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Radically Personal S1 E2

Legendary customer experience to match a legendary vehicle

Porsche has been an aspirational brand for decades not only because of its iconic cars, but also due to its innovative customer service. Customer Care Manager Jeff Newman will give you an inside look at their “Excite” program and how it drives a company-wide commitment to fostering intense brand loyalty. You’ll also learn how improv comedy could be the best management training tool you never knew about.

"I'm talking about the whole buying cycle. How do you make that whole experience something customers want to go and tell people about?"

Jeff Newman
Customer Care Manager

Joseph A. Welcome to the Radically Personal Podcast, where the people behind the most beloved brands share how they put the customer at the heart of everything they do. On today’s episode, I sit down with Jeff Newman who leads customer care for Porsche Cars of North America. Jeff and I talk about the challenges to supporting a brand that has such a passionate customer base.

Jeff Newman Really the customer experience kind of belongs in everybody’s hands, and ultimately, that goal of creating the legendary experience that goes along with legendary vehicle.

Joseph A. And we find out what exactly Porsche’s customer service battle cry is all about.

Jeff Newman There’s either something going on with your relationship with your dealer or there’s something going on with your relationship with the brand. And my team’s job is to make that right.

Joseph A. And finally, we learn how improv comedy can prepare you for a career in customer service.

Jeff Newman That improv comedy mindset really is a leader. It gives you that ability to think quickly, to think on your feet, but I can also add a lot of levity into certain situations, and I think that that tends to help out people especially in tense situations.

Joseph A. This is Radically Personal.

Joseph A. Radically Personal with Jeff Newman from Porsche. So excited to be here.

Jeff Newman Thank you for having me.

Joseph A. Absolutely. Why don’t we start a little bit, I’d love to, maybe you can share your story. What’s Jeff’s story?

Jeff Newman How long do you have on this podcast? I was going to say you have to read the book someday.

Joseph A. We’re going to get to the book. That is definitely going to come up today.

Jeff Newman Grew up half my childhood in Brooklyn, the other half in Rochester, New York. And very shortly after, I got married very young. Shortly thereafter, I went into the telecommunications field, spent 18 years in wireless and wireline business. From there I went to go work for American Express Travel, and from there I was courted by Porsche Cars North America. And currently, I’m the manager of the customer care team. And so, I oversee all the inbound support not for the financial services group.

Joseph A. That’s great. So, you did skip over a little something.

Jeff Newman What was that?

Joseph A. Which was your stint as a standup comic. So can you explain how that training from being a standup comic, what did you learn from that role for today?

Jeff Newman So that actually started, I was sort of a Guinea pig in Rochester, New York at that time. At 17 years old, I was allowed to go to junior college full time for my senior year of high school. And while I was there, among other things that I did, including being a DJ at the radio station, they were having a funniest person in the college contest and everybody told me I needed to go audition and try out for that. And I won that, which then gave me the ability to enter and be a finalist in the Rochester’s Funniest Person in Rochester. Contrast.

Joseph A. And how’d you do?

Jeff Newman Well, I’m here today, working ar Porsche Cars North America. Loving this job. How does that personality or that persona of a standup comic help me? I think it makes me brave. It’s interesting, I can never and never will be able to identify with people that would rather die than talk publicly. It’s so unnatural for me to understand how that would feel. What we didn’t mention before is not only was I doing stand up, I was actually doing improv comedy, so both. And between the two, I actually enjoyed doing improv more than standup. With stand up, I knew or hoped when people were going to laugh.

Joseph A. You had so much more prep, you knew what you were going to say.

Jeff Newman Correct. And with improv, I didn’t know what I was going to say or do a half a second ago. And so to get a rip roaring out-of-control laugh from that was so much more gratifying for me than from stand up.

Joseph A. So thinking on your feet?

Jeff Newman Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly where I was going. I think that improv comedy mindset really is a leader. It gives you that ability to think quickly, to think on your feet, but I can also add a lot of levity into certain situations. I think that that tends to help out people especially in tense situations. I probably can be, people would say maybe I bring too much fun to the environment and I’m not serious enough, but I think I’ve done okay and it’s too late to change me.

Joseph A. Let’s talk about Porsche.

Jeff Newman Sure.

Joseph A. Let’s start talking about like how you think about embodying what the Porsche experience means. What I want to do is obviously tie that to customer experience.

Jeff Newman Sure. Well, I think for us, we think about, the customer experience is everybody’s responsibility. So if you look at Porsche and what we do, we’re a lot of different businesses and as we are purely just an importer, the role that we play at Porsche Cars North America is we don’t sell directly to consumers the vehicles. We sell the vehicles to dealerships, a franchise model who then goes ahead and they have to sell it to customers and they support the customers.

Jeff Newman And then you go back to what I do for a living and I represent the brand, the manufacturer. But most customers, if you ask them if they’re having a problem with their vehicle or if they think about needing service, they don’t think of my group. They think of that dealership model. So really the customer experience kind of belongs in everybody’s hands. I personally believe and that also happens from everyone that doesn’t even talk to the customer, your own internal customers is your responsibility as well.

Jeff Newman It’s absolutely our job and our duty to support our dealers any way possible in regards to programs and processes and policies, resources, whatnot, to help them to be successful. And ultimately that goal of creating the legendary experience that goes along with the legendary vehicle.

Joseph A. Coming here, when I walk in, there’s obviously an experience. To the point where I was here once and I remember being in the lobby and I don’t remember if it was a GT3 or a 911. And they were lifting the car up and I thought they were going to take it away, and all they did was turn one of the wheels about 30 degrees, and they put the car down and I said, “What did you just do? You just rotating it so that the tires don’t get out?” He’s like, “No, no, no, no. The Porsche logo needs to be straight up and down.” And it was like this crazy like attention to detail moment that I saw.

Joseph A. How do you teach and engrain that Porsche experience mindset in all the different folks that help deliver customer experience?

Jeff Newman It’s a great question, Joseph. I think one, I think a lot of people come here and there is a certain passion that you already walk in the door with. More often than not, folks already have sort of that Porsche passion. For everybody else, they get it within the first couple of weeks. But, just like any of the best brands that are out there, you have to be very intentional in everything that you do. Some things you can teach, some things you can’t teach.

Jeff Newman I’ve often felt in contact centers, I can’t necessarily teach people to care about other human beings. I have to hire for that. I can teach you how to answer calls, I can teach you how to manipulate our systems, how to diagnose what’s going on. I can’t teach you to care about other human beings. That’s a skillset that you have or you don’t have.

Jeff Newman I think when it comes to the Porsche passion and delivering that, we realized that there was some opportunities to make sure that everybody’s exuding it to everyone. Not just the end customer, but our internal customers as well. And so, we felt the need within the last couple of years to create a program to kind of help us to guide that.

Joseph A. And that’s Excite, is that what you’re talking about?

Jeff Newman That is the Excite program.

Joseph A. So learning about Excite, it’s this internal program you have about embodying and creating the culture to deliver this amazing experience. You talk about common purpose. When you talked about this idea of creating Porsche passion by delivering a customer experience as legendary as the cars you build. So you start with this very common purpose, which is great. How do you then take that purpose and then translate that into actions and behaviors?

Jeff Newman I think it starts from the very beginning in the onset development of the program for sure. It’s not like this was something that was done in a vacuum. It wasn’t done in corporate, it wasn’t done in a board room here. It was done by getting a mixture of all the right people from all the appropriate teams. We had the support from corporate, they were involved. We had executive leadership here. We had leadership from our dealerships involved, field personnel from our group here as well.

Jeff Newman And so, we had to work as a team to be able to develop this program because I think that’s the only way we’re actually going to get the buy in that’s necessary. It’s a lot harder to get that buy in if it’s just somebody else’s thought and idea when you know that it was brought together from all the right people kind of presenting all the different perspectives of what makes this company. That certainly helps. And you have to have that that common purpose. There has to be that one point of, that everyone is trying to get to at the end of the line.

Jeff Newman I know that there’s some companies that when it comes to their mission statement, their common purpose, they want everybody to be able to memorize it. For us, it’s more important that you just live it. And so, if we went up to anybody and said, hey, what’s our common purpose? If they don’t know every word in here, you don’t care. If we just say it’s driving Porsche passion or creating Porsche passion, they get it, they get it.

Joseph A. So, you have this program called Excite. You’re in the pole position in all of these customer satisfaction awards etc. That wasn’t necessarily always the case maybe 10, 12 years ago. Your cars were still legendary, they’ve always been legendary. There’s never been a change from that. But you’ve shared a little bit with me, maybe we can talk a little bit about it. There were some challenges. What were the challenges and how was Excite designed to change those? What was the thing you were trying to solve for when you rolled it out?

Jeff Newman Well, I think, so you asked where we were. So about 10 years ago, and one of our major indices for how are we doing as a brand besides the sales results, if you will, is those JD Power awards. And about 10 years ago, we were 26 out of 33 brands in customer satisfaction index.

Joseph A. For cars auto manufacturers?

Jeff Newman For luxury auto manufacturers, right? Not good. We were 14th in a sales satisfaction. Not where you want to be. We knew that we were really, really good at building amazing vehicles and we’re really, really good at processes and really, really good at procedures. But we lost focus on the customer. And I think that that was a gap that we realized was growing and growing and that we had to get control of that in order to get back to the performance and results that we wanted in the JD Power and how customers are viewing us.

Joseph A. Did you view it mostly as a behavioral thing, a cultural challenge? My guess is the resources are there to do things. What were the blockers, what were the things that were holding you back or putting you at 26 out of 33 and you wanted to get to number one or number two?

Jeff Newman What was the common purpose? We just might not have had our sights set on the right visions at that time.

Joseph A. Meaning like everyone just thought like, hey look, if you build a great car, everything else is fine.

Jeff Newman It doesn’t matter.

Joseph A. It’s not the case actually. The rest of the experience needs to match the quality of the car, the vehicle.

Jeff Newman Absolutely.

Joseph A. And that was sort of this mindset shift of saying, hey, we need to sort of think about the experience around the vehicles.

Jeff Newman It’s everything about that whole experience. If we’re just talking about the vehicles, it’s from when I’m looking at it, considering it, that whole buying cycle to the moment that I’m actually out shopping it or driving cars to the moment I go through the delivery process and then take it home. How do you make that whole experience something that you want to go and tell people about?

Joseph A. What’s an example, if you have one, of, you have this program creating Porsche passion, delivering customer experiences as legendary as the cars you build, built on integrity, relationships, excitement, efficiency. How does that get translated at, you called it a store at a local store, and how that might be different from one store to the next.

Jeff Newman From a Porsche perspective, the whole goal is that it’s not, that regardless of whatever store you go into, you’re still going to have that same culture. And right now it’s the Excite culture. When we set this out last year, we trained all the dealerships and all the dealership bodies. So everyone in our business that’s affiliated with us, whether you’re in our building here in corporate headquarters, if you’re in the field for us, if you’re in the dealerships, everybody went through this training.

Jeff Newman Now we continue with more training, we continue to go back and retrain those that maybe didn’t get it since the last time we sent it out and we’ve put in a sustaining Excite program out there that our dealers are getting the opportunity to go to.

Jeff Newman It’s all about just kind of staying within the guidelines. So in our program, we called it the drift circle. You can drift however you want, you can drift of a circle or as a big of a circle as you like, just stay within the boundaries of the circle.

Joseph A. Let me give a little more context in a drift circle. You come in, you’re driving really, really fast. You come around and there’s just like this cement circle and he just basically skids around it and then races out. So the idea with the drift circle is like, it’s not precise. And so, you apply this idea of a drift circle to sort of how people then embody certain things. Is that the idea?

Jeff Newman To actually just deploy the program. So we’re giving you all these tools, we’re giving you the standards, we’re giving you the behaviors that we’re looking for. You have to know how and when to deploy them and you can do it in any way that you want. Just stay within that circle. Stay within the circle.

Joseph A. You can do things slightly, the way you go through the drift circle might be a little different from one store to the next but you’re still within the circle, so you know it’s the part of that Porsche experience.

Jeff Newman And the standards, they do have a priority. And as you mentioned, we have four standards of integrity, relationship, excitement and efficiency. Does that mean that integrity is the most important and then efficiency is last? No. It just means that at the moment, at the moment that you’re with a customer, this is how we want you to think about which ones matter most, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be times where maybe efficiency matters most. Maybe you’ve got a customer that’s made it very clear, this is what I want, when I want it and when I need it done.

Jeff Newman Is that really a good time where relationship really needs to be the most important thing? Probably not. And you understand that, and so you understand, but we need to care about efficiency at that point and start there.

Joseph A. There’s a great description in some of the information you’ve shared us with which I think captures what you just described. A common purpose is the unifying service-oriented battle cry, I love battle cry, that defines the desired emotional connection between employees and customers. You don’t usually think about Porsche and thinking about emotional connection in the sense like there’s a physical connection obviously. You’re in the vehicle, you’re feeling it. But a lot of this purpose is all around that emotional connection to the brand and a focus on that emotional connection, which is super, it’s powerful.

Joseph A. And you said something to me, which we’ve talked about, on one of the very first times we met, I said, hey, “What are your goals?” And you said, “You know Joseph, I really don’t care about the Porsche you just bought.” And I was like, “What are you talking about? Like how could you not care if I just bought a car?” And you’re like, “I actually care about the next one.” And that is really part of the emotional connection desire, right?

Jeff Newman And to me, the timing behind a statement like that is that we’re growing like we’ve never grown before in our history. Our sales have grown astronomically. What does that mean? It means we don’t have that same customer base that we used to have. There’s that core base of customers that have been 911 fans since they were kids and they’re going to be 911 fans for the rest of their lives. And they’re always going to either have them or want them. We’ve introduced new vehicles over the last 10, 15 years. We’re getting a lot of customers that are coming over from other brands. And maybe this wasn’t the aspirational brand for them as a child. This is just another luxury brand to them.

Joseph A. So thinking about like Macan or Cayman or something, which, I don’t remember exactly when they came out, but like 10 years ago, it was primarily like a 911 or something of that caliber versus now, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, you’re sort of diversifying, so you have to figure out how to create that connection while still delivering that legendary car experience.

Jeff Newman Correct. And our four-door vehicles way, way outsell our two-door vehicles.

Joseph A. Is that right?

Jeff Newman Oh yes. Absolutely.

Joseph A. I had no idea.

Jeff Newman Yeah. And so again, that’s why it’s so important to me. It’s like I’m so glad and thankful that we were able to win you over and at that point gets you to come over from another brand. Now I want to keep you, I don’t want to let you go back. And so, for me and for what our group does, if things do go awry, that’s the motivator for my team.

Jeff Newman If you’re customer care group, by the time you’re calling us, more often, and now granted, we’re an aspirational brand so we get some interesting calls. But when it comes to what you would typically call a customer service type call, where are you in that relationship with us by the time you have to call us? There’s either something going on with your relationship with your dealer or there’s something going on with your relationship with the brand. And my team’s job is to make that right. We don’t want to own relationships with customers. That’s not our job. We don’t want you to call us all the time for anything good or bad. It’s our job to get you back into the hands of that good relationship you’re supposed to have with our dealers.

Joseph A. Yeah, that makes sense.

Jeff Newman You asked earlier like what do we do to help sustain this sort of environment in this culture? Well, one of them is is you have to be good at storytelling. Storytelling is a very, very powerful tool.

Joseph A. Internal storytelling.

Jeff Newman Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, we’ve made it a point to solicit from folks when you have a great Excite like story, please tell us. We want to hear them and we want to share them because maybe that’s going to inspire somebody else as well. And also should keep you motivated as an employee to see what other people are doing in different facets of the company.

Jeff Newman So, for the contact center team, we had one that came through recently. In my customer care group, we also have an offline team that does some internal marketing services for us. And one of the agents was just going through looking at some survey results quite frankly. It was a sales and satisfaction survey result. And she was just reading one of the verbatims and the woman just remarked at how she bought this 911 white convertible on the request of her recently deceased husband. When I pass, I want you to buy this vehicle for yourself. And she saw that and she’s like, this is amazing, we’ve got to do something.

Jeff Newman She went and talked to one of the folks that’s actually on our call team, the on the phone team. And immediately there’s just this scurry of activity that started to occur. Like this is really cool, we have to honor this. And so, they pulled together some little things to help celebrate it. We found out by doing a little bit of research on the customer that he loved hats.

Joseph A. Baseball hats.

Jeff Newman Baseball hats. And so we got a little care package put together including a baseball cap and we sent it out to the customer who just absolutely loved it, wrote us back and said how she’s leaving the baseball cap in the back of the car in her husband’s memory. And the point was, in our note that we sent her was, this will help you think of your husband while you’re driving that car he wanted you to have.

Joseph A. Yeah, yeah. Those moments, I always describe, that’s how you make customer service radically personal. And by the way, that can be for the record, your radically personal moment to share, which I love.

Jeff Newman Okay. Thank you.

Joseph A. Thanks Porsche and Jeff for being radically personal and sharing how you’re creating a legendary customer experience to go along with your legendary vehicles. You’ve set a clear vision with Excite for the entire customer experience, which extends from the C suite to the dealership. Thanks for listening to this episode of Radically Personal. I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly. If you enjoyed the podcast, please be sure to subscribe and rate it, and visit us at radicallypersonal.com. See you next time.