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In the eyes of potential customers, LeasePlan is the best option, according to the WUA study on online orientation on a business lease car. It also takes the lead in the study on private lease cars (December 2017). In this interview, we speak with Monique Gerner (Marketing Director LeasePlan Netherlands). About gaining digital speed by improving by learning from other industries, connecting offline and online, and just DOING.

Monique Gerner, congratulations on your win in this WUA study. How important is it to you to be the best in the digital arena? What role does having a winning mentality play in this?

“It’s not about winning to me personally. It’s about the steps we’re taking. Where are you coming from, and how big is the ground you’re covering? At the same time, of course, it’s nice to win, and no one wants to lose. Especially because we haven’t been operating for very long, it’s very motivational to be appreciated. The subject of digital customer experience is especially important to us; this is a part of our strategy we want to excel at. It’s nice to be able to get an extra ‘tick’ on this.”

In business, LeasePlan has been operating for fifty years. Private lease was only added in the past few years. What’s your approach?

“We’ve got an entrepreneurial, pragmatic approach. We like gaining speed, and then adjust. We’re not stubborn, and we like learning from others. We started collaborations with well-known brands where many consumers come together – campaigning with Albert Heijn and structurally with ANWB. We’re successful in this. In spring of last year, we launched our own website, and since fall, we’ve really been getting started with directing traffic and optimizing our conversion. We’re really in the digital start-up phase. We’re also adjusting our product; it’s already possible to share your car with SnappCar. At LeasePlan, we’re convinced that working with partners and specialists in combination with ‘doing it ourselves’ is the right approach.”

So it’s kind of a digital testing ground? Aren’t you a far too large company for that?

“In our digital development, as an organization, we’re not the first mover, and we’re using that to our advantage. Both within our sector and outside of it, there are so many companies we look at that we can learn from. We attract specialists, and then we’ll just do it. Then, we analyze and measure everything. So instead of busying ourselves with presentation and planning, we’re searching for experiences and best practices, and use those. Instead of looking at it like it’s a digital testing ground, it’s more like a type of getting up-to-speed and learning from the best. We’re constantly looking at the travel, retail, and telephone sectors, where the biggest e-commerce turnovers are.”

From a consumer’s perspective, there shouldn’t be a difference (anymore) between service and sales. Are you capable of breaking with silos with LeasePlan or: are you planning on doing this?

“We’re working on our new MyEnvironment now, in which we merge service and sales: that way, you can contribute to the ideal customer experience and at the same time, increase retention and realize upsell. Within the organization, we work with biweekly sprints in which different representatives of departments come together in an end-to-end process. Lead-to-order, that’s an example of a process like that. Lead: from the first point of contact and the beginning of the digital or brand journey. Up to the order: ordering the car. This way, we’re letting go of departmental silos, centralizing the customer’s process.”

What role do customer research and being customer-centric play in your daily work, and in the teams that you’re responsible for?

“Customer research is an important part of our data-driven decision-making. We make sure our people don’t just use their own professional knowledge and vision, but that they’re looking at things in a broader perspective. We take into account both external and internal data. The digital team also discusses with other people at LeasePlan – colleagues who buy cars, perform credit checks or are responsible for car maintenance.

“External market information is also an important source of input to us. Outside of our office walls, there are many different people who possess information. If we can gather that in a good way, we can ensure our work is more relevant to our current and future customers. Customer knowledge, to me, doesn’t just come from ‘official’ market research. Although we do that, too, of course.”

As CMO, how do you work on putting the customer at the core?

“We developed a special program in which every member of the board frequently visits top customers with different account managers. Our top customers are large companies, you’ll regularly see the financial director or general director sitting next to the vehicle manager. By sitting down with each other, a new image can start to grow. It’s not about a group of customers anymore, it’s about this one specifically. ‘What does this customer want?’ and ‘What impact do our strategic steps have on this person?’ These discussions inspire me, and we regularly change our roadmap internally, and we use these customer talks for our internal communication.”

What KPIs do you use in the digital area, what buttons do you adjust in order to excel in digital?

“We’re focusing the most on performance KPIs such as traffic, conversion, and cost. At certain moments, for certain segments, we add ‘soft KPIs’ to those, among which is excellent customer service. In my view, excellent digital customer experience leads to more sales.”

What are your digital challenges for 2018?

“Our sector has great potential for gaining speed in digital transformation. At LeasePlan, we’ve made the decision to do this in a global perspective. Right now, we’re digitally active in 33 countries, and if we can service multiple countries with a small number of roadmaps, our development will happen really fast. It’s a beautiful track, challenging and complex. When will the MVP product, for example, be ready to be rolled out in a digital mature country like the Netherlands or the UK? Questions like that…”

What digital innovations are you working on now, and what developments are on the road map?

“Right now, we’re adapting our IT infrastructure. It’s a complex operation, in which the foundations are laid for data management and personalization. I can’t wait to implant the smooth and seamless digital experience of for instance Booking.com and Coolblue. The new infrastructure makes this possible, and we’re preparing for this the best we can.

“Additionally, we’re working on digitizing the customer journey, and we want to make that journey generic, to be used in 33 different countries – naturally, adjusted with tweaks and optimization for local customers. At the same time, we want to bring those tweaks and that optimization ‘home’, in order to feed the global roadmap with new developments that way!”

What do you think is the Next Big Thing in digital in your market?

There are many technological developments happening, that impact our propositions and the use of cars in general. Obvious examples are the connected car, the electric car, and car sharing. Which subscription is ideal if you look at the car as a service first and foremost? Which networks do you want to share your car with – and which ones you definitely don’t? At what moment in your life would it be nice to have a bigger or smaller car? In our market, new forms of flexibility, attention to sustainability and sharing car possession are the most important drivers behind large-scale digital developments.”

Aside from that, there are digital marketing trends, such as personalization and ‘big data’. How do you work on this?

“A trend says many people are working on these themes. I am, too, but I’m not experiencing it as if they’re new themes. If you want to excel in marketing and customer ease, it’s vitally important to present the most relevant message at the right time, using the right channel, to the right user or customer. Of course you employ all technology to do this well. Technology, I think, should never be used as an excuse to not follow that philosophy. An excellent personal salesperson will understand what I mean; I think relation management is sometimes underestimated.”

What is your ultimate goal and dream to accomplish in business?

“My current dream is that this ‘playing an online shop’ with all its aspects will become regular day-to-day work at LeasePlan. That we know our customers and users, will recognize them anywhere, acknowledge them. The organization is ready for it, people are adapting at lightning speed, and we’re growing in our mentality of ‘a day without mistakes is a day we didn’t learn anything’. It’d be great if we can grow along with the developments in technology: in the sense of developments in automotive, in digital, and for the changing wishes and needs the consumer may have.”