GM’s Customer Experience Woes

I read an interesting blog post about the leadership mistakes in the auto industry. It discusses the adversarial relationship between workers and management in the industry. There’s no surprise that the US auto makers are having such a hard time meeting consumers’ needs, given the 4th rule of customer experience: Unengaged Employees Don’t Create Engaged Customers.

According to the 2008 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), foreign car makers own the four highest customer satisfaction scores.  Interestingly, GM owns the top three US brands (Saturn, Cadillac, and Buick). So I took a closer look at the ACSI scores for all of the GM brands over the last five years:

Customer Satisfaction Of GM Brands (Data Source: The ACSI)

It turns out that Saturn is not only one of the top GM brands, but it also made the largest improvement over 2007. As a matter of fact, it was the most improved of any car brand. Even with this surge in satisfaction, GM is considering shutting down Saturn. This is just another sign that GM is out of touch with consumers. Even GM admits that it is out of touch.

In a post called How General Motors Violated Your Trust, Harvard Business School professor John Quelch outlines eight reasons why GM failed as a marketer.  The number one item on his list is: Focus on products, not customers. GM has become so out of touch with consumers that it is heading in the opposite direction of the first principle of Experience-Based Differentiation: Obsess about customer needs, not product features.

The bottom line: No company is big enough to ignore customer experience.

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I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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