Customer Service - the
relentless pursuit of perfection
Written by Shirley Lichti for The Record,
May 16, 2001
For Lexus Canada, the relentless pursuit
of perfection isn’t just a fancy tagline in its advertising efforts.
It’s a philosophy the automotive company lives by in everything
So when Lexus recently asked me to speak
to its Canadian sales managers on the topic of customer service
excellence, I was perplexed. Here was an organization that was already
doing a great job. How could I possibly help it improve?
Then I remembered a scenario last fall when
one of my third-year marketing students at Wilfrid Laurier University
came to see me about a project mark. She had received an A- and
said she wanted to understand what she had done wrong.
I was shocked. Most students would have accepted
the mark as "good enough." At first I thought she was simply angling
for a higher grade.
But I quickly realized that although she
accepted that A- was a very good mark, she genuinely felt she could
do better and wanted to discuss how to do this.
Similarly, while Lexus is recognized for
excellence, like my student, the company isn't content to settle
for "good enough." It always wants to improve, do an even better
job and achieve the highest grade possible.
And that presents a special challenge. When
you are already doing a good job, it's unlikely you will realize
a quantum-leap type of improvement. Instead, you need to adopt of
philosophy of continuous improvement and inch your way toward the
For Lexus, the focus on improving customer
service is especially important because it competes in a market
where product innovations provide competitive advantage for less
and less time. While it continually adds new safety features such
as vehicle-skid controls and accident-prevention systems, it doesn’t
take long for competitors to introduce similar product improvements.
Today, the most sustainable competitive advantage
comes from consistently providing exceptional customer service.
So according to Dan Borg, Lexus Vehicle Sales Manager, the company's
dealers commit themselves to providing the highest levels of product
quality and customer service.
This philosophy is outlined in business-card
sized document called The Lexus Covenant. It emphasizes valuing
customers as important individuals, treating them the way they want
to be treated, exceeding their expectations and "treating each customer
as we would a guest in our home."
At the bottom of the card are these words
for the dealers: "In the eyes of the customer, I am Lexus!!!"
To ensure the company meets or exceeds customer
expectations, Lexus conducts detailed customer satisfaction surveys.
If weak areas are identified, full reviews are held with the dealers
and corrective action plans put in place.
In one case, Borg said, the surveys identified
poor parking as a concern at some dealerships. Interestingly enough,
it was the most successful dealers that had the most limited parking,
a situation created by having plenty of inventory on the lot, plus
the cars of prospective customers.
To address the problem, Lexus rolled out
an inventory-pooling system, that allows dealers fast access to
products. In addition to improving customer service, the system
results in less damage to vehicles because there is reduced handling.
The Lexus focus on customer service and continuous
improvement extends even to non-front line staff. For example, Borg
said, staff members responsible for moving vehicles about on dealership
lots are trained to ensure that if they see customers in need of
help, they can and will respond appropriately.
While Lexus has its own internal "university"
to deliver training, it also studies excellence in other organizations
outside the automobile industry. And it hold seminars where trainers
like me remind dealers that when it comes to customer service, no
magic formulas exist, excellence is achieved through practice and
Delivering excellent customer service has
its challenges. When you set the bar high, customer expectations
go up, too.
On one occasion, for example, a Lexus client
was involved in an accident. Although his car had been repaired,
he claimed he no longer felt comfortable in it and asked the company
to replace it with a new vehicle.
In the same way, a woman who noticed a very
slight imperfection in the paint in a doorjamb also demanded to
be given a brand new vehicle.
Borg says that dealers need "to set expectations
for what will happen when a customer arrives at the dealership to
pick up a new vehicle. If the delivery is not handled well, it reflects
on the entire company."
Achieving satisfaction can sometimes be complicated.
Clients are often excited about getting the keys, and don’t always
want to be shown all the features of their cars, or learn how to
book a service appointment. It's important not to neglect these
activities, however, Borg says. "Dealers need to strike a fine balance,
showing new customers the ropes and maintaining the excitement for
repeat customers, making the experience as pleasant as possible."
Like my student, Lexus understands that there
is always room for improvement. And so it continues to strive for
the relentless pursuit of perfection, day in and day out.