Using a “peer group” for inspiration like GM and Disney

Today I read an interesting article about how General Motors (GM) dramatically improved the service in their car showrooms. They did this not by looking at their direct competitors but rather by using as inspiration the Walt Disney company. Having worked on many projects for Disney, from theme parks to consumer products, I can confirm they are masters at customer service.

The results seem to be good, with the company's Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands now ranked in the top 5 American car makers for customer satisfaction.

What we can we learn from what seems like an unusual approach?

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1. Look beyond your direct competitors…

It might seem a strange thing to say, but some companies spend too much time looking at their direct competitors. This can be short sighted, especially when the overall standards in the category are relatively low. The risk is then being "the tallest dwarf". Also, competitors tend to copy each others' initiatives and so start to be very similar.

2. … look at a "peer group"

A more inspiring source of insight can come from looking at a "peer group" of companies. This peer group target similar customers but operate in industries that are either adjacent to yours, or even quite far away. So, in the case of GM, Alan Batey, president for North America, looked to a leader in customer service in the shape of Walt Disney to learn how to "treat customers like royalty". 

Another example is the Axe/Lynx brand. Rather than being obsessed about what Gillette or Old Spice were doing, the brand team looked at other brands loved by teen boys, such as Levi's and Nike for creative inspiration.

3. Overcome the doubters

It was interesting to read how the GM partnership with the Disney Institute was initially met with extreme scepticism. Batey describes how "Half the dealers went almost like hostages". However, with time the GM dealers started to see the benefits of the program and became more engaged once they got past the sometimes cheesy Disney style (check out the GM staffers in their Mickey hats below!)

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4. Execute at scale

One of the most impressive things about the GM story is the scale of the initiative. A total of 20,000 staff and dealer-owners were taken on the executive training program, making the company the biggest client of the Disney Institute. This is a genuine commitment to transforming customer service with a good chance of achieving positive change.

In conclusion, what 2-3 peer group companies could you look at to get inspiration for your brand? You never know, you might find that, like GM, this brings a bit of magic to your business!