What the DMV Taught Me About Brand Trust in the Age of Algorithms

After I shifted my residency from Pennsylvania to Virginia, I put off for way too long the job of going to the DMV to change my driver’s license. When I finally went recently, it was just as awful an experience as I expected. While I did lose years off my life, I also came away with new insights about customer experience and brand trust in the age of the algorithm.

We’ve already seen some of the consequences of mysterious data working behind the curtain: consumers creeped out by odd friend recommendations on Facebook, re-targeting that haunts us like a stalking ex-, and the famous dad who learned his daughter was pregnant from the checkout clerk.

And the more analytically powerful and automated our environments become, the more potential there is to deliver experiences that make consumers scratch their heads or become uneasy. As we leverage the awesome capability of marketing technology, we’ll need to keep several thoughts in mind:

It’s OK to Keep Some Things Behind the Scenes

There may be operational realities that consumers may not understand or appreciate. If it’s an unavoidable issue, you may not need to give them all the details and risk firing them up — but use all your analytic power to let them know how to best deal with it.

DMV: Don’t tell me about 4-hour lunch zones. Help me find the best times to come, but knowing about your extended dining schedule just makes me mad.

If It Is Visible, Make It Really Intuitive

In situations where you give consumers a peek into the inner workings of the machine, present it in clear, human language. Make it a no-brainer why it’s happening, and illustrate the benefit to the consumer — not to your operations. If a front-line associate can’t explain it without sounding invasive or self-serving, perhaps you should rethink it.

DMV: Don’t just tell me you’ve figured out a weird system of Letter Tickets that works for you: help me understand how it helps us ALL get out of here more quickly.

Set Expectations Upfront

When consumers are engaging with your data-powered environment, let them know what’s coming, how to expect things will work and what your guiding principles are, especially during those first forays into AI. Context provides comfort and pre-explains what might otherwise appear mysterious.

DMV: If I’m a difficult “D”, help me understand why that is and let me know that I should take blood thinners to avoid deep-vein thrombosis while waiting in a chair.

Build — and Maintain — Trust

This is the most foundational issue. As consumers place more of their daily life in our hands, and as marketers hand more execution over to the algorithm, we need to make sure consumers trust us to make the right choices. That will mean living up to expectations, exposing our core values, and doing right by them — even when it’s not first choice for us. A good litmus test here is to ask whether a front-line employee could comfortably explain your analytics-driven action to a customer — without appearing creepy, self-serving or otherwise disturbing. If not, then maybe you shouldn’t do it.

DMV: You haven’t earned the right to have me trust your system without understanding it. Start by understanding me, and the pain I suffer with you, and then set and live up to my expectations to build a foundation of a trusted relationship.

We’re entering uncharted territory with self-driving cars, AI-driven medical diagnoses and spouse-finding apps. In order to make this all work, we’ll need to be thoughtful about how and when we expose the inner workings of this technology and how to help consumers get trust us with it.

And now wish me luck — I’m camping out on the sidewalk like an iPhone groupie so I can be first in the door at the DMV tomorrow with my dreaded scarlett “D.”

Author: Peter Horst

Marketing has never had a greater impact on the business, and at the same time it’s never been more complex and challenging. The CMO Viewwill dive into the wide-ranging issues faced by CMOs as they navigate digital transformation, connected consumers, disruptive competitors and the need to justify their marketing investment.

Peter Horst is a Fortune 500 CMO and innovation leader who has spent three decades driving growth across diverse industries, ranging from consumer packaged goods to telecom, cybersecurity to financial services.  His experience includes leadership roles at Hershey, where he was most recently CMO, Capital One, TD Ameritrade, and General Mills. Peter has been part of creating and building some of the world’s most iconic brands through breakthrough innovation and award-wining marketing campaigns.  Awards and recognition include Cannes Lion, CMO Club Marketing Innovator Award, being named a Forbes Top 50 Most Influential Global CMO, and #22 of the top 500 global CMOs by Execrank.  Peter now speaks, writes and consults on marketing, innovation and leadership, and is a frequent contributor to CMO.com and other publications. Follow Peter at @peterhorst.

6 thoughts on “What the DMV Taught Me About Brand Trust in the Age of Algorithms”

  1. Hi Peter, I love the guidelines you set out and have shared your suffering. I regret the lazy trend towards using analytics to optimize situations rather than reinvent them. Optimization is easy, but often yields to experiences you just outlined. Rethinking the experience with data at it’s center is much harder as it requires empathy, analytical thinking and guts to blow up the way things are done today. That is the real promise, but few seem to deliver it well.

  2. If there were an alternative to dealing with the DMV for your license, registration, etc., I’m sure that their system would be much more responsive to your needs. Hence the problem with a single-payer health care system. Imagine, that in addition to dealing with the government for your drivers license, you had to go through the identical process in order to manage your health care. Competition is always good for the consumer.

  3. You had me at D. Love your sense of humor. You speak for all of us. I believe the core word here is EMPATHY. When we enter into an establishment any establishment we are there to be served not to serve. Otherwise,we would be on the other side of the fence and D would be called right away not because we are made to feel disturbed, difficult or get back to the end of the line disgusting, but because we are Delicious. Not running away at peak times 11-3pm. You are right, she did not have to let you in on that dining insight ( TMI )… I would have found the nearest coffee shop or bar and tracked them down! Let;s just move the DMV to a happy hour near by. Having said that, I cannot imagine the load they have to take on everyday. You and I are only one person. Can you imagine? We get to walk out and go about our day, like dropping off your grandchildren-feeling the ease of watching tv in silence again. They are in it all day. So? Maybe what works for them may not look like it is working for you on the outside, but if we were standing in their shoes, what is working for them is helping them to work for us. (if)They could just throw in a few hugs, we would then get it 😉

  4. At an even more basic level why is the process like that in the first place. I was bemused by the whole thing when I first moved to the US. Where I came from there is no such thing as a DMV – it’s all online.

  5. I can easily relate and empathize with your story. Vehicle registration is the bane of those who own vehicles. The worst experience. And I would say that this is typical of a government operation. And there’s a reason government operations operate so badly. The employees have no incentive to make your experience pleasant because there is no penalty or reward for doing badly or doing well. And the employees know they need not react to the real world since there is no personal feeling of satisfaction at a job well done or a customer well served. At the DMV among other government facilities, one is not interacting with a organization that cares a whit about customer satisfaction. We can only imagine the wonders that await us with such as a single payer healthcare system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *