Turns out all that hub-bub about John Deere's reveal didn't pertain to a machine. Instead, we are given Chatterbox, a transportable studio designed to allow the company to capture customer comments in an effort to increase its already successful customer advocacy strategy.
In an exclusive interview during Deere's media tease the night before Conexpo-Con/Agg opened, CEO Sam Allen let a smile escape when I challenged him on whether the secret was a machine at all. Deere execs had just shown us how each of its new machines had been engineered with extensive, almost continual, customer involvement and input.
I asked Allen how the new Customer Advocacy Groups (CAG) differed from the ones Deere has used in the past.
"It's a natural evolution," he said. "The last five or six years, we've had customer groups. At the start, we'd bring them in, we'd listen and understand. Then there'd be some phone conferences. Then in six months we'd bring them in again. Then we'd let them see the prototype. It was more of an iterative, sequential process.
"This is more continuous feedback and sitting on the design team almost on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis."
Allen went on to say that they would be using media and technology to increase their ability to understand the customer. This, as we discovered 16 hours later, was Chatterbox.
Chatterbox is two rooms: a warmup room and a recording studio. According to Deere, the customer is greeted in the warmup room and made to feel comfortable with the upcoming feedback process. That process takes place in the studio next door. A quiet room (the noise from the Deere booth was inaudible to me), the customer sits in a chair, cleverly designed as a operator's chair. To the right is a touchscreen leading the customer to answer some questions, then choose that area he or she wants to comment on.
The topics include general industry comments, Deere, other OEM brands, or "Just Rant."
Once the customer is comfortable, he's left alone in the room. He is then free to share anything and everything, which is recorded via two unobtrusive video cameras.
Chatterbox will initially be used at dealer events and other tradeshows. Although one of a kind today, Deere says others will be built.
For the equipment editors who went home a bit peeved Monday night, Chatterbox didn't really satiate the anticipation built up for a new machine from Deere. But from a design and engineering perspective, Chatterbox will pay off for equipment managers. If Deere continues to capture customer needs and execute against them, we will see the results in their new iron.