Lexus already had world class service; how could it be improved?
When Peggy Turner was offered the promotion of a lifetime, she almost didn’t take it. The new job would mean longer hours and more travel. And her new boss, she noticed, never made it to any of his son’s soccer games. As the coach of her own son’s soccer team, Peggy was concerned she might not be able to do both and she didn’t want to give up either.
So, she consulted her ‘board of directors,’ her friends, family and husband, for advice. Everyone said take the job. So, she did.
Using transparency to problem solve (and to get to the soccer match)
To manage both her commitment to the new job and her commitment to her son’s soccer team, Peggy was open with her new boss about the conflict. Her boss worked with her to help keep her commitment. He realized that’s what he had to do in order to keep her.
Soon after, Peggy was asked to make a presentation to the company president, scheduled for the end of the day at the precise time she had to leave the office to for her son’s soccer game. Peggy and her boss agreed she could present quickly and then excuse herself to make the soccer game.
But it didn’t work out that way; the meeting got a late start. The president was interested in learning more about Peggy and her customer service insights. The conversation quickly ate up 20 minutes and soon Peggy had the sinking feeling she would miss the soccer match. Her boss shifted the conversation to Peggy’s presentation, noting that she needed to leave. The division president quickly caught on and sensed Peggy’s conundrum: her love of her family, matched by her love of her job. She said, “he smiled and said … send it to me in email.” Peggy left the meeting smiling, too; she knew her decision to take the promotion was the right one and that for her, Toyota was the right place to build her career.
Another promotion and the biggest challenge of all: turning customer service into customer experience
After 21 years at Toyota, Peggy was offered another impressive promotion: to vice president of customer experience at Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand. While she was excited to have the opportunity, this might be the biggest challenge of all: Lexus was already known for, and loved by its customers for, an excellent customer service reputation.
The Lexus covenant is to “treat customers like a guest in your home; we want them to always delight our customers and our programs and our reward systems are focused on that,” Peggy said. When Lexus launched in the U.S. 27 years ago, offered as the luxury step up from Toyota, Toyota chose its top dealers to represent the brand. “We wanted customer service to be what separated us; a good product was not enough,” she said. And the philosophy was a success; many customers buy one Lexus after another purely for the customer service experience.
How could she possibly improve on that?
That ‘aha’ moment: What women really want (hint: respect, comfort, style)
But digging deep into customer and dealer feedback, Peggy learned a few things: first, getting more women into the Lexus sales force would make customers feel even more welcome and comfortable in their dealerships, and would likely bring in new customers. “I became aware of customers saying ‘as a woman I’m afraid to go into a dealer,’ or saying, ‘I don’t want to haggle,’ ‘I don’t want to get my car serviced there because they’ll rip me off,’ ‘I have to bring my husband or another male’ to the dealership.”
She also learned from surveys with potential employees that women need more flexible schedules. The real estate industry, for example, was one that had successfully created flexibility in scheduling so that women can take balance business and family obligations and do both well.
Changing the Lexus showroom chemistry: Add more women, millennials, multicultural customers
Soon after, Peggy became the champion and captain of the next era of Lexus service: The Lexus Difference. This pilot program takes a thoughtful approach to how women, millennials and multicultural customers feel in a Lexus showroom; it’s designed to bring into the dealership and make them feel more comfortable–both customers and employees.
“I considered ‘how do we change the environment so that women and millennials feel comfortable going to a dealer and purchasing their car? How do we feel like a family to them?'” Peggy said.
The first thing that is needed is more women in the sales force. But hiring women was a challenge. Not only were the flexibility of schedules an issue, as the research had shown, but wardrobe was an issue, too.
And that was a finding she could identify with; how could Lexus project the feeling of luxury when women working in its showrooms don’t feel at home in the same khaki pants and polo shirts the men wore? “I don’t want to wear khaki pants and a polo shirt,” Peggy said. She noted that the research revealed another success factor among real estate companies: realtors can wear what they want, and that increases job satisfaction.
Bringing a new sense of fashion to Lexus showrooms
And Lexus Wear was born: a designer label- inspired line to offset the men’s polo and khaki look. The line is a finely crafted collection of separates that sales associates can purchase to wear at work, designed to make them more comfortable and help female customers identify with the women working in the dealership, and also, present a unified and branded image among the sales associates. The clothes in the line include dresses, pants, skirts, jackets and blouses, all coordinated to work together; a line of accessories extend the look and offer even more combinations.
The smell of luxury and success, soon to be found in Lexus showrooms
But the look of the employees isn’t enough to complete the Lexus Difference. Also revealed in the research is that a pleasant scent enhances the ambiance in the showroom. Diffusing fragrance in spaces such as stores and hotels has been a growing trend, and no place needs it more than a car dealership: all the hard surfaces cleaned daily with stringent products, and the attached service bays that carry the natural odor of rubber, gas and oil, add up to a particular olfactory challenge. Peggy and her team took this on as part of the Lexus Difference, developing a signature fragrance to be diffused in dealerships, further branding the company with a distinct fragrance.
Keeping up what Lexus does best
One of the things Lexus customers love most about the brand’s service commitment is helping them to mount the new car learning curve. As in-car technology gets more sophisticated, it’s harder and harder for customers to absorb all there is to learn when they pick up their new car. A few years ago, Lexus created its own ‘genius’ approach, with a single dedicated tech specialist in each dealership to help customers learn how to get the most out of their cars. These tech specialists will take as much time as is needed to make sure every customer knows how to use all the technology their new car offers. Peggy helped to launch this program, and took it a step further, encouraging dealerships to have their tech specialists make house calls if necessary. “We want you to get the full benefit of your car,” she said, so “if you can’t link car to garage door opener, we send someone out to help.”
Helping women women in business as a way to build the Lexus business
To further create relationships with women, Lexus recently announced a partnership with the Women Presidents’ Organization, (WPO) a worldwide organization of successful women entrepreneurs. “Lexus is excited to be the first automotive company to partner with such an elite organization. Not only are we passionate about empowering people to make the world a better place, but by supporting WPO events and community involvement, we’ll gain insights to refine the dealership environment to appeal more to women,” Peggy said, all while continually striving for a superb guest experience.
Mentoring at home, too
Admittedly, dividing her focus between work and family was a challenge while she and her husband raised their two sons, now 19 and 22. But Peggy values the big picture lessons that her sons took from her career path. Cameron, who is 22 and working in supply chain data analysis at Toyota, “now knows what I do, he can relate to what I’ve done all those years,” Peggy says. “It’s so rewarding; he said ‘Mom I’m so proud of you,’ and looks to me for guidance.”
She’s also proud that Cameron drives a Lexus IS Turbo; her husband drives a Toyota Avalon and Peggy drives a Lexus Es 300H hybrid. She loves the great gas mileage, powerful engine and huge back seat for her adult children.
And she loves that if she needed it, a Lexus technician would have made a house call to sync the garage door opener for her.