putting the customer in the driver’s seat

March 25, 2016

From the beginning, a conscious decision was made to have good customer service as a strong differentiation point for Nissan Motors India—something most people would expect from a global corporation like ours. It is an important attribute for us to focus on, especially since we have a reputation for stellar customer service in all the other markets we serve. Nissan’s philosophy on customer relationship can be broken down into two parts: the technical part, and the relationship part, i.e. the softer element. A combination of both parts is required for a proactive approach that can address a customer’s needs, preferences, and issues.

learning our lessons

612-1Compared to most of our competitors, we entered the Indian automotive market quite late. However, we have driven forward thanks to the many lessons we learnt. The first lesson was figuring out how to ensure that the vehicle’s functionalities are properly explained during delivery. Even one small explanation—especially about technical aspects—is important, and goes a long way in helping connect with the customer. Ideally, we like to take our customers through each and every part of the vehicle for them to develop a complete understanding of their new Nissan.

The second lesson is related to the fact that 80% of vehicles sold in the country are financed. Multiple interactions take place during the process of buying a financed vehicle. In addition to the regular aspects such as test drives, model variants, and exterior colors, we also have to deal with completing all the financing formalities. The customer’s experience of how the financing process is managed has a great impact on overall customer satisfaction.

The third lesson is to ensure a truly memorable experience when a customer is taking delivery of the vehicle. In India, buying a vehicle is a major landmark in life, an achievement. Understanding how to make this emotional experience a memorable one is a key learning aspect we have benefited from.

Reaching out to customers and following up with them is also important. Indian consumers appreciate a proactive organization, rather than one that only deals with them in the event of any issues. Our commitment to the customer extends beyond the sales phase, so why should not the excellent customer service? Most manufacturers offer good customer service only during the phases where they can influence the decision-making process. At Nissan, we understand that our relationship with the customers is a long-term affair, and we strive to deliver a good experience consistently.

feedback is critical

In the last few years, we have moved to the top three in the industry in terms of customer satisfaction. It is a big achievement for Nissan since the other companies in the top three are quite reputed, have been doing a good job for around twenty years, and understood the nuances of the Indian automotive market. For a new entrant like us to break into this top three is something we are quite proud of.

One of the reasons for our success is that we proactively seek feedback or suggestions from customers. We deal with the qualitative aspect of feedback, not the quantitative. Sometimes the comments are critical, but we value them the most. We see it as yet another learning experience and an opportunity for improvement. We contact 70-80% of our customers over the phone and the data we collect is quite rich, especially if it can tell us about problems that need ironing out. It also fits in perfectly with our execution of the PDCA (plan-develop-check-act) cycle; every month we create an action plan based on all the feedback we receive.

Product design and development is a continuous process, and is dictated by identifying what is important for the customer. The feedback we receive is to be parsed for the right information. For example, based on our research, we ensured Nissan cars in India are different from their international variants in subtle ways—glove boxes that can be locked, softer clutches, louder horns, etc. All the changes are derived from market feedback, and not just from our customers alone. This helps us to think beyond merely the technical aspects of the vehicle during the product design phase.

innovating solutions

Innovation is one of the driving factors behind good customer service—it is all about understanding the customer’s needs, both visible and latent, and offering the best solutions. Adopting good practices from all industries—not just the automobile industry—helps us to innovate unique solutions for Nissan owners. For example, we may look at a fast food giant that is renowned for delivering good customer service on a consistent basis. In the fast food industry, delivering food on time is of utmost importance. How does one company offer quality food despite the time constraints? And what can we learn from them? Any lessons we pick up can undoubtedly be adopted by our service centers to deliver a time-efficient service, without compromising on quality. Similarly, it also inspires us to strive and come up with best practices of our own that others can learn from.

Having an innovative approach to problem solving can be quite helpful in India, where attitudes towards life vary as greatly as the country’s geography. In Mumbai, people want their cars delivered on time, and do not appreciate any dilly-dallying when picking up their vehicles. By contrast, people in Faizabad are more likely to make the delivery experience last and do not appreciate being rushed. Fine-tuning practices based on the market being served, rather than having a strict uniform policy across the organization, sometimes requires
out-of-the-box thinking.

campaigns for happy customers

Many companies organize some kind of annual service campaign. However, the idea behind why they do so is never truly clear—apart from actually servicing the vehicle, little goes into connecting with customers. We see the ‘Happy with Nissan’ campaign as a wonderful way to remind customers that they not only own a Nissan but are also a part of a bigger family. It goes beyond simply servicing vehicles; it is about making connections and letting customers know what the true joy of owning a Nissan can be. Once again, delivering a delightful experience is of prime importance. Think of it as going to a hospital for a health checkup. You could go to a hospital where tests are carried out efficiently, but you are treated merely as a patient—one that needs to be fixed and sent on their way. Or you could go to a hospital that carries out the necessary tests efficiently while treating you with care, courtesy, and a creating a relaxing environment. You will always prefer the latter option. Similarly, we shape Happy with Nissan workshops to help us connect with our customers on a deeper level. For example, we have activities for children while their parents can get an eye or a heart checkup at one of the medical camps. In this day and age, it can be tough for people to find time to care about their health. Happy with Nissan allows us to take care of our customers and remind them how important they are to us. Preventative health care is just one of the many initiatives of the campaign. At all our camps, we try to create a carnival-like atmosphere. Our staff, from technicians to managers, mingles with customers and treats these camps as a rich source of feedback. Besides the Happy with Nissan camps, which we conduct twice a year, we also conduct smaller camps regularly, such as when launching a new Nissan dealership.

empowering the employee

Employees across all levels contribute towards creating a culture that thrives on customer service. The All-India Service Head will oversee Regional Service Heads, who will have Area Service Managers to deal with the dealerships. People at all the levels are empowered to make decisions that will help us deliver a better customer experience. The Area Service Manager does not have to revert to the head office for every decision he or she makes. Giving employees a certain degree of autonomy adds value to the entire organization. It instills in the individual employee a sense of responsibility, and makes them aware of how their decisions affect customers and can have an impact on others in the organization.

We continuously assess the roles of our employees and dealerships—workshops are conducted, meetings are held, and conversations had over tea. We sit down with employees, listen to them, talk to them, and reward our top performers. This provides us with an opportunity to bond with dealership employees, floor supervisors, technicians—people at the frontline of the customer-service chain. Consider the classic movie Sholay. It has characters like Soorma Bhopali, the jailor, Kalia, and Samba—although they have limited screen time, they remain memorable and quotable four decades later. We want to foster a culture where an employee’s value is not determined by their ‘perceived’ importance, but based on what they bring to the organization. Establishing such a culture motivates employees at all levels to excel at customer service.

the empowered customer

Social media platforms are empowering for customers; they use it to share their experiences, opinions, and feedback. For Nissan Motors, being active on these platforms is beneficial since we then get access to instant feedback, both positive and negative. It also provides us with an avenue to instantly connect with customers and help solve any issues in real time. This is a far cry from when people had to go to a dealership for the smallest of queries or issues. As a company, we are moving in the right direction, and three months or so down the line people we will be more active on social media. We live in an age where people can tweet a 140-character review of a car from their smartphones, moments after they have picked up their new vehicle. The voice of the customer has been given a new dimension and this undoubtedly will also help us provide them with a better customer service experience.

As told to Ranjan Mukerjee.

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