When the monster in Young Frankenstein began tap dancing and singing "Puttin' on the Ritz" it was the absurd contrast that made the humor. The big hulking monster trying to be Fred Astaire was a riot. Now another former behemoth is trying to put on the ritz too in the effort to turn around its fortunes.
GM has just announced that it is sending some of it Cadillac dealers to sales and customer service training at the Ritz in order to learn from the luxury hotel chain how to capture and delight high end consumers. Don Butler, Cadillac’s newly appointed marketing manager, was quoted in WardsAuto.com as saying “Think about their (Ritz Carlton's) slogan, ‘Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,’” Butler says. “So we are working with them, having them help us talk to our dealer partners and emphasize the importance of how you treat your customer.”
Butler believes that the new buyer of luxury automobiles is now far more sophisticated and discerning. I agree as I have outlined in previous posts, however, I believe this holds true for buyers of almost anything not just luxury items. By sophistication Butler means to include education and income whereas my more broad definition of sophistication is centered on the new customer being very well informed about the choices before they ever engage with the vendor.
Either way, GM is obviously discovering that differentiation does not simply lie in the product but in the overall buying and post-sales experience and they cannot rely on brand loyalty if they want to grow again. Again this is something that I believe holds true for the future of the customer/vendor relationship in general.
Now while the experience in luxury car dealerships is often markedly different from that of mid-range ones, it is hardly Ritz-Carlton different wherein lies the challenge for the GM. It will be interesting to see if their investment in upgrading the skills of their dealers works and to see if this becomes a trend as more market segments look at how they can use customer service and experience as differentiators.
And of course what this does highlight for all of us is the ongoing challenge to deliver a highly integrated and encompassing experience both for prospective clients and current clients that brings added value to the products and services on offer - products and services which may not always be as obviously differentiated in the eyes of the client as we would like them to be.
In some ways GMs move may be a timely reminder that we should all consider reaching for our top hat, cane and tap shoes to make sure we are keeping our customers smiling and they can see us working our socks off to delight them otherwise as in the movie, they may well start running towards the exits…