CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE – Im Dialog mit Karin Rådström + René Grosse-Vehne
Karin Rådström is a Member of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck Holding AG and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
René Große-Vehne is the Managing Director of GV Management GmbH.
Mercedes-Benz Trucks has a strong position in the market, and in many respects it is one of the most important players. Nonetheless, Karin Rådström has been taking the OEM on a journey back to benchmark profitability. And she has been doing so while simultaneously mastering the electrification of trucks – the biggest challenge ever faced by the industry. In this interview, Karin Rådström and René Große-Vehne provide insights into how maximized customer satisfaction can become the most important lever for achieving both goals.
Mrs Rådström, please tell us about the journey you’re taking Mercedes-Benz Trucks on. What is it all about?
Our journey is all about raising the performance of Mercedes-Benz Trucks and doing our part to help drive our parent company Daimler Truck forward. Our challenge is the fact that our business unit is not delivering benchmark financial results yet. But our ambition is to achieve double-digit profitability by 2025 if all the boundary conditions are positive. That means we need to raise our margins by about 10 percentage points compared to 2019. We are working on several major levers in order to close this gap, and the most important one is »increasing customer satisfaction«.
What does customer satisfaction mean to you, and how do you promote it in your daily work?
Our customers are central to everything we do within our whole organization. In the past we have not always given our customers the priority they deserve, but now our clear ambition is to stand »on the podium« for all of our customers’ purchase criteria and to be Number One for the most important ones. In order to get there, we have launched several initiatives.
We – my whole management team and I – have started having »CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE DAYS«, during which we meet with a couple of different customers each time to openly discuss our strong points and the areas where we need to improve in order to meet our customers’ expectations. And of course, we are doing more than just talking; we are also involving our customers much more closely in the early stages of product and service development. Besides, we have improved our organization in Sales & Marketing in order to serve and support our people on the front line more effectively.
Mr Große-Vehne, what’s your take on customer satisfaction for truck customers?
The Mercedes truck is a very good product, and overall we are very satisfied with the truck, the service and the Daimler Truck company as a whole. However, it’s important to always keep a realistic perspective – no organization, no relationship and no single person always functions perfectly. If problems arise, it’s our job to find solutions quickly, unbureaucratically and cooperatively and to implement them accordingly. All of us are striving toward the same goal, and we can only achieve it together.
… and can you also answer that question from your perspective as a provider of logistics services for customers?
The parameters I’ve just mentioned apply equally to us as service provider. Creating real added value for our customers is always our priority. If problems arise along the way, it’s our job to solve them quickly and smoothly in the best interest of our customers.
In the past we have not always given our customers the priority they deserve, but now our clear ambition is to stand »on the podium« for all of our customers’ purchase criteria and to be Number One for the most important ones.
Mrs Rådström, today the major topics are climate change and CO2-neutrality. Mercedes-Benz Trucks is known as a front runner in the area of e-mobility. What does your strategy for zero-emission vehicles look like in detail?
Yes, that’s correct. We are indeed fully committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and to CO2-neutral road freight transport. Our ambition for our key markets is that our fleet of new vehicles should be »tank to wheel« CO2-neutral by 2039.
Already in 2030, we want more than half of our new vehicles sold in Europe to be zero-emission vehicles. To get there, we have to offer our customers more than just one emission-free model – and more than just one zero-emission technology. Our customers have many different use cases and applications for our trucks – so there is not a single silver bullet. We believe that battery-electric vehicles will cover many use cases. For instance, many customers drive less than 500 km per day – and for those customers battery-electric drives make perfect sense. For customers with heavier loads and longer ranges, fuel cell trucks will do the job.
When it comes to battery-electric vehicles, we already launched the series production of our eActros in early October 2021. We are now working hard to develop our eActros LongHaul for longer distances of about 500 km. We plan to be ready for series production in 2024.
From our perspective today, we can well imagine that the future will be a mix of different powering technologies depending on the area of application.
Mr Große-Vehne, sustainability plays a big role for your company as well. What is driving you, and what do you think about alternative drivetrains for trucks?
Sustainability has been a core priority for us for years. For example, we have been a partner of the Center for Sustainable Corporate Management, ZNU for short, at the University of Witten/Herdecke since 2009. Through our commitment to the »ZNU goes ZERO« project, the entire GV trucknet company network has been operating CO2-neutrally since 2018. The underlying principle is to first avoid and reduce emissions as much as possible. The remaining emissions that cannot be equalized through these measures are compensated for by planting trees.
It’s hard to tell what will be powering our vehicles in the future. We are actively involved in various research projects, and we approach every possible outcome with an open mind. From our perspective today, we can well imagine that the future will be a mix of different powering technologies depending on the area of application.
Mrs Rådström, alternative drivetrains are a big topic for your customers. What is your approach to make the transition easier for them?
First of all, we have been collaborating closely with our customers to tailor the eActros and the upcoming waste collection truck eEconic, which is also all-electric, specifically to their needs. For example, a number of eActros prototype vehicles, our so-called innovation fleet, were already in customer hands starting in 2018. As a result, we’ve received very valuable feedback for the development process. We plan to do the same thing for the eActros LongHaul and the fuel-cell GenH2 Truck, which we want to hand over to customers as a series product starting in 2027.
We are also supporting our customers beyond the vehicle in practically every aspect of their journey toward CO2-neutral transport. We deliver an integrated solution that embeds the vehicle in a holistic ecosystem that includes consulting services for electric mobility – such as analysing routes, supporting operational fleet integration and developing a cost-efficient charging infrastructure directly at the customers’ depots.
How does this sound to you, Mr Große-Vehne? Does this approach meet your needs?
This approach is an important part of the entire transformation process, and we’re glad to have a partner by our side who gives us such outstanding support. After all, various needs have to be met by different parties, so we have to continually re-evaluate and redesign existing business processes and systems as needed. We are facing many tasks and challenges, large and small – by working together we will find solutions for all of them.
Speaking of infrastructure, Mrs Rådström, are you also planning to provide charging and hydrogen fuelling stations along the way? This is considered crucial for the breakthrough of electric trucks.
Yes, in addition to the right vehicle technology, CO2-neutral transport also requires infrastructure and economic efficiency – otherwise, our customers will not be able to use these trucks profitably. It is like doing a three-factor multiplication in mathematics: if just one factor is zero, the whole result is zero. That’s why we are working together with governments, energy companies, associations and all the other stakeholders involved in order to make CO2-neutral transport a success.
Let me outline two major examples of partner projects. We plan to create a 1,200 km hydrogen corridor in Europe together with Shell in order to provide hydrogen-refuelling stations that are suitable for trucks. And we are also planning a high-performance public charging network for Europe together with Traton Group and Volvo Group. We will continue working with our partners in order to do our part. At the same time, we hope and expect governments to also take action.
The same thing applies here as for all the tasks already mentioned: a number of issues lie ahead of us. But we want to tackle them, and we can and will do so – together.
Mr Große-Vehne, what’s your perspective on the infrastructure issue?
Powering technology and infrastructure are inextricably linked. The infrastructure issue will be one of the key factors in the overall implementation of the corresponding technology. Probably the best and most feasible approach is to expand the existing infrastructure. The same thing applies here as for all the tasks already mentioned: a number of issues lie ahead of us. But we want to tackle them, and we can and will do so – together.