a customer-centric organization.
And those two go hand in hand, you cannot be data-driven without being customer-centric because you need to use data in the right way to serve your customers in the best way and to serve the customers in best way. We need the right data in our hands to be able to perform the services that we would like to have. So I believe that it's not easy for organizations, especially corporates that have been there for well, that had these systems forever to actually let go. My personal opinion is that it needs some guts, it needs some bold decisions in the boardroom to say, hey, it's time for us to let go of the past. And yes, we invest a lot, but we need to scrub it out, take what we can use out of it, and push it to our new system, to the new world. And whether you want to do it on the cloud or whether you don't want to do it with a hybrid approach, it doesn't matter. But you definitely need to let go of what you had already with legacy systems around and move to the world that it is right now. Because let's be honest, in five, ten years, those who still use legacy systems will struggle a lot and that will actually result in a lot of loss with customers. And as you said, a lot of brands are rising in the automotive world, especially in the EV world, that are actually building everything from scratch and they have that advantage. So we need to move to where they are right now, and that's what we're doing with Smart.
Valentina: Having the knowledge and experience from multiple countries and cultures. Aymen explains why it is so advantageous to hire talent from different industries.
Aymen: It's actually one of the reasons why Mercedes-Benz hired me. It's because I didn't come from an automotive background. I'm bringing different perspectives to the automotive industry because there's a lot to learn. If you see where the telecommunication industry is, where the industry is, or airlines, they are far ahead when it comes to digitalization. Then a lot of automotive companies were in five years and a lot of the automotive companies started getting people that are from these industries to give their experiences and develop new strategies, especially digital strategies, to be connected more with the customer. But also, let's be honest, the automotive industry is right now not just a car manufacturing industry. It is providing much more than that. And data is the true asset. And somehow I believe that the car is your new digital product. It's a digital product like a phone, like a laptop, like any other digital product that we buy and we want it to be connected. So this is where the focus of all the automotive industries is right now. And that's smart. Yes, we actually rely on that. Most of the employees of Smart Europe here in Europe right now in Stuttgart are not coming from the automotive industry. Our director is not coming from the automotive industry. So basically we are deploying automotive experts, but also non-automotive experts bringing them together in one place. And we are the ones that are developing the future for our customers.
Valentina: When people complete more than half of their journey online, bricks-and-mortar car dealerships need to redefine their role. And with that also comes the part of customer agents and salespeople.
Aymen: Let me give you an example of a story that I heard from one of my friends. They were in the United States during the pandemic, and they wanted to buy a car. And of course, you going to just go to the showroom to buy the car. But they went online and searched for the brand that you wanted to buy. And all of a sudden, they managed to get somebody to talk with them on a video chat to show them the car, to explain to them everything while they're on the video chat. And they close the deal completely online. And a few weeks later, the car was delivered to the front door. This person never, ever thought that they would buy a car completely online. It was not an online e-commerce platform, but still, they performed almost all the activities online except for a couple of papers that had to be signed and scanned and sent back. But everything else was a lie. So you need to have the mix because let's be honest, I still sometimes want to go and try the car and I need the physical retailers for that. The physical retail retailers also have a good connection with the community around them. So we need them also to sell the cars, but I need to offer them the ability to do it online as well. And for the sales agent to still get the customer to see that there is an online journey. And hey, while I'm doing that for you, you can still go back home and sit down and continue your online journey if you want. But if you're not relying on the digital world, you will fail and you will fail very soon. You need to create the right balance and the right mix. It's all about the balancing act between.
Adam: Absolutely. And you mentioned sales agents, and staff. They're a huge part of this because if the customer, the consumer, at any point within that buying journey or whatever journey they need and they want to speak to a member of staff, I suppose a challenge for smart and a challenge for all automotive retailers out there is getting your agents on board with these new, unique journeys. Because the days, I suppose, of a consumer arriving in a showroom, not knowing anything about a car, being completely blind and going, oh, that's the new smart I didn't know that even existed, are probably dying or gone. So people are becoming educated before they even arrive at a showroom. Or if they arrive on a video call, how have smart or how have you what do you see people getting agents on board with this? Because I'm guessing you must invest hugely in terms of training. And how do you challenge that?
Aymen: Yeah, we actually yes, we invest a lot and we have to invest a lot because they are our partners. We need them in order for us to be able to spread our brand out there. And so, of course, so but they actually got really excited because what they say is that instead of having to rely on five, six, seven, and sometimes ten different systems to push one document after the next, in order for me to get the contract done and then have to push the card delivery orchestration process or have to push the order process and so on and so forth. In those many systems, I can actually do it in one system. I can actually do it maybe even on a tablet. I can be looking really good in front of my customer, more digital. I don't have to wait in the showroom. I can actually go meet them somewhere to sit with them in a café, have a coffee with them, and actually do everything all for my tablet or for my iPad. And that's why they got they got the feeling that, oh, actually, what smart is delivering for us is also a unique experience for me, because we also want to deliver a unique experience not only for our retailers and our sales agents, for every employee that we have and smart. So we need to make sure that we create a seamless, equal platform ecosystem of services and different solutions that are interconnected together, are completely integrated, that have the ability get me to jump from point A to point Z in my processes without having to connect to one system after the next.
And once they saw that and they saw the approach that we want to build and the fact that they have an engagement center or what we call a contact center behind them, that can also be their voice and we can share back and forth information. And if the customer starts in the physical world and goes through the digital world, there is no disconnect happening. We all know what's happening. We all know what the customer talked to on the other side and we're sharing that information back and forth. They realize, actually, I am going to have an easier job and I can only focus on selling and everything else is done digitally and in an automated way. So I have to just emphasize, that it's not just about creating a customer effortless experience, it's also about creating an employee effortless experience. Because I am a firm believer that a customer journey is nothing if you don't focus also on the employee journey, you think about it as an iceberg. What you see on top of the ocean is the customer journey, but the bigger portion behind it that impacts the customer experience overall is the employee journey. And without having that also in mind, we will not be able to give the customers what we want to give them, which is an exceptional customer experience.
Valentina: I hope you enjoyed listening to the podcast. If you did, please don't forget to like, share or subscribe to the podcast on your preferred channel. If you have any questions, feel free to connect with Aymen and join the community on our LinkedIn page. Also, many thanks to our sponsor, ACF Technologies. Enjoy rapid-fire questions and I will see you next time.
Valentina: My first question is, what did you want to become when you were a child?
Aymen: Oh, I have some interesting. My girlfriend asked me that question and I had some interesting answers for her. So it was in phases. It started by wanting to be an astronaut, when I was around five years old, I just got fascinated by the stories of astronauts going to the moon and going to space where it's a vacuum. But you're still so close to this world where I also sort of realize the world that we're living in is very small. So and I actually sent a letter to NASA, a five-year-old letter in English. And I remember my mom had to help me because I was only speaking Dutch and Arabic and she had to help me write a letter and express to them that I want to one day join them and so on. And they actually sent me this after a month. It's they sent me a lot of material and a signed letter I don't remember from it was from one of the last Apollo missions astronauts. And he sent me the signed autograph, autograph of the moon and so on. And it just got me so hyped up. The problem is to go there in the education path that I was in wasn't that easy because I hated some of the parts of my studies, especially the scientific part. I loved physics, but I hated a lot of other stuff. And you need to study like, for example, biology. And, and so I didn't do that. And for some reason when I was around 13, I decided I want to be a person that does something in the business world and travels around the world. And I don't know what happened, literally two years later, I started my journey of education and traveling around the world, and I am stuck in the business world since then.
Valentina: What countries are on your travel list?
Aymen: What countries are on my travel list? Who actually quite a lot. So luckily enough, I'm going to now have or I'm going to this year have a journey to South America where I'm going to see Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. So I'm going to spend around 21 days in the southern summer because their summer is going to be around Q three/Q four, so I'm going down in November, but I actually I want to go to Tuvalu, which is the furthest country in the world. It's after Fiji, this is one of my dreams to do with my girlfriend and I want to go actually kind of want to explore everything. I'm missing some countries in Africa that I haven't seen, I'm missing a lot of countries in Asia that haven't seen the world such a beautiful place, while I've seen already, maybe in my life, 90 something countries, there's still a lot more to see.
Valentina: I knew personal questions would be better. My third question Would you rather be able to speak every language in the world or be able to talk to animals?
Aymen: Whew. That's so intriguing because I would like to have both. That would be awesome. But I would like to learn every language in the world because I think people have more stories than animals can give me. I think I would learn a lot from the animal kingdom because lets be honest, it's a mystery to all of us now. But I still love humans, and I think we all are amazing creatures and we all have amazing stories. And whenever I travel, I hear these stories and sometimes I'm touched, sometimes I laugh, and sometimes I cry with them and I want to hear more of that. And to be able to hear it in their own languages will make it even better.
Valentina: The last question is, oh, by the way, how many languages do you speak?
Aymen: I speak Dutch and Arabic and mostly Egyptian Arabic, but I can speak almost all the Arabic dialects, 20 plus dialects. And I speak English, of course, I think English, although my mother tongue is Dutch, my father tongue is Arabic, English is the language that I use the most. I now have to speak German somehow, so I speak it in a Dutch way, so I'm not perfect at it but I try my best. I can say some Afrikaans, I can talk some Afrikaans and I'm learning Romanian because my girlfriend is Romanian. I can maneuver myself around a couple of others because of the business relationships I had while traveling. You have to learn these icebreakers, you know when you're traveling. The icebreakers are really important when you travel, whether they're in Asia, in Europe, or in Africa. And I learned some icebreakers along the way.
Valentina: And now Spanish. You will learn Spanish?
Aymen: Yeah, I can. I can see so in certain things in a funny way. And it makes people laugh. And then we switch to English, please.
Valentina: Okay. And if you could interview anyone, who would that be?
Aymen: Interview anyone. Who would that be? Alive or dead?
Aymen: Anyone. If I interview somebody right now, I would like to talk with Elon Musk, and I think everybody will say that but I have my own personal reasons. I want to know how a kid from Africa, especially from South Africa, where with all the struggles that we have in Africa, managed to be where we are right now. And I want to understand struggle more if I want to talk with somebody that is dead and I'm actually kind of like look up to that person is actually Nikola Tesla because this guy created a lot for this world and he was not appreciated that much. He only got appreciated recently. And I really want to understand his vision for a better world for this human being, let's say.
Valentina: Thank you very much.
Adam: The animal question, where did that come from, Valentina?
Aymen: Great stuff. It will be awesome to speak with the squirrels because I see them around while I'm talking with you have like five squirrels jumping around and I want to understand what the hell is going on in their mind sometimes. So that would be interesting.
Adam: It was brilliant. That was a pleasure to record. This is really great, Aymen, thank you very much.