In 2017, Mr. Dieter Zetsche, the Chairman of Mercedes-Benz Group, together with other board members set up a strategic goal for the entire Mercedes-Benz Group. We want to raise our retention to 60% by the year 2022. In order to achieve this goal, in early 2019 our digital retention team started a project named “Pre-Inspection”.

Aiming for a retention increase opportunity

The aim of this project is to develop a digital and scalable pre-inspection solution, in order to turn the pain point of leasing customers into a business opportunity and increase retention. Our final goal was not only to bring a new tool/service to our end customers but also to rethink and design a nice experience both for our end customers and dealers when returning a leased vehicle. Meanwhile, with the new design, the retention rate could be enhanced. However, in the beginning, it was still a question of how we can create the impact, making our customers lease more Mercedes cars by offering a smooth leasing return process.

Challenges in finding a scaled solution to the current dilemma across markets

This project is aiming to enhance the experience for Mercedes with more than 31 million leasing customers across more than 35 markets. The biggest pain point for our customers actually is quite clear. By the end of their leasing contracts, they need to book an inspector to check if there are any damages to their vehicles. Later based on the inspector’s report, the dealer will charge certain fees for the damages. Quite often, the fees will be very expensive. This will definitely bring a negative emotion/impression to the customers. But there is no direct evidence that shows by solving this pain point the retention rate can be actively enhanced. So, as the project team, we need to discover a scaled solution to the current dilemma.

My Role

As the lead designer in this project, one of my responsibility is to lead the user research, leverage user insights to build the bridge between pain point solving and the company’s strategic goal, inform the design decisions and product strategy.

Apart from that, I also took the lead for UX, UI & concept direction to ensure the adoption of a user-centric approach and gain leadership buy-in. During the time, I collaborated closely with POs (PMs), developers, Sales & Marketing experts, and other designers to ensure alignment with a cross-function team and the requirements are clearly transferred into design solutions.

Expert Interviews – Business Context Synchronization

In order to have a deep and clear understanding regarding the topics, such as inspection, leasing, and retention, several workshops were organized together with both internal and external experts. Lots of insights were collected during the workshops. And these insights were used as the foundation for the next step “Hypothesis”.

Hypothesis – Ideation & Initial Prototype

By using expert interview data as the backbone, 6 hypotheses were gathered and transferred into storyboards. After the evaluation, 3 hypotheses/storyboards were selected to develop further. Based on the services which were shown on the storyboards, 3 simulated service advertisements were created. And with several times internal tests and iterations, the final storyboards and service ads were used as initial prototypes in the user research.

User Research I – Narrow down directions

In total, three locations (Beijing, Chicago, and London) were selected to run the user interviews. For each Location, 5 interviewees were invited to join the research. By using the prepared interview guideline, the participants were firstly interviewed with a focus on their current experience. After that, the service ads and storyboards were shown in order to gather some more concrete feedback regarding the hypotheses. All interviews were recorded and brought back to Germany for further analysis.

Analysis Insights & Design Iteration

Following the Design Sprint, firstly, all records were reviewed in order to recall and emphasize all findings and opportunity areas. The results of all interviews reflected that

1. In China, the concept “concierge service” was commented as the favorite.

2. However, in UK, people love “Web App Service” most.

3. In US, the “digital garage” was the most preferable solution.

In order to balance the pros and cons, and finally come up with one clear direction, we did a deep analysis to understand the possible insights and thoughts. In the end, we found out that, for the “digital garage”, the end customers were inspired by the technology itself rather than the whole experience.

After talking with the market experts and considering the implementation costs, the hypothesis “Web App Service” was proved both by customers and internal teams. And this hypothesis was determined as the final concept to go further. In order to make the concept concrete, more detailed ideas were generated to meet the different user needs. By involving these new ideas, the storyboards were also iterated. And in the end, as an addition, a digital app prototype was created.

Leverage customer insights to remove ambiguity and achieve company strategic goal

During the research phase, one interesting finding was end customers didn’t want to care about the return process too much, and the repairing fees were not their main focus. The most important thing for them at that moment was “which is my next car?”. Benefited by it, we shifted the goal of the tool from offering a quick and clear evaluation of damage costs to offering a personalized offer by using damage costs as a possible discount opportunity.

Furthermore, I proposed an idea that “6 months before the end of the contract” could be good timing to step in. Because at that time moment users already start to think about their next vehicles, but they still haven’t thought about which brand the vehicle could be. If Mercedes can step in and influence customers’ decisions by offering a solution for the pain point combined with a new personalized, we would have a great chance to keep our customers staying with Mercedes. My idea gained team appreciation. It can be a perfect match with our strategic goal “enhance retention rate”.

Not just thinking of one end, but more stakeholders

To create accurate personalized offers, dealers are the necessary partners within the process. We also designed a dealer font-end to involve dealers. And through them, personalized offers will be generated and sent out.

User Research II – Concept Validation and Usability Testing

A series of testing interviews were conducted with the iterated prototypes. Various insights and feedback were clustered to improve the design, both for the service and the app.

Customer Journey & Service Blueprint

A customer journey was synthesized to demonstrate the entire service based on the prototypes and the customer interview insights. Besides, a service blueprint was also defined to help deep understand all possible stakeholders. Until now, the product was clearly defined. By using the service blueprint, all stakeholders could be easily onboarded and aligned for the next steps.

Rollout & Impact

The retention rate of the selected pilot dealers was significantly being doubled with the beta version.

With the product, customers’ pain point is clearly resolved and even turned into a business opportunity. The company’s strategic goal was expected to be achieved within a shortened time.

Instead of collaborating with startups, we decided to develop the AI by ourselves, which means at the beginning the accuracy of AI could be relatively low. In order to reduce the impact, I reanalyzed and refined the design. Ultimately, a product roadmap was defined to describe how we can step by step achieve the product vision.

Although after the refinement, some user experience was sacrificed for an accurate AI. But, since the sacrifice was managed to be minimum, the user feedback was still quite positive. With the gained leadership buy-in, even during the development the product continuously got more sponsorship and ultimately rolled out in different markets.

For confidentiality reasons, I have omitted the actual values for these metrics.