The Driving Experience from Every Perspective (Even the Dog’s)

Every car maker designs and engineers its vehicles for humans. But what about the family dog?

Joanne Pearson, director of global customer insights at Jaguar Land Rover, says her brand is thinking differently about both.

As she explains on an episode of the Outside In podcast, at events the brand sponsors – like sailing and horse trials – she and her team were surprised to see how many customers were bringing their dogs. In ongoing conversations the Jaguar Land Rover team was having with customers online, customers were talking a lot about their dogs — without being prompted to do so. These observations led to two questions: “What are we actually doing for customers with dogs, and are we meeting their needs?”

So Pearson’s team embarked (no pun intended) on a project with customers to learn how they use their car with dogs, and the frustrations that come with it. Team members visited customers at their homes and took car rides with their furry companions. Finally, customers helped co-create new, dog-friendly solutions – like more relevant marketing campaigns and future vehicle designs that cater to dog owners.

Outside-the-box thinking like this is just one example of how Jaguar Land Rover – the UK’s biggest car maker – excels at understanding what customers need by entering their worlds to reveal it. In her role, Pearson brings compassion and empathy for “customer-first” into and across the company to inform its most strategic decisions. “Ultimately, we’re here to give customers experiences that they’ll love for life so that they will come back,” she says.

This rare mix of ingenuity, imagination, and creative thinking has no doubt contributed to Jaguar Land Rover’s economic success. As of this June, global brand sales are up by 11 percent year-on-year, driven by strong performance in China, where sales have skyrocketed a remarkable 65.3 percent.

Of course, this kind of growth comes with new challenges. Jaguar Land Rover operates in more than 130 countries, and global customers have specific cultural differences that must be taken into account. In the U.S., for example, females are buying more luxury vehicles than ever before and are outpacing men for the first time in luxury SUV purchases; 57 percent of women who purchased a luxury vehicle in 2016 bought an SUV, compared to 49 percent of men, according to Edmunds.com. And in China, Pearson says customers are likely to be chauffeured, therefore experiencing the backseat, not the driver’s seat. They also skew nearly 20 years younger than the average age of a premium car buyer, which is 54 years old.

For a global company like Jaguar Land Rover, having a nuanced understanding of customers in every market is imperative. Most Jaguar Land Rover employees are UK-based, and many may not immediately relate to the lives of a global luxury auto buyer. It’s Pearson’s job to bridge that gap, to help employees sharpen their intuition about customers: what they value, what they’re looking for in the future. To inspire employees to think like customers, and understand their lives, Pearson disseminates videos, photos, and customer stories broadly across the company. She says, “It’s important that we show the people working on our vehicles and developing our future vehicles really who our customers [are] and how they live their lives.”

Jaguar Land Rover embraces a collaborative culture and builds customers into the way they work. At the start of every project, teams of engineers, designers, programmers, and marketers work together to get a 360-degree perspective on how to design for and speak to customers. Teams will spend time with customers at their homes or at work, or ride with them (and their dogs) to places they’re passionate about, like shooting ranges and golf clubs. They’ll join customers in co-creation events and tap into private online communities for their ideas in real-time.

“There’s never been a more exciting time to be in the automotive industry,” Pearson says, pointing to innovations in areas like connectivity and electric vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover has “already started to talk to customers about autonomous driving,” and, like other luxury auto brands, including Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, the company is investing in ride sharing and testing a fleet of self-driving cars.

Whatever the future has in store, customer delight will pave the auto industry’s way. “We pay great attention to the noises, the feel, the look of our vehicles,” Pearson says. “If we deliver well, customers will say things like, ‘Yes, I felt like you really thought about the experience and developed and delivered it for me.’ ‘I felt like you were highly dependable.’ ‘You made me feel really special.’ We’ve brought that to life for our employees and explained this is what customers are looking for.”