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Rejoice, it’s June!
Summer is here. And it’s almost time for the Women Automotive Summit!
It’s been nearly 2 years since Stuttgart for the inaugural event. It was 2019, in those pre-pandemic days, where everything happened in person, first. After a successful pivot to and a spectacular event held 100% online in November 2020, the Women Automotive Network’s annual main event is back again, online and in June.
In a correspondent-like role I was entrusted with by its organizers at Worldwide Partnerships in London, I have the honor to interview the women of the network and of the summit. They are groundbreakers, pioneers, leaders, entrepreneures and innovators. The femmes-fluencers of automotive, if you will.
It doesn’t matter who Ersin or Stephanie ask me to interview: I am always a yes. I get up early in the US’ Eastern time zone to accommodate CET hours, my favorite time zone. I do it for the simple pleasure of connecting with these women to ask them about their work and life on behalf of the network’s audience. It’s using my voice to build our sisterhood that deeply fulfills me. Meaningful connections that boost people’s lives.
This time, it is Sabine Scheunert of Mercedes Benz. Like I do in my preparation for speaking with all of the women, I read her bio and all of the contextual materials provided for the event’s internal communications package.
Sabine Scheunert is Vice President Digital & IT Sales/Marketing Mercedes-Benz Cars at Mercedes-Benz AG. In this position, she is responsible for all IT-based marketing, sales and aftersales activities as well as the entire digital customer experience.
With a global team of more than 2,000 employees, Sabine Scheunert is establishing a digital ecosystem that closely ties the customer to the Mercedes-Benz brand. In the context of smart data and artificial intelligence, she is driving digitalization as well as the development of digital business models in the group.
Before joining Mercedes-Benz, she was Managing Director of the Citröen brand in Shanghai, and became the first female CEO of an OEM in China. In this role, as well as in her position as Vice Managing Director of DongFeng Citroën, she was responsible for the business success of Groupe PSA in the Chinese market. From 2010 to 2015, she was Director CRM Groupe at PSA Group in Paris.
At the beginning of her professional career, Scheunert held various management positions at BMW Group in Germany and France.
The voices inside my head, as I read it for the first time:
OMGeee, she is a booooossssss, yes! Awww, I love my Germans! Also, I am gonna have to speak French with her. (We did.) She has lived and worked all over the world. I want to do that so badly! Look at all these different roles she has played in her career. I bet wisdom just pours out of her. (It does.) STOP: she is in the Customer Business. Oh, this is going to be good.
The Customer Business.
See this business, I know. I’ve been in it for almost 30 years. I swear! From the retail floors of Lady Foot Locker and lululemon to the call then tech centers of America Online. By way of world-class agency & consulting at Organic, IBM and Slalom, all the way to the lobbies, cafés and board rooms of German and American auto-business-making headquarters. All along inventing digital solutions: custom products and services that aim to serve customers better. It’s all been in the name of intimacy-building experiences, of trust. Customer experience has anchored the totality of my career. I have trained for this.
So it’s not new to me, nor it is new, in general. Customer experience has been around for literally 100 years. It is anchored in early 20th century advertising market research. It gained popularity in the 1980s with the Total Quality Movement. And also worth noting that it has deep roots in our very own industry: praise to J.D. Power. Many eventually learned of CX early this century when the Net Promoter Score had it’s coming out moment in a Harvard Business Review magazine article by Frederick F. Reichheld.1
Yet it took 2021 for Customer Experience to become an unequivocal priority for all businesses. The world is literally on fire for it.
Thanks to “Digital”.
No matter what one’s definition of digital is, I’ll venture to guess that we can all agree on digital being the gateway to this customer service renaissance moment. In the last year, I have often been heard saying to clients: “Good news, your board is now on board with digital.” Because we have all lived through something like the on-boarding process as a new Zoom user, eager to see our loved ones on the screen. Or have ordered food to be delivered to our homes on evenings when we just didn’t feel like cooking another meal in that kitchen. Or have had to schedule a telemedicine appointment with a health care professional, just to be sure. Or looked up how we are going to get from where we are to where we want to be, as soon as we can get there. “Digital” enables all of it.
From her sleek Stuttgart office, Sabine shares with me in the opening minutes of our interview that she is “responsible for Mercedes Benz’ new digital customer experience”. All of it.
Pause. I can’t even imagine the number, scope or scale of what has to be a portfolio of really cool projects she and her 2,000 colleagues are working on… I absolutely could spent hours talking customers, tech and feelings with her. But I only have 20 minutes, and a broad agenda to cover. Another date please?!
So I ask her: “What is the most important priority when it comes to serving customers that you all are working together towards in 2021?”
She shares that it’s about continuing to deliver added value for customers. She calls out time-saving as particularly important for Mercedes Benz customers. Indeed, there is no time to waste! Furthermore: “For us, it’s really important to continue to identify where our customers have pain points”. Preach. It never gets old.
Even in the pursuit of “The Best or Nothing”, it starts with identifying customer pain points.
When I probe her more on how she stays connected with her customers, she describes a dialogue-like communication flow and summarizes: “By really integrating them in defining the new digital products”. And this approach keeps her and her team really busy “finding the right solutions for our customers.” Experience is indeed a long game.
Let Us Use the Data.
I always ask the ladies what their personal favorite macro trend in the industry is. I guess it sort of helps me keep track of who is focused on what along the gamut that is “automotive and mobility”. This vastness is what I love most about this work: we are all in the business of helping people get-to-and-from-somewhere-else-and-back-home. We just all go about it from a variety of skills, passions and perspectives that eventually all come back together: it’s about getting people places. It’s about moving people. And in a moment in time where mobility is experiencing monumental shifts that will have significant societal impacts, this is the cause I choose to work on.
To my delight, at this question, she really lights up. “We believe data can fuel innovation in the automotive industry.” And specific to safety and assistance + autonomous features that are so highly sought after by her audience: “We have large quantities of data that we are able to utilize in terms of defining new business models. […] We are living in this radically changing world, […] and it’s important we constantly analyze data as a good basis for our decision making.”
Herein lies the topic of her opening keynote at the event titled “Data and diversity energizing our radical digitization”. She shares she is eager to open up the conversations with conference attendees. She even promises a surprising tie between data and the Mercedes Benz AG sustainability strategy. I’ll meet you in CET.
I also love asking the women about some inspiring moments in their career: “I would say […] the proudest moment in the last years was when my teams around the globe were able to modernize the IT infrastructure and all of our IT applications, towards a more micro service-based architecture.” While I was romanticizing that she would share a story about how her team brought a cool new digital product to market to acclaimed customer success, I am impressed at the humility and realism of her actual response. Because I know how hard it is to deliver those experiences that now set the bar in our digital lives, especially in a company that is almost 100 years old. I recall an interview with Capgemini from 2016 I read in my research. Then, she explained how iterative processes and highly collaborative and integrated teams were nimbly infusing innovation for speed-to-market in Daimler’s Digital House. And here we are now, as this modern technology backbone handles some 5 billion application calls a month. Let that sink in for a moment. Her house is in order. You should be proud!
Customer experience doesn’t just happen because an executive wants it to.
It’s a long-term commitment. It has to be architected, with intent. Curated, on purpose. Designed, for convenience, for saving time, for accomplishing a task, for whatever your customers and the market are telling you it should be. Patiently measured and consistently ameliorated. And most importantly, carefully used to deliver the powerful emotional connection a brand stands to take with, and for its customers. And that’s exactly what Sabine and her team are doing. Chapeau!
In my final question, I always ask: “In one word, describe the opportunity for women in the automotive industry.” Her answer: “Lead”.
It really suits you.
The Women Automotive Summit is June 21 and June 22. Mark your calendars, schedules, agendas and diaries.
Register for the event here. Use code PARTNER10 for a discounted fee.
1 From Customer Think
Caroline Trudeau is a digital experience innovator and consulting executive. She has led global teams that have imagined and successfully delivered emerging customer-facing technology and experience initiatives at some of the worlds most powerful brands, including BMW, VW and Ford. More about Caroline.