TRUE hears from GM’s data chief, Jon Beebe, on how centralizing data collection and analysis is bringing new insights about what content customers want and when.
TRUE: Would you explain the role data and analytics play these days at General Motors and how that has changed over the past several years?
Beebe: Data and analytics have always played an important role at GM. They’ve helped us identify different opportunities in product development and product improvement and understand the perception of our brands globally. We have an entire department dedicated to collecting and analyzing research and business intelligence, and they’ve done a pretty amazing job over the years. We looked at the whole customer life cycle after they purchase a vehicle, what’s their service experience like.
But when it came to marketing performance analytics — which I define as the action and reaction between GM and our customers — we were amazingly siloed. We had dozens of agencies and so many internal stakeholders all generating enormous amounts of data on our behalf. We had our website, our dealerships, our social, marketing efforts all producing so much channel-specific reporting. We were producing hundreds of reports monthly. Yet, nothing was really painting the full picture of the customer experience; nothing was connecting the dots on our total customer impact and why customers did the things they did. We’d hear from the website and the dealer and the social and the marketing, and everyone was taking credit for the same vehicle sale and for the same customer. From the customer’s perspective, we might have looked schizophrenic, blasting them with many different brand messages through so many different channels.
In 2012, we formed a global data and analytics team dedicated to understanding our customers through data across all touch points. Our job was tear down silos and provide a view of the customer that allowed our internal stakeholders to optimize their business decisions.
With so many channels, you risk becoming the cliché of the used car salesman, acting like the customer’s best friend but then bombarding him with constant messages that don’t really make sense for that person; they aren’t personalized. We don’t want to be like that. We want to be like a concierge to our customers and really help them through their entire ownership experience, whether they’re just learning about a new vehicle or whether they’ve been a loyal owner for a long time. We want to understand each touch point and how all of them together contribute to the customer’s journey.
TRUE: What prompted GM to make this push toward centralizing its data and analytics?
Beebe: Two things, really. One was the explosion of touch points with the customer, thanks to the Internet and the explosion of electronic devices. They grow exponentially with every app that’s developed for the iPhone. The touch points just keep increasing in volume, and we needed to be consistent across the board. We didn’t want customers understanding our brands differently just because they were on an iPhone or the website. That convinced us of the need to bring the data from all these experiences together to create a consolidated picture of the customer.
Another was the arrival of [GM CEO] Mary Barra. She is a breath of fresh air because she really expects us to operate as one team. Working in silos isn’t good for a business or for the customer. And now with our technological ability to share and consolidate our data, there is no reason to.
I can’t give away my secret sauce on that, but from a system’s perspective, we have an amazing partnership with our internal IT organization, and we’re developing some pretty cool tools and technologies that help us connect all of those dots. Once we have connected those dots, we are studying all the ways we can leverage that information across all of our marketing channels and the customer experience.
TRUE: How does GM or any company avoid being intrusive?
Beebe: That’s a fascinating question, which I think is going to become the basis for a fascinating discussion for the foreseeable future. It’s a question that applies not just between businesses and customers, but among people in general. I think striking that balance is what our customers expect from us, to be personal and yet still avoid crossing that line into totally creepy. You have to start as we have at GM with a commitment to privacy and transparency; let customers know when you’re collecting data and let them know that data will be kept private. Let them have a choice. For example, on every piece of marketing from us, you’ll always see a way to opt out. We want to make sure that the customer truly feels and is in control of their experience with us. I totally get it; I’ve had my identity stolen twice, and it’s a very scary thing. So my commitment is on a corporate and totally personal level.
I think that conversation, not just for GM, but for companies in general, is going to increase in the years to come as people realize how much data is out there, how much data they personally generate and how much is available. Because of social, you’re constantly generating data. And it’s very personal data at times, which means you have to be especially diligent protecting it.
TRUE: What is the ultimate goal for the customer experience based on data? Where do you see GM five years from now?
Beebe: A customer shouldn’t have to tell us that they’ve been to a dealer multiple times, or that they’ve owned a GM brand for the past decade, or that they recently moved. Our data should be picking up these details about customers so we don’t give them a generic experience or even a customized experience for, say, a Chevy owner. We want to give them a personalized experience that lines up with their lives. And that’s across any channel that they engage with us. Our ultimate goal is to really understand our customer 360 and to do that through data in a smart way and to make that personal to them. It’s not like we’ve reached the ultimate goal, but we can see it in the distance.
TRUE: Is there any company you like to keep tabs on because of its commitment to innovative technology and data?
Beebe: I think Disney is amazing. We actually have a strategic partnership with Disney. So, earlier this year, I actually went down to Orlando and met with the company’s data and analytics team for the parks division. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the little bracelet that they hand out now when you enter the park. That bracelet, which each member of your party gets, allows you and your whole family to be connected. The bracelet generates data from every ride you go on, every meal you eat, every hotel you check into, and every souvenir you buy. And from that, Disney is producing a fully and truly integrated data set. I think that’s fascinating, and I think they really are doing a phenomenal job with understanding their customers. They understand what the right incentive is to get a person to go on a vacation to a Disney park. They’re brilliant. They have a really, really advanced discipline there, and it has been great to share some best practices with them through our partnership.