I write a lot (these days, at least, it seems) about cars. Last year I had a lot of interactions with my car company and other support organizations having to do with my automotive needs. So I guess with it front of mind, it seems appropriate that this little anecdote popped into my head the other day:
Do you remember in 2022 when BMW decided to make heated seats a subscription service?
The tl;dr on that is that the company was considering (Did they go through with it? I don’t know, but this video posted by BMW a month ago seems to suggest it’s happening in the UK.) linking heated seats—which used to be a hallmark of luxury automotive brands, but like onboard communication systems have since become much more ubiquitous, present in many non-luxury cars as well—to a subscription service. The upshot being that, sure your car comes with seat heaters installed and ready-to-go, but if you want to actually use them—by, you know, turning them on—you have to pay a monthly service charge for the privilege.
What? Okay, first let’s talk about the gratuitous nature of such a move. It actually costs the company more to do it that way...in this model, the sunk costs of producing or procuring and then installing the physical devices to heat the seats already exists whether the Customer ever chooses to use them or not. In fact, if it were an option, they’d only have to install the hardware in cars ordered with (and paid for) that ‘upgrade.’ But additionally, isn’t there an investment in the infrastructure to set up a subscription payment system, not to mention whatever technology has to shoot into space and bounce back to the car the signal to go ahead and turn it on? That seems like an enormous investment (with a lot more failure mode opportunities!) just to rake in a few absentminded-forgot-to-cancel-the-subscription bucks every month.
BMW, read this, twice if needed: It costs you nothing to simply leave the damned seats on.
Plus, what does it say about your treatment of Customers? This is a luxury brand. On the one hand, perhaps their Customers can afford the extra cost. But is this the way they want to treat their Customers? Luxury brands costing more is one thing; you’d expect as much. But unnecessarily gouging Customers is no way to treat them regardless of your Brand Promise. (Not to mention that, usually rich people don’t get rich by squandering their money or allowing brands to take advantage of them.)
The CX story writes itself and has been pounded out ad nauseum for about a year already.
But from a totally different perspective, this led me to think further on another theme, too: Is this not just one more way of a brand getting the opportunity to keep tabs on us? Not to be conspiratorial or anything, but kind of like with cookies when Internet browsing and third-party data sharing, there’s an entire ecosystem of data—our data...about us—that brands are collecting and selling to each other. If it doesn’t creep you out, that’s okay; that’s not my purpose. But I know some people are bothered by the constant bombardment of solicitations for things you may like “based on your previous browsing.” Surely BMW won’t find many buyers for their car seat warmer data (who’d pay for that?).
But from a marketing and CX perspective, it brings up a question: What if there were brands whose very Brand Promise was: “We’ll leave you alone”?
Maybe it’s not your car (although, other than for reminding you of pending service or that you’re low on washer fluid, your car mostly does leave you alone). But what sorts of goods and/or services are out there that have a market space for the Leave You Alone Brand? Surely with all the shopping online, zooming meetings, getting news from the Internet, and the resulting collection of brands all-up-in-your-business, there are probably lots of openings for that to be a winning Brand Promise.
It's probably not impressive coming from a commodity like soft drinks or guitar picks...something that’d have no real reason anyway to know anything about you as a Customer personally. But anytime you’re invited to “sign up” for anything like a loyalty program, or receive a service that explicitly has to come to your home or place of business to deliver, there’s a brand that by necessity has some of your information. And every brand that’s got its head on straight bends over backwards to promise that they’ll not inappropriately use or sell your data (while others will write out T&C statements as long as your arm to cover themselves for doing just that). But how about, We simply don’t capture it, or We only keep what we need to serve you? Or even, You’ll not hear from us unless you call?
As a gentleman of a particular age, I remember Radio Shack (a brand that, as writing this article I learned actually still exists.) The joke about them was always about how they want your phone number just to buy batteries. It’s along those lines I ask my question. Plenty of Customers’ desires are: I want you to produce and sell a quality product or deliver a competent service; beyond that, I don’t want to be your friend, I don’t want a relationship with you, I don’t care for you to care about me...I just want to be left alone.
We have luxury brands, discount brands, high-quality brands, ease-of-use brands. And tons of them all want to have a relationship with us.
How about a leave-me-alone brand? Think that’d sell?
(Originally Published 20230523)
– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM
– Fractional Chief Customer Officer/Principal, Zeisler Consulting