Customer Engagement and the MINI-Cooper

Original post date January 27, 2011

Owners of the MINI-Cooper have long been known to be one of the most fanatical and loyal of all call owners.  They are likely to custom design their cars online, actively participate in local motoring clubs, and are in general, a passionate and faithful community.

A new project took me to the mid-west and I finally got a taste of the MINI-Cooper, courtesy of Budget rental cars.   Initially, I was excited by the opportunity to find out what the buzz was about, but after getting in the little red car with white racing stripes, I quickly found myself totally discombobulated.  It was like the car was designed by aliens, nothing was where it is should of been, and the layout, among other things still remain a mystery to me.

I couldn’t operate the windows the first half of the day, drove around with my blinker on for the other half.  The radio settings were in the speedometer, and the tachometer was where the speedometer should have been.  Even the gas gauge wasn’t a gauge at all, but rather a circle of lights.
The “Coop” had all the same instruments any other car has, but they were in different locations and/or in different forms.  I’m still not convinced if the lay out of the dashboard is better, but one thing is true — I was fully engaged, I had to be.  Even though I’ve been driving for almost 30 years I was a stranger in a strange land.  Suddenly, driving was fun again.
It got me thinking about how we engage customers.  There is a bunch of noise being made about customer engagement; the question for most of us is how to make it happen.  Intuitively it makes sense, but from an execution standpoint, it’s still a bit of a mystery.
We have seen traditional response rates drop, and have begun experimenting with Social Media with little, to no, payoff.  Although the true upside of customer engagement may still yet to be defined, a Gallup research report points to it as a leading indicator for customer attrition.  In some ways we’re searching for the Holy Grail, but maybe new isn’t the answer, maybe we have what we need.
As I sat at a stoplight and stared at the dashboard trying to make sense out of it, it hit me: It was if the MINI engineers intentional redesigned and/or rethought everything, most likely with the intent of keeping the Coop customer base happy and engaged with it’s quirkiness.
It showed me that you could create an engaging experience by leveraging what you already have.  Granted, had I been on a tight schedule, I may not of enjoyed having to “get up to speed.”  I was in a city that I had never visited and driving to see a client I’ve never met.  I had my hands full directing the GPS, a stick shift, and a conference call.
I am not suggesting rearranging mission critical assets for key customers but what I am offering is this…maybe we need to rethink how customers engage and interact with our sales people, customer service reps, and the web.  Like the engineers at MINI, we need apply our creative thinking skills to reordering our assets to provide customers with what they want, but delivered in new and intriguing ways.
At the end of the day the MINI still provides basic transportation – I got from point A to point B, but getting there was uncomfortable, scary, exciting and fun.   Much of what we provide customers is basic “transportation,” and “mixing it up” can be scary, but it also may be the key to getting customers’ attention again.

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Scott is the Founder of Carbon Design Co and the former head of the Washington, DC office of gyro, the largest B2B agency in the world. Prior to joining gyro, he spent a dozen years at a professional services firm that specializes in B2B sales and marketing. Scott also writes a monthly column for Media Post and has contributed to three books on B2B Sales and Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @sgillum

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