Firm recruits consumers for online forum to help design, improve cars.
Eric Morath / The Detroit News
Nitpickers, armchair engineers and crabby car buyers, Chrysler LLC is looking for you.
The automaker today starts recruiting members for its Customer Advisory Board, an online forum where Chrysler staffers solicit direct feedback from car buyers.
The idea for such a network is taken from consumer giants such as Nike and Apple, but will be a first for the auto industry, said Debra Meyer, Chrysler’s chief marketing offer.
“We want to harness insights and customer dreams into things we can use concretely with our different groups, such as engineering, design, marketing,” she said.
Those with a strong interest in vehicles – you don’t have to own a Chrysler product – are invited to apply for membership in the 2,000- to 5,000-person board. Applications are online at www.ChryslerListens.com.
Filling the slots on the unpaid panel shouldn’t be a problem, Meyer said.
“A lot of people are interested in the American car business and are interested in seeing it succeed,” she said.
The applications will be reviewed so the board represents broad demographics and ranges of interests. The board will likely be divided into subcommittees, for example, young women and truck drivers.
Unlike Chrysler’s current means of customer feedback – complaint lines and focus groups – advisory board members will be able to engage in dialogues with Chrysler staffers.
For example, members could be asked about their favorite room in their home, and how features of that room could be incorporated into a vehicle.
Meyer said the company will react quickly to suggestions.
“Maybe two weeks” before the first suggestions hit designers’ drawing boards, she said.
Board members will be able to see online videos and presentations from Chrysler and start their own discussions on the site, said Justin Cooper, chief of innovation and marketing at Passenger, the Los Angeles-based firm that developed the advisory board model for Chrysler and others.
Passenger’s technology breaks down conversations with up to thousands of users into understandable data for the automaker.
Cooper said the online community also could help Chrysler sell its existing cars.
“Once these socially networked individuals gain more access to information and give their feedback, they become passionate advocates for the brand and help sell it to others,” he said.
The advisory board fits with the oft-repeated industry theme that the customer is king. Automotive analyst Erich Merkle said some companies, however, follow customers to a fault and then wonder why products don’t sell when they have “everything the customer asked for.”
“It’s good to get down to the grassroots,” said Merkle, of Grand Rapids-based IRN Inc. “But that gut intuition of knowing what the customer didn’t think to ask for is what separates a hit like the 300C from a flop like the Sebring.”