Manufacturing Love: The New CRM

These days, it's simply not enough to manufacture a good product. Those are the table stakes. If you make an inferior product, no amount of marketing can save you from the painful truth that will spread faster than you can say, "tweet tweet." That said, in categories with several high-quality options the winners like Lexus, American Express and Apple are succeeding by manufacturing love, gaining share of heart not just share of mind.

It's probably not news to anyone that Lexus makes a high quality product. In fact, Consumer Reports consistently rates Lexus best of breed in just about every segment. What you may not know is how far it will go to satisfy its customers, even its used -- excuse me -- "pre-owned" vehicle customers. Ready to retire my trusty Civic at the end of last year, I found out first hand why Lexus has topped a University of Michigan study on customer satisfaction four years in a row.

Meet Keith. Keith mans the pre-owned section at Lexus of Manhattan and is my new best friend. Keith offered my wife and me beverages, comfy chairs and a complete explanation of our options when we first met. After identifying OUR car, we haggled over the price ever so pleasantly and then did a final inspection at which point we discovered deal-breaking scratches on the passenger door. Expecting a "take it or leave it" response, Keith surprised us with a "of course, we'll take care of this" and scheduled the repair work. Evidently, this is par for the course at Lexus.

When I picked up the car a week later, Keith surprised me again by explaining how everything in the car worked and noting the additional repainting they'd done "just because." Keep in mind, we're talking about a used car lease here so I'm thinking that's the end of the road. Wrong again. A couple of days later I received a "how's the car running?" check-in call from Keith. Several weeks after that he phoned to say that we needed to schedule an inspection and when I couldn't find the time, he offered to retrieve the car, take care of the inspection and return it in short order. He did all that, threw in a car wash and, in the process, became the poster boy for love-generating customer service!

Lexus is not the only brand out there manufacturing brand love. American Express has been after the hearts and wallets of small businesses for many years. Recently, its OPEN program has kicked into high gear, delivering invaluable content and networking opportunities via the OPEN Forum. Sure, lots of brands offer content online but as someone who pumps out a fair amount myself, I can assure you this is best of breed, including articles, videos and discussions.

I also witnessed the OPEN Forum in action as CES, at which live speakers attracted flocks of small businesses eager to fly higher. Even the sales people were helpful, explaining the benefits of OPEN and assisting in the registration process. The positive vibe in the American Express booth was palpable and every touch-point made me and my fellow small business peeps feel loved by this corporate giant.

Apple has been a beloved brand pretty much since its founding by making truly innovative products that were easier to use and prettier to look at than its main competitors. The iPod and the iPhone created entire economic ecosystems, reinventing their respective categories, transforming mere devices into holistic lifestyles. And most companies would stop there, thrilled to have unique goods on the shelf.

Apple did not. It created the Apple Store to control the entire brand experience and, about a year ago, added in-store concierges to further the romance. These orange-shirted wizards can do everything from fixing a broken key to directing a product search to ringing up your order and emailing the receipt all in a nanosecond. And these are just the tasks they did for me on my last visit, all of which assured my enduring love for all things Apple.

Lexus, American Express and Apple are all premium brands that deliver high-quality products AND exemplary service. In doing so, they set themselves apart not just within their respective categories but also in the marketing world as a whole. They make it their business to exceed expectations and, in doing so, have created legions of brand advocates ready to do their bidding. These brands are redefining the rules of CRM, manufacturing love at every touch point, gaining share of heart, mind and wallet in the process.

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