Friday, May 29, 2009

Vulnerability reveals opportunities

Face it: People are pretty smart today. They can look up the specs of a product, they can follow the sales numbers of a public company, they can read Consumer Reports or follow other quality designations like J.D. Power & Associates.

If you're a car manufacturer, and J.D. Power reports that one of your models has too many initial quality issues, the best thing to do is fix your car or make it easier for people to operate it so they don't tell J. D. Power that the "variable-speed windshield wipers don't work."

Volkswagen had a decision to make when J. D. Power listed them as having a higher amount of initial quality problems (owners are surveyed shortly after buying a new car as to quality issues) in their cars: Do they live in denial ("our cars are great, nothing wrong with them, people just need to pay better attention"); do they dumb down the cars (take all the genius features that take a little getting used to) and lose their brand brilliance; or, do they embrace the issue at hand?

Before I share what Volkswagen did, I have to also stress that Volkswagen's product is fantastic. It, in reality, is a car that is brilliantly designed, well-made, safe and fun. Their issue wasn't product quality - it was product perception.

Here's what VW did: They embraced the issue and allowed us to educate new Volkswagen owners on the operation of their cars by entertaining them with vignettes of an obsessive, perfectionist Volkswagen engineer and a psychiatrist who tried to help that engineer come to grips with his over-the-top dedication to making the coolest car in the world. Along with the entertainment, the operation of the car was clearly laid out so the new owner "got it" - he or she could actuate the EOS hardtop, knew clearly how to work the windshield wipers, etc.

The result was that Volkswagen had the second greatest jump in Initial Quality Scores in the history of J. D. Power. All because they were willing to be vulnerable, poke a little fun at themselves and help their new owners understand how to work their four-wheeled pieces of art.

For Volkswagen, a little vulnerability helped create a lot of improvement.

Barry LaBov
LaBov and Beyond

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