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MYC'D UP WITH CX LEADERS episode 5: Craig Antonucci, chief experience officer, Autocar Trucks

In episode five of our rebooted podcast we speak with Craig Antonucci, chief experience officer of Autocar Trucks - North America’s oldest surviving truck and vehicle brand. 

7th Jun 2022
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In episode 5 of MYC'D UP with CX Leaders, we speak with Craig Antonucci, the chief experience officer of Autocar Trucks.

Autocar is North America’s oldest surviving truck and vehicle brand. Craig oversees CX for the manufacturer and is an engaging storyteller; speaking clearly and fluently about the importance of customer experience in an organisation such as Autocar Trucks, which is fairly unique in that it continues to build and manufacturer all of its own vehicles out of plants in Birmingham, Alabama where it’s headquartered, and Hagerstown, Indiana.

Among other things, in this podcast chat we talked about what a typical Autocar customer looks like, how Craig is able to help in the process of keeping customers satisfied, and how he’s able to engage with employees about customer experience across a business where many don’t necessarily have direct contact with customers.

You need to make sure you're really transparent about what you're doing so that people can see progress - because they they want to see how this thing called customer experience is going to turn into something tangible, like more lower cost of delivery of service and more sales and better engagement.

MYCD UP podcast

DISCUSSION TRANSCRIPTION 

MYCUSTOMER:

First of all, congratulations to auto car trucks as a business, just named one of CIO bulletins. 50 most admired companies to watch for 2020 and I was reading an accompanying interview with your vice president and general manager, Tim Fortin as part of that particular announcement. What struck me was that customer service and experience are really core components to the auto car approach, despite perhaps not necessarily being something you'd expect being the central thesis for brands such as such as auto car, I was wondering, just just to kick off, perhaps you could give our listeners an understanding of who Autocar are and why CX is important to the business. And I understand your one, or the oldest truck brand in North America, which is quite interesting.

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

Yeah, so we are the oldest truck brand in North America. And we are the only direct to consumer model of what we do. So we build vocational vehicles. So those difficult jobs to do heavy duty, you know, refuse, cement trucks, dump trucks, terminal tractors, things like that. And because we are direct consumer, the experience of working with us matters much more than our competitors, who typically leverage a dealer network and lose the connection to the customer aside from their product, and everything that we do is custom. So when we build a truck for one of our customers is designed specifically for the application that they're going to be performing their work with. Meaning that we have a lot of variation, a lot of customizations and a lot of attention to detail that needs to be paid during the prospecting process, the build out process, the production process, and then what we're talking about here today is after the sale is made in the truck is delivered is helping them service that vehicle and making sure they get the most out of it both from a financial sense and an experience standpoint.

MYCUSTOMER:

Well, I'd like to go into that in a little bit more detail later. But before we do, I just thought I'd you know, sort of talk about yourself, you're the chief experience officer there, that auto car truck, so let's get to know what your role entails there.

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

So I joined Autocar last July. And my primary role here, my directive is to take our customer experience to the next level. As it's our competitive advantage, we want to stay ahead of the curve, we want to make sure that we are delighting our customer, and driving a culture of raving fans, we want. Let you know what I have a story that actually tells the story the best way. So one of the things that we do, as executives at auto car is when you first joined the company, you'll you'll typically do a ride along with one of our customers. And my first ride was with a gentleman named EJ in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And I got into the vehicle. And the first thing he says to me is Craig, I absolutely love driving the auto car truck. And I'm like, Let's go that's a Chris is a great start. Thank you Well, why? And EJ says to me, because at the end of the day, my body isn't sore, and I can go home and play with my children. Now, that was the coolest thing that you possibly could hear because now this guy has connected the tool that he uses to make a living to the quality of his own life. So that's really important for us to do at every level of how our customers interact with us because what we would like to happen is that when our customers are making a decision to buy new or replacement vehicles, and they pull all of the users of our products and services They say, Who do you guys want to work with? We want them to say auto car. So when we you succeed at that level, it permeates the entire organization. So what I was brought in to do was build more of that into every touchpoint that we deliver with our customer.

MYCUSTOMER:

The relationship that you described with EJ... is that typical of the sort of type of customer relationship you have their Autocar, I mean, it is it is EJ a typical customer, what does the auto car trucks customer look like?

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

So there is a consistency to our experience. And then if you asked all of our customers why they like to work with us, it's similar to that we'd like that you design it specifically for our needs, we like that we can contact you directly, we like that you're very attentive, and you make things happen quick, so that that's consistent, but we have lots of different levels of customers within our experience. So we deliver our vehicle to an intermediary called a body builder, who puts the application so the, you know, the dump truck bucket on the back of the vehicle, we have a customer relationship with them, we have relationships with the people who are the procurement people, at the municipalities that we actually talk to, or the businesses that we work with. We work with the service engineers, we work with the maintenance crews, we work with the fleet managers, every one of those people have a different experience with us. But the consistency is that it's easy to work with us, you can work directly with us. And we designed that experience based on your specific needs.

MYCUSTOMER:

So it's I suppose, like you said, there's a range of different customers there. And I'm assuming that that ranges from individuals who need the type of vehicle that you, you provide for for sort of a one man band exercise all the way up to, you know, sort of public sector organizations. Is that right? And sort of Sure, yeah, construction companies? How much of a challenge is it ensuring that that sort of bespoke and personalized experience that you've described with EJ can be provided those two different ends of the scale?

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

Well, it is a challenge. And the challenge really revolves around making sure that we have a custom interaction based on who it is we're talking to, I heard an example, that a show a couple of weeks ago, where they said, you know, some people like their coffee, dark, some like it with milk, but if you design everything towards the middle, no one's going to be happy. So we have to pivot, depending on who it is, at the end of the day, the company that may have one truck has the same needs and for attention as the fleet that has 400 trucks, that's just the level of interaction they want. Maybe one's more data driven, one may want more hand holding, one may want to know the names of the people that they're working with and develop a personal relationship. Other people want to keep it specifically professional and have a group of people that they can, they can talk to and represent the company. So being able to deliver experiences that are customized to who they are and what they are. And what they want is really, really key. And that's the hard part.

MYCUSTOMER:

You've sort of mentioned the fact that because of the business model, or the car you're at, you're able to provide not just bespoke service, but also, you know, a bespoke product to some degree to sell to your customers. What is the process? What is the sort of connection between yourself as a Customer Experience Officer, the Chief Customer Experience Officer, speaking with the customers about these sorts of things, you know, ensuring that you're getting all of this information fed into you. And the getting that information to the shop floor and in being able to help guide employees who are actually building the products. I mean, you know, how, I guess I guess, it's impossible to have silos in that environment. But I mean, how easy is it to be able to combine those, those two elements?

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

Yeah, so getting feedback from them. Live is really key. You don't really understand what we do until you actually see it, and feel it and understand what people do like we have a large part of our businesses refuse. So there's probably very few things in this world that will get general citizens of the world more upset than their trash not being picked up. And that will get a phone call to Town Hall, which will then get a phone call to who the service group which will get a phone call to me, you know, so if our trucks aren't working out there and doing what they're supposed to be doing, then we're going to end up finding out it.

MYCUSTOMER:

That's a lot of pressure.

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

Yeah. But that's what we do. I mean, we we recognize what our whole purpose you talk to anybody here who's whether they're in accounting or whether they're turning a wrench in the manufacturing facility, they understand that their purpose here is to make sure that, that customers life is easy, and they can do the job that they're supposed to be doing. Because if they can't, for some of these businesses, it's a lot of revenue they can lose for other businesses, its efficiency, its upset customers on their side, we have to have that connection to everything that we do. So we don't operate in silos in that regard. I mean, we do have custom channels for people to communicate with us at certain levels. But we do have that consistent approach to saying, we are tying what we're delivering to you to what it is important to you.

MYCUSTOMER:

You mentioned earlier that your sort of core aim is to create a sort of fandom among customers. I was interested to know if that's the same requirement, an employee level, I mean, doing a bit of research into to Autocode did strike me as a sort of fandom feeling about being an employee there as well? Is that something that you're, you're sort of actively encouraging or something that's perhaps part of the CX role there?

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

Absolutely. So there's a book that gives you when you first work here called 'Raving Fans', by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. And you have to read it within the first week. And then you go through it raving fans training, where you not only learn everything about the organization, but you learn how that mentality fits into how we treat each other as well. The goal being that if we can develop the behaviors and the patterns of treating each one of the groups within the organization as the customer relationship, then it becomes easy when we actually talk to a real customer.

MYCUSTOMER:

Is that is that the same for for employees across the business? I mean, if you're working in the production line, everybody goes through the training. That's really interesting. And yeah, I suppose, is it an easy process to be able to, to keep employees engaged on that sort of customer centricity, even when they sort of perhaps feel like they're removed from? Yeah, general customer interactions.

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

I think that's always a struggle for any organization for groups that don't actually physically see customers. We tried to supplement that with customer visits, and having them meet them and hear directly from them, what's important to them, so they can then tie what they do to what the customer's needs are. Doesn't happen, you know, every day, but we just had a customer here last week that held a town hall in front of everybody and kind of filled them in on what's important to them. And it was really enlightening for a lot of people. So we try to try to supplement it like that. And try to reinforce it with good management and good directives and good, you know, key key differentiators within each group, what's important for you to accomplish today to meet the ultimate goal?

MYCUSTOMER:

So, Craig, you've been in the role there, Autocar for roughly Yeah, I believe but um, you've been in CX for for a long time. Before that. I guess, just just to wrap up, I suppose it would be great to ascertain whether you sort of have any advice for fellow customer experience, professionals, customer experience leaders, based on your experience in the profession, but also perhaps, based on your experience of moving from from the previous roles into the to the one auto car that you're in now. And then sort of challenges and successes that you've had in the in the role to date?

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

Yeah, so I would say two things based on how you posed that question. So the first one from my previous role, I was actually on the other side of the equation, I was the outsourcer versus the direct customer. And the one thing I I have brought with me is an appreciation for the partnership approach with vendors. Because there's a lot of good people, good companies out there with good solutions that can help you as a CX professional, get things done. And not it's not for everybody, you know, you're gonna meet a lot of people in your career, and you're not going to want to work with all of them for various and sundry reasons, but at least give the time to have the conversation because you can learn some new things. And it'll behoove you and your career should you move to this side. And when I came to this side, the biggest feedback and piece of advice that I would say for most people who are coming to an established company or startup kind of different, but for an established company is to recognize that a lot of the answers of what you're trying to do are probably already there, just no one has figured out how to execute on them properly yet. And so your role as a CX professional coming into this new organization is to spend a lot of time listening, and engaging the people that are on your team. So when you ultimately do arrive at that solution, everybody feels like they had significant impact, and you're going to be much more successful at the end of it. So that's, those are the two biggest piece of advice I can give someone else in my position.

MYCUSTOMER:

That's great. And just just just finally, I mean, how, how easy is it to be able to come into a new role and and sort of sit listening and being patient and taking everything in as your sort of core objective? Because I know, we hear from fellow leaders who sort of come into a new role and and feel the pressure of the of getting started? Sort of straight straight from the get go. I mean, you have, have you found it easy enough to be able to take the time to listen and understand.

CRAIG ANTONUCCI:

So yes, I have, but the pressure is there, no question, the pressure is there and some people will translate that pressure to 'I need to do something right now'. And the problem with that approach often is that doing something right now may be counterproductive to the long game. So I think of like that old show Kung Fu with David Carradine, where they say to him, once you can walk across the ricepaper, and leave no trace, then it's time you have to make sure that you understand what steps you're taking. So you don't end up tearing things up along the way. And then putting yourself in the same position a year from now, because you still want to have a career in this particular role. So it's a bit of resistance, it's knowing that you were brought in to do the right thing. And under taking that noise and putting it to the side and then continuing to move things forward. And, you know, for those people that have that situation that run into the constant pressure, is that you just need to make sure you're really transparent about what you're doing so that people can see especially the people that are invested in it at a high level, they can see the progress because they they want to see how this understandable thing called customer experience is going to turn into something tangible, like more efficient, and lower cost of delivery of service and more sales and better engagement to where there's more referrals and all those types of things. You need to you need to connect those for them and make it very clear what you're doing is going to impact that. So that's what I would say to them.

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