There I was, walking with my cannister with 5 liters of gasoline alongside the Zuidas in Amsterdam. The warmest day of the last 50 years, dressed in a black suit. Friendly folks in Tesla’s waving and smiling at me. Temperature close to 40 degrees Celsius, 104 F. Absolutely soaking wet, ruining a still perfectly good Brioni. Heartbeat of around 135 according to my watch. Why oh Why, what a way to die, VAG induced cardiac arrest.
When the dealer returned my company car a few hours earlier, after failed attempts to fix my car when the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, and me standing along the road inventing new ways to describe human beings, the guy said everything is OK now. Did not expect them to return my car completely empty, as in no gasoline left for 5 kilometers. When I chose this car, taking into account the startup nature of my new department, I asked for a Topgear reasonably priced car, automatic gearbox, space for the wheelchair, and preferably not pink. So that is what I got. Been at the dealership of the Hero dealer in Purmerend about 10 times with all sort of issues. But getting my car back without gasoline was a first in 30 years of company cars.
When I came home and started to complain to my wife, she cut me short. Why do you expect good service to come with a cheap car from the Winterkorn collection? Diesel gate is a mindset problem, not an isolated incident. Yes dear, but with our 12-year Mazda 2 seater we never have issues like this. Yes, and that is a Japanese car; German engineering but with service. I will send them a complaint! Send a letter to the BBC! You only send complaints to companies that can learn, Wiemer. And while she poured me a perfect glass of La Chouffe Belgian beer she said: and think about all the blogs you can write about this. At least 4. Just don’t be mean, no names, write about what you’ve learned, zoom in on the mistakes you made yourself. My better, smarter, half.
The next morning the car had the same problems again. Now talking to the lease company directly, Starbird, part of AtoZ lease – another business unit of the same company, said they would fix the problem and give me a rental for the time being. Asked me to drive to Utrecht, 50 kilometers, to pick up the temp car. While I got there, the service manager from the dealership in Purmerend showed up and started picking a fight with me. And just when I was about ready after 45 years to punch someone in the face, the lady behind the counter stepped between us and apologized on behalf of the service manager. He is a manager, I do the service she said. That made me smile, take a step back, and get back to normal. Give that lady a promotion. And I felt ashamed. I should re-read my Demming. They’re not bad people, just people working in a bad system. A live example of cross-silo inertia. Improving silo KPI’s while losing a customer in the age of social media transparency.
Just before all of this happened, I was presenting at a conference. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quality management. Nice setup, I delivered my part in my Wiemer style to beef up the energy again. Talked about adoption is king.
The real information came from the customer I invited. The innovation manager from this automotive company founded around 1880 explained how they do innovation with AI. About the last company, the audience might expect this from, and he talked together with my brilliant machine learning guy about all the stuff they do. He talked about 4 use cases and the underlying reasoning and mindset that made it all happen. He talked about the why: First time right = higher customer satisfaction + efficiency. And how they stretched the Why beyond that to go from Reactive via Predictive to Prevention. They demoed the solutions we have built for them, to make it real for the audience. After some previous speakers that talked about AI in startup wording, with the usual VC, round B, losses, and growth hacking topics, the audience sensed this was different. One of the oldest companies in the Netherlands, using AI, in production, and saving money while drastically increasing customer satisfaction. AI for real.
One of the other examples was the ML algorithm they developed for battery degradation. He explained they had this idea that if batteries would become more important with the rise of electric cars, and are already causing about 30% of all car break downs, they needed to know even more about batteries. Not just know, but actually predict when batteries breakdown, so they can swap them before it happens, true to their Prevention mantra. So cool! He said they even got it patented, much to their surprise, as they were the first to think along those lines. Think about it, all those car companies working on creating electric cars, and this Dutch company figures out that people need mobility, not cars, so preventing break downs is a new service people want to pay for. A short lesson in customer common sense.
When we came to the questions part someone in the audience asked my guest why he thought he would be able to beat the big players, players with more people and more budget. That is simple he said. We start with the customer, they start with the car. If it’s good for the customer and we benefit as well, we just do it. We don’t care where the benefits fall within the business units, who’s KPI will improve. For the big players that is impossible, they have to start with the product, and they cannot look beyond each BU. We will beat them every time, candy from a baby. In my search for patterns of successful innovations, this is a classic. A pattern that starts revealing the overarching systemic approach we need for successful innovation in existing companies. I call this one customer-first innovation across silos. Stay tuned.