At Mercedes Benz, one day, a service manager removed a tire from a brand-new car and attached it to the car of a customer who had a flat tire. A bold step, he took it because the customer was headed to her son’s graduation, and the exact parts for her car’s model weren’t available. She would have missed the ceremony. Moving right? Such acts of kindness aren’t uncommon in this company.

This way of caring for customers and making them feel special is a key part of the culture at Benz. Steve Cannon, CEO, ensured that. He recognized that success meant more than selling vehicles. It was about how much the people who sold and serviced the cars cared, and how generously they behaved. He believed, “Every encounter with the brand must be as extraordinary as the machine itself.”

How did he build this culture of care with 25000 employees? Because when you think about compassion and kindness, there is no blueprint to follow. Says Canon, “Educate people and excite them. Give them permission to rise to the occasion when the moment arises. This is not about following instructions. It’s about taking a leap of faith.” Fair enough. But how?

This was addressed by Harry Hynekamp, the first ever general manager of Benz’s customer experience. He found a crucial gap in the experience of employees – though they all worked for, sold, serviced, and fixed Mercedes Benz cars, 70% of them had never driven one. They did not know how it was like to drive a Benz. And that affected how they felt about the company and how they engaged with work.

  • The solution: a program where all employees got to drive a new Mercedes Benz for 48 hours. The company put close to 800 cars in the field, at a cost of millions of dollars. And asked employees to see if they could time their turns behind the wheel to fulfill important life events — picking up grandma on her birthday, bringing a newborn home from the hospital, etc.
  • The impact: According to Hynekamp, people’s reactions were astounding. They took photos, made videos, and someone even wrote a rap song. Why? Because employees felt proud of their cause, proud about what they worked for. They felt a sense of belonging, which then they readily passed on to the customers.

This one program kicked off a kindness movement in Mercedes Benz, which was fueled by a sense of pride. Genius, right? How would you undertake such a project?

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