DEC 03rd 2015

Erin Baker: Customer Relations – Time for a Rethink


A Former Motoring Editor at the Telegraph, Erin combines a bike licence and race licence with a love of high-speed cars and penchant for embarrassingly low-speed crashes. Now she has two sons, she’s largely put her leathers to one side, preferring the cut and thrust of automotive industry debates and wondering which cars have Isofix… Erin Baker on Twitter


This year’s Lady Geek Global Empathy Index is out. Yuck, say all the men, and quite a few women. Ladies? Empathy? What’s that got to do with cars? Very little, as it sadly turns out, for the automotive industry has fared pretty badly, with car companies ‘still 10 years behind tech companies’ according to the report. Which should, by the way, be taken seriously: the most empathetic companies in the world are also the most profitable, most innovative and the fastest growing.

What do we mean by ’empathetic’? Those companies that demonstrate a cognitive and emotional understanding of others’ experiences. In other words, those whose advertising and products scream ‘Hey, we know where you’re at and what you want, we’ve got your back. We understand you don’t want to be patronised or offended during the buying experience, we get that you don’t want to be sold duff products, and we know this because we’re like you. When you scratch us, do we not bleed’… As Shylock sort of said.

The top 10 companies in the Lady Geek empathy index increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 this year. The same top 10 also generated 50 per cent more earnings per employee than the bottom 10, so it’s good to be an empathetic company and it’s good to work for one.

The index gets its data from financial information supplied by S&P Capital IQ and textual analysis of over half a million social media interactions, as well as some clever algorithms (who hasn’t got one of those these days?). Belinda Parmar OBE, its CEO, is a World Economic Forum young leader and many other interesting things; as regular readers of my Telegraph column will know, I’m a fan.

Audi TT

So there’s the credentials. And how do car companies fare? Tesla does very well: third in fact, with Audi in 10th place. But there the good news ends. GM, BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Toyota, VW and Honda are all there, but nowhere near the top 10. On the other hand, at least we don’t work in the supermarket industry: only Whole Foods broke into the top 30, with the rest languishing miles behind.

John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, believes that ‘the customer can handle the truth’, and here’s where the car industry could sit up and take notice. As the empathy index report suggests about Whole Foods and Mackey’s success: ‘his customers have rewarded his trust in them’.

That’s crucial: when will car companies start to trust their customers a bit more? My column last week spoke in glowing terms about the capital successes of the industry this year, and that holds, but look to the emotional side of the business, the empathy side, the part where company and customer must interact, and the whole fandango comes up short.

Time for a rethink: imagine a car company that successfully combined profit growth with great customer relations. Untouchable.

Photography by Tesla and Ben Miles

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