Customer 360: Innovative Collaboration through Technology

Zack Hicks, North American CIO and Group VP of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A
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Zack Hicks, North American CIO and Group VP of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: “Visit us online to take our survey!” Or, in the social media world, “follow us on twitter!” “Like us on Facebook.”

Visit us. Follow us. Like us.

But it’s really not about us; it’s about the customer. Toyota customers are the reason we exist. When our customers make public comments on social media, why not listen to what they are telling us? Our place in the market is determined by how well we know them—so why aren’t we following them? Not in an invasive way, but in a way that honors what they are saying publically.

“Customer 360 also strengthened the relationship between IT and the Business by building a self-optimizing and self-service analytics platform”

Between shopping, buying, and maintaining a vehicle, Toyota owners interact with our brand roughly 30 times throughout the ownership lifecycle. Whether they’re visiting an auto show in Detroit, chatting with a representative on our 1-800 line in California, or visiting a Toyota Dealer in Connecticut, our customers expect to have one seamless conversation.

This means any representative from Toyota—from a salesperson to a social media representative—should be able to pick up the customer’s conversation from where the last one ended. This is only possible if all customer interactions can be accessed by all Toyota representatives.

Social listening tools are now ubiquitous, but using them is like reading the paper. It’s a lot of good information, but there’s not much you can do about it. These tools allow you to see what people are saying about your product, but they don’t let you take that next step to understand who your customers are and how you can proactively engage them in a meaningful way. For example, if a customer tweets that they had a bad experience with a product or service, why not have the ability to tweet back a resolution to the customer without having to drudge through the details about who they are, what store they visited, and which product they purchased? This is all internal customer data that should be readily available to you and your business leaders.

Connecting the data sounded simple, but building a platform to do this was a different matter.

And then we had a breakthrough. At our annual innovation fair, a team in Information Systems used open source technology to create a prototype that integrated our internal data with the data collected from our customer’s social media interactions. It was the first time we could get a complete picture of our customers’ brand interactions on one platform. This technology wasn’t just new to Toyota, it was new to the world—a game changer. As CIO, my job was to cultivate and grow this idea and keep it from getting lost in the fray of operational and project demands of our IT department.

Here was an opportunity for Toyota to not only gain an unprecedented level of insight into the voice of our customers, but to drastically improve our ability to provide them with a personalized customer experience. As exciting as this was, our work had only begun. The idea and capability existed, but the road to production was unclear, and first I had to win the support of our business leaders. My team and I also drove critical conversations about the ethics of monitoring our customers’ social media interactions. Though this information was technically public, we still had to be mindful of our customer’s privacy, or risk losing their trust.

Over the next year, we met with the Business and shared our vision for Customer 360. These meetings focused on Customer 360’s ability to bridge the customers’ interactions throughout Toyota. As an example, by democratizing the data, a Toyota dealer will have the ability to view a public Facebook conversation between a new Tundra owner and a Social Media representative. Customer permission allowing, when the Tundra owner stops by a dealership, the dealer can follow up on the Facebook conversation and ensure that the owner is delighted by the level of service he is receiving.

Customer 360 is so named because of its ability to give Toyota a holistic view of our customers by uniting data gathered from a customer’s digital lifecycle with data gathered by Product Quality, Customer Service, Public Relations, and Marketing. If these groups had not agreed to tear down their individual data silos, IT could not have enabled this tool. Their cooperation created opportunities for several notable collaborations between IT and the business. One such example was the collaboration between IT and Corporate Communications that resulted in the creation of the Social Media Intelligence Center. Using Customer 360’s social media analytic technology, the center’s social media team can respond to rising trends in real time.

Customer 360 is all about connecting. Whether we’re connecting Toyota with its dealers or internal data with data on the web, we are making it easier for our owners and enthusiasts to connect with the Toyota brand. It makes 1-to-1 marketing a reality. Customer 360 also strengthened the relationship between IT and the Business by building a self-optimizing and self-service analytics platform that enables Toyota to transform customer information into customer insights.

Customer 360 is a great example of how cutting edge technology was applied to the right challenge. Technology is irrelevant unless it’s focused on making lives better; this is why we see IT focused on enabling business to work smarter and more efficiently. CIO’s are uniquely positioned to drive innovative capabilities for their companies, and I strongly believe it’s our job to drive these types of innovation proactively before a need arises. If you wait for a customer to place their order, it’s too late. It’s imperative that we step outside of the IT role and help solve the business’ challenges. That’s the type of fun and exciting work your employees want to be involved with.

We encourage all associates, especially IT associates, to do this at least once a year at our company Innovation Fair. Associates from all over Toyota step away from their day job, unite with others from around the company, and use their expertise to solve Toyota’s business problems.

It’s no surprise that Customer 360 was born at this event. The Executives responsible for judging the entries were blown away by the Customer 360 prototype and awarded this project with funding to make it a reality. As a CIO, I can’t tell you how important it is to do this.

Challenge your associates to step outside their daily role and find ways to solve problems that face the business. Give your associates the tools, let them create, and stand behind their efforts. After all, we’re in the technology business—there’s no better place to make innovation happen.

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