Brand on a Mission: Dealership Delivery/Technology Specialists Aim to ‘Take Lexus to the Next Level’
June 12, 2012
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Feedback Loop -- Jan Person, sales consultant at Earnhardt Scottsdale Lexus captures the role-playing interaction between Julie Kobayashi of Lexus of Thousand Oaks and David Dallaire of Arrowhead Lexus during a recent training session. The video recorded on the iPad was later reviewed and critiqued by all of the dealership personnel who participated in the exercise.
Vince Salisbury knew he and his team had their work cut out for themselves when Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager, returned from the Lexus Dealer Meeting in December like a man on a mission.
“For Mark, this was the priority of the meeting,” says Salisbury, Lexus College dealer education manager. “He is really passionate about this. He believes it will take Lexus to the next level.”
What is this “this?” It’s Lexus partnering with its dealers to create two new certified positions: a Lexus Delivery Specialist (LDS) who introduces customers to their new vehicles and a Lexus Technology Specialist (LTS) who serves as a resource for customers who have questions about how to use their vehicles’ advanced features, including the Lexus Enform telematics system.
While Templin is now championing these two new positions from the top down, the seedlings for this initiative grew from the bottom up. Two dealerships, Sewell Lexus in Dallas and Superior Lexus in Kansas City, independently recognized the need to help their customers get up to speed on the increasingly complex features found on Lexus vehicles. Sewell Lexus, for instance, recruited Alex Oger away from a nearby Apple retail store’s Genius Bar to serve as the dealership’s technology guru.
“Mark visited these stores and saw the impact firsthand,” says Salisbury. “Their customer satisfaction scores were through the roof. Mark came away convinced that every Lexus dealership needed to make this commitment.”
And the sooner the better. In 2007, Lexus’ national support line received 5,000 calls from customers in need of help operating technically sophisticated features. By the end of last year, the volume had jumped to 13,000. If that trend continues, the load is projected to rise to 20,000 by 2014. While Lexus will continue to offer phone support to its customers, Sewell Lexus and Superior Lexus proved that on-site personal assistance is more effective.
“It’s very difficult to explain how systems like Enform work over the phone,” says Salisbury. “It’s much easier to assist the customer in person at the dealership or at their home or workplace.”
So, at the dealer meeting, Templin challenged every Lexus dealer to designate a LDS and a LTS and commit to their certification. That, in turn, challenged Salisbury and his team to develop the training and begin offering it to dealership personnel in just two months.
“It was a very quick timeline,” says Salisbury. “Mark made the announcement in December and wanted us to roll out the first class in February. And, of course, we had the holidays in between.”
But they pulled it off, taking advantage of technology to teach the specialists how to communicate with their customers about technology. With the exception of an introductory PowerPoint presentation, all of the training is facilitated by iPads loaded with custom-built applications that foster interactive, hands-on learning.
This technology-focus is balanced with the Toyota Production System philosophy of “takumi,” or master craftsman. Over the 2.5-day session, each participant is required to complete four takumi exercises aimed at helping the specialists become master craftsmen at the art of explaining Lexus vehicle features and technology.
For example, in one exercise, the specialists-in-training demonstrate how to operate a vehicle’s cruise control system. The participants form groups of three. The first plays the role of the customer, the second plays the role of the specialist and the third captures the interchange in video on an iPad. The specialist must tailor the presentation to the customer, who is profiled by a mock Facebook page. After each participant has played the role of the specialist, the groups reconvene to watch and critique the videos.
“We pay close attention to habits,” says Salisbury. “For instance, you don’t want to do everything for the customer. You want to encourage them to do it for themselves. That’s how customers learn how to operate the features and new technology.”
This routine is repeated for more complex features, such as pairing and unpairing smartphones, navigating to a destination using voice commands and making a dinner reservation using Open Table, included in Enform’s suite of applications.
Throughout, the participants can draw upon a wealth of resources loaded on the iPads. Some of the material, like vehicle owner’s manuals, are in iBook form that can be searched by section or key word. Other support tools are full-fledged applications, such as GS Operations, that offers a detailed and interactive walk-through of all the major features found on Lexus’ new sport sedan. A similar application is in the works for the all-new ES to launch late summer.
By the end of June, Salisbury says some 2,400 dealer personnel will have completed the training and each Lexus dealership will have a certified VDS and VTS in place, assisting customers. It’s anticipated the dealers will equip these new specialists with iPads so they can take full advantage of the support materials and, in turn, share these resources with their customers.
“Lexus owners can access the information on their own, come in to the dealership or contact their dealership via phone, e-mail or iPad to get the answers they need,” says Salisbury. “The idea is to give them what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.”
Customer interactions mediated by iPads offer the added benefit of, over time, providing Lexus with valuable insights on owner preferences. For example, specialists can rate the level of owner understanding of the features. Lexus specialists follow-up with owners to help improve their understanding of the features.
Salisbury says Lexus will continue to support its newly trained specialists as they develop their skills. An online forum is in the works that will allow dealer personnel to connect directly with one another and share best practices.
“When the specialists leave the training, they understand the commitment we are asking of them and they’re excited to become customer service takumis,” says Salisbury. “No other luxury auto maker is doing this and rolling it out to all of its stores and for all of its vehicles. Once again, Lexus is raising the bar on customer care.”
By Dan Miller