Curt Simon Harlinghausen

Managing Director
Miele X
"We will serve customers on their motivations, no longer on their needs."
Curt Simon Harlinghausen, managing director of Miele X, talks about Miele’s plans for the future and how he's using technology and data to develop a fully customer-centric brand. Just what will Miele’s digital face look like in 2030?
Curt, what is Miele X, and how did you join?
‘I gave up some of my projects and jobs to be part of Miele X; first as a consultant, later in the managing role. Miele X is the customer-facing side and we collaborate with our product-facing side and IT to accelerate our footprint in this digital world. We are a community of experts, nerds, geeks, strategists, crazy, super-intelligent, ambitious people in the digital world, to create premium experiences, outside of the product itself.’
What does that mean for consumers?
‘We are creating an environment where we have a high consistency of relevant content at all the different touchpoints in the digital world. We do the data behind that, the analytics, the customer engagement, CRM. We build the web shop, we make sure that Amazon products have the right descriptions, the right pictures and videos, and that we serve that up in the right format, the right amount and at the right time for the right device.’

So, when I google ‘premium dishwasher’ and a Miele link leads to an experience… Is Miele X then responsible for the content behind that?
‘That's a bit simplistic. First, we want to make sure that you find us, even if you don't type premium or the right dishwasher. When it comes to consumer-centricity and channels, that is our work. We have different divisions taking care of the whole marketing spectrum. We take care of enablement, infrastructure and technologies. A division called BCX creates the content and makes sure it matches the expectation of the consumer. On the product side, we have yet another unit.’

So, you're basically shaping Miele’s digital future? What will this look like in 2030, from a customer perspective?
‘We will serve customers on their motivations, no longer on their needs. We will be able to identify what is driving the consumer at a particular time and on a certain touchpoint. So, we won't even care about male, female, or whatever. We’ll just look at behaviour and what triggers them to interact with our brand. And how can we overdeliver on their expectations? That is our aim for 2030; not only in communication, but also for products and the full experience from A to Z.’
That's a big vision for the next few years. Can you describe the road ahead?
‘On the one hand we see the development of the mindset within the organization to being customer-centric. We come from a very strong engineering background, from the wonderful idea of fulfilling a certain engineering part. But is this resonating with the consumer? Not often. Sometimes. Is it relevant? Is it bringing much value? Sometimes there is a communication gap. We try to connect those two worlds with each other.’
Isn't Miele already customer-centric?
‘The claim since 1899 is 'Immer besser': forever better. Yes, we are good, but we're not as good as we want to be or where we believe a premium brand should be. We want to be fully consistent wherever we go.’

What sets Miele apart from its competitors at the moment?
‘The biggest differentiator is our long-term vision, which means that our products run for 20 years. This is the sustainable way to go. Second is UI. Using a Miele appliance is self-explanatory.’
Is Miele's digital acceleration about e-commerce and marketing, or does it include new online products and services?
‘Absolutely, we see that in our smart home sister division. For example, we have a Smart Food ID. So, you put a tray of croissants in the oven, and the oven asks you if you want them baked brown, medium or light. Then you press the button and it pings when they're done. Also, our laundry products can analyze with sensors how dirty your clothes are, and then use the required amount of detergent.’
Which platform works best for Miele X in collecting consumer data and gaining insights?
‘We’re customer-centric and interact with consumers where they are most comfortable, whether it's through Miele's app, social media platforms, the website, or even at dealerships and dealer websites. The choice of platform depends on consumer preferences and consent.'

Does Miele’s future lie in direct selling through dealership platforms or will the company still depend on resellers and flagship stores in 2030?
‘It depends on consumer choices. Miele will continue to have dealerships, which are a strong foundation of our success, and we value our partnerships with dealers. In some markets, such as the UK, direct-to-consumer online purchases are prevalent, while in Germany and the Netherlands, dealership relationships are still prominent. We aim to enhance the dealership experience but if the consumer wants to buy directly from us, we will offer that service too. We’ll always explore new avenues for growth and innovation.’

You have always been an entrepreneur; Miele is your first employer. Why Miele?
‘Because it is a family-owned business with long-term visions and fast decision-making capabilities. I appreciate the freedom and entrepreneurial environment within the company, allowing me to utilize my creativity while still meeting objectives and managing budgets. I’m very much involved in the change and transformation efforts here.’

Is this very different from running your own company? Or do you feel that you really run this Miele X shop?
‘I run Miele X 100 per cent. But of course, I'm responsible for my actions and all the actions of my team. We have objectives and targets. I have to manage my budget, be compliant and follow all the rules. But I also have some creativity to make the most out of it, driving everyone to the right direction. It's a learning for me, but I'm very curious and I love the environment. Our people have deep knowledge in at least three different fields, so we can give them different tasks in our organization.’
Where do you find those people, considering the current talent-scarcity?
‘We source the web, through GitHub and Behance and look at people who have delivered what we are looking for, and then we start approaching them. We hired nearly 200 people in 2022, currently we try to stabilize. Now we have to make sure that the machine is running efficiently.’

Is it also part of your job to foster a customer-centric culture within the global organization, and work with Germany and other countries?
‘Absolutely. We have a very close relationship with every market. And we have a couple of alliances within headquarters, so we drive that as a joint effort. When it comes to customer-centricity we are the driving force, together with our brand people.’

Can you give more concrete examples of initiatives which you rolled out in terms of personalized digital experience?
‘In Canada, if you walk by a Miele Experience Center, which is our own retail store, you may get a notification on your phone with a free coffee offer. We know what coffee you like, and we know what machines you own; but only because you gave us the information. Once inside, we can show you our new outdoor kitchen. And if it was your birthday yesterday, we'll even give you a small gift.’
To enable this, I’m guessing Miele has its own customer data platform.
‘Yes, we rolled out our top-notch CDP through Bloomreach over the last two years. We want to know as much as possible about our consumer. But all under consent. Every market is different and we want to be exactly relevant to every individual in every household, without over-penetrating.’
If CDP is the future of marketing, which role will agencies play? Will traditional advertising become obsolete?
‘It will become a niche. Generative AI development is taking over. Content production, CGI, like videos, pictures, targeting, segmentation; all that is going to happen out of a computer. You have to be the creative to control it and make sure the direction is right. And then you have someone to oversee if it's legal, if the content is up to date. But that's it. There is a huge shift in this industry.”

Should production agencies be worried?
‘No, you should see it as an opportunity to move into that kind of production service.’

It must be a challenge to inform and inspire all your different markets. Do you have no-sayers?
‘No, but we do hear: "I don't get what you want from me." Markets are very different. In China everything lives in the messenger world, video selling or social selling. In the UK, everything is digital world, there's a lot of e-commerce. But Spain is still a haptic world. So, we have to educate the markets on their needs. For this, we have skill book and dedicated teams to make sure there's a tight connection and a continuous exchange with all the markets.’

Will creativity become more important for companies in the future?
‘Yes, because if everyone is using the same generative AI it will be hard to differentiate.’
Can AI ever be truly creative?
‘Absolutely. The question is: do you like what the AI is producing and creating? And does it resonate with everyone else? That is a matter of taste.’

So, we’ll always need that gut feeling?
‘For the next 50 years, I expect so.’
How are you currently using AI at Miele X?
‘We use machine learning. There's IP issues and legal constraints, so we're really careful. We're experimenting on dedicated devices, but we're not using it for our daily work. There is still so much uncertainty on where this is going to go and what it means for all of us. So, we're observing, we're testing, learning from it, but we're not intervening with our current setup.’

You like reading. What is a great entry-level book on digitization, personalized experience and AI?
‘I would go a different route and read Doc Searls’ The Intention Economy. Because we’re going away from needs and more toward: what is really driving you? What's triggering you? If you understand how to tackle that, that is one thing. The other one, Persuasion by Roberto Cialdini, is about how to tickle people in the right way and get them encouraged.’

What do you love most about technology?
‘The sheer, unbelievable number of possibilities to change every day. With technology you're not limited anymore, and that drives me crazy.’

You describe yourself as a bit of a nerd. At your own company CH5, you had the title of CNO: Chief Nerd Officer.
‘For a couple years it just said ‘nerd’ on my business card. What I love about data and insights is that you can learn about the whole world from a different perspective. If you understand where the data's coming from, if you have the context of the data, you gain knowledge you could not even imagine. That is the power of data.’
What tech advice do you have for young marketers?
‘Build, test, try out. Don't be afraid to fail. Fail fast. Don't be afraid to talk to people who have done a lot of things. Learn from them. Try to improve what you have learned. That is key. And don't forget the human side, never fully count on technology.’

What keeps you awake at night?
‘Work. I'm a workaholic, so I sleep between four and a half to six hours per night. I don't have tv. What would I need it for? I run my companies, I interact with my family, and I like to learn continuously. Learn, learn, learn, learn. Sometimes, when I’m tired, I can get distracted by TikTok. I'm amazed at how good their algorithm works. So, I watch videos about farming, basketball, hacking stuff or men's jokes, whatever.’

Who inspired you?
‘Alex Schultz from Meta. In the early 2010's he guided me into a direction which helped me to be successful. He was impact-driven and I got a different definition of impact through him.’
About Curt Simon Harlinghausen
Self-declared tech nerd Curt Simon Harlinghausen is the managing director of Miele X, since July 2021. Prior to joining Miele, Simon founded several companies, sold a few, and was the very first client of Facebook in Germany. He lives on a farm with his family.

About Miele X
Miele X is the global digital hub of Miele, the well-known household appliances company. Its’ goal is to help Miele accelerate digital growth worldwide and deliver an enjoyable consumer experience in the digital world. Miele X is an innovative platform where cross-functional teams collaborate in the area’s of e-commerce, data & analytics, performance marketing and IT.
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