Are You Delighted with Your Vehicle?

Do you love your refrigerator?  Does your vacuum cleaner really turn you on?  Do you have pictures of yourself standing next to your washing machine?  If you answered yes to these questions, you're likely an unusual individual, and we'd like to have a little talk with you.  But if you answered no to being enthusiastic about your appliances, you're probably typical.  Yet, at the same time, there is a much greater likelihood that you're enthusiastic about your car.  Americans' love affairs with their cars have been well-documented, and now, in the auto industry's never-ending pursuit of better understanding of its customers (and to make a buck) these love affairs are being studied.

The premise is that these days it is not enough for customers to find their vehicles reliable, safe and even satisfying.  No, customers should have enthusiasm for their vehicles.  In fact, individuals' vehicles should actually delight them.  And by delighting customers, auto manufacturers will find the keys to greater sales and profits.  With this premise in mind, Strategic Vision Inc. (SVI) has created the Customer Delight study, because the company takes a clear position on the key to success: Delight your customers.

"This re-orientation focuses on the key player in the equation: your customer," said Dr. Darrel Edwards, founder of Strategic Vision Inc., a research-based consultancy. "No matter how much you put into a product or how well you execute your plan, if you do not delight your customer, you have failed. In order to help product planners develop delightful vehicles that will address the needs and desires of customers, we created the Customer Delight measure that reflects both the rational and emotional aspects of customers' responses."
 
The Edwards Customer Delight Scale provides a comprehensive look at the product attributes and benefits that explicitly create "super-positive" delighted responses from the primary drivers of the vehicles. The index is calculated from the "top box" scores recorded for 110 product attribute/benefits versus the other responses recorded for the vehicles the respondents primarily drive. Overall, the good news for the auto industry is the CDI (Customer Delight Index) gained 48 points last year (2004 CDI = 529 vs. 2003 CDI = 481). The 48-point gain on a scale that records responses ranging from 000 to 1000 is a statistical giant step for the industry.  But there is a huge horsefly in the ointment when one looks at the various segment leaders with a discerning eye.

For the purposes of the study Strategic Vision identified 14 separate car classes -- everything from "small car" to "convertibles over $30,000."  Each class is led by the vehicle model that most delighted its owners.  But six of those 14 "most delightful" segment leaders are sales disappointments to their manufacturers, and one performed so dismally in the market that it has already been cancelled by its manufacturer.  Those six include Kia Amanti, Lexus IS 300, Volkswagen Phaeton, Audi All Road quattro, Pontiac GTO and the now cancelled Mercury Marauder. 

The other eight segment leaders are generally regarded as being successful, some exceedingly so.  These cars are Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Prius, Scion xB, Volvo V40, MINI Cooper, Mercedes-Benz CL Coupe, Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible and Lexus SC 430. 

What this says is that some cars -- like the above-mentioned eight -- are able to delight a relatively large number of drivers.  They can win top box scores and also score significant sales numbers.  But other cars, exemplified by the Amanti and Phaeton et al., are deemed delightful by those few who bought them but don't have the broad appeal to become sales successes or even, in the case of the Marauder, remain on the market.

Interestingly, Toyota's corporate CDI of 517 was below industry average (Industry average = 529) in delighting its customers, despite the fact the corporation is widely accepted to build consistently "Excellent" vehicles.  Meanwhile Toyota enjoyed excellent sales success in 2004.  All of which proves that while many people don't love their appliances, they still want to own them.  And it might explain why so many people like vanilla ice cream.

Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad has spent a large portion of his career trying to understand the car-buying customer, and while he still doesn't he claims he's getting closer.