【Interview】95% Intention to Continue! Okayama Toyopet aims to further improve customer satisfaction by using Line Chatbot to promote “Easy Digital.”
From the left to right are Okayama Toyopet’s Mr. Izaki and Mr. Suenaga,
Zeals’s Mr. Shimizu and Mr.Ōe
“In any case, it has made our customers and employees feel more relaxed,” said Mr. Suenaga, President and Representative Director of Toyopet. Toyopet is the first car sales company to introduce the “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation.”
The company, based in Okayama, is engaged in the automobile sales industry. In February 2021, it began offering the “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation” which uses a LINE chatbot in collaboration with Zeals.
In comparison to other companies in the same industry, Toyopet has focused on “customer contact” and “customer satisfaction,” so why have they decided to take a step into DX (digital transformation)? On top of this, what kind of results have actually been achieved since the introduction of this service?
For this interview, we spoke with Mr. Suenaga and Mr. Izaki who played a central role in this project.
The Long-Standing Problem of “Differences with Customers” Over the Phone
Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. First, let me ask you a few questions about the background of the system. I understand that your company places a lot of value on time for customer contact and service, but what were some issues that you had before introducing “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation?”
Mr. Izaki: We were aware of the miscommunication that can happen between customers and sales staff on the phone. Customers are required to make an appointment before vehicle inspection, but the ways to make a reservation were limited. Since our main methods were by phone or email, no matter how hard we tried sometimes, there were cases when we couldn’t accommodate our customers’ needs.
For example, some problems that we had were that appointments made outside of business hours were inevitably handled the next day and when sales staff returned calls, customers were not necessarily available. I wanted to relieve the stress from both parties, and to utilize the sales staff’s time wisely. I have long thought that I would like the team to spend more time providing essential value to our customers.
Q: Other than by phone call or email, I believe that the company had communication methods similar to LINE, but how did you utilize them?
Mr. Izaki: We have been using the company’s LINE account to attract customers to our store events. Compared to phone calls, the LINE account allows us to communicate with customers at their convenience, has a higher open rate compared to other tools, and lets us easily register customers as friends, but before “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation,” it was a one-way street.
Mr. Suenaga: I think that LINE has become an integral part of Japanese people’s lives. However, even though every dealership has the desire to use LINE to increase contact with customers, the reality is that although they have tried to introduce it, they are not doing it well.
LINE was originally made to be a C2C (Customer to Customer) communication tool, but when used as a B2C (Business to Customer) tool, it unfortunately becomes a one-way communication platform. Unlike other industries and services such as fast food, because car dealerships don’t have many points of contact, I don’t think they are making good use of LINE.
Mr. Izaki: From this point of view, I think that since customers can actively use “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation,” it will be effective. This is one of the reasons why we introduced it.
The WIN-WIN-WIN Relationship Realized with “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation”
Q: Even though you were faced with such challenges, I think you had to make a decision to take a new approach. In actuality, did you feel any risks in using a LINE chatbot for some of the most important points of contact with customers in your company?
Mr. Suenaga: I didn’t think of it as a risk, you know? As I mentioned earlier, we had always wanted to better utilize LINE, and we also had issues with the conventional ways of making reservations. We thought that “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation” could be a simple service that would solve our problems and issues. Most importantly, I thought it could be a service to benefit customers. Furthermore, because I thought that this could also be a service with a WIN-WIN-WIN relationship for the sales staff and company, rather than thinking of it as a risk, I saw that this could be a great benefit for everyone.
Q: Since I think there were no preceding projects to “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation,” how did you feel about the situation?
Mr.Suenaga:Well, thanks to Zeals’s speedy proposal, we were able to make a quick decision and our decisions were also responded to immediately. The Zeals team was able to combine together the fast sense of speed typical to start-ups, with a hands-on approach that is not so typical for startups. I really appreciated the fact that they took the time to understand our field, listen to our concerns, and helped us solve our problems.
Mr.Shimizu: I am really happy to hear this. I hope all of my team members will be able to hear this.
If there is a successful experience with “customer satisfaction,” even a new system can be properly executed within a company
Q: Please tell us what happened after you decided to introduce the service. In general, I hear that some people are reluctant or resistant to the introduction of a new service, but how was it in your case?
Mr Izaki: To be honest, there weren’t any big hurdles. The “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation” system is not only beneficial to customers, but also to the sales staff and the staff who make reservations. Also, it took almost no additional working hours to implement, so it was smoother than I thought.
Mr. Suenaga: If the sales staff thinks, “This new service is great,” then it’s a win-win situation isn’t it? To be honest, right after the decision was made to introduce the reservation system, I think the staff felt unsure and thought, “We’re introducing a new service again?”
However, Zeals’s service ended up being really easy to use and the customers are happy. I think the staff were especially happy with the fact that using this system resolved a lot of problems between them and customers. Naturally, by experiencing this kind of success, the team will want to use the system more and more. Surprisingly, there aren’t any systems or services like Zeals.
Mr. Shimizu: I remember the first time I made a proposal to the Okayama Toyopet team. The two points that they were concerned about were if there was enough man-power to launch the system and if it would be a burden to the team. Even if it is a good service, if it takes a lot of extra work to manage and operate, it might not be a good fit. Because they told us their concerns, we focused on designing a system around the question, “How can we make a service that does not burden the staff?”
Mr. Suenaga: I’m sure there are many great services out there, but if the time and effort needed exceeds a certain point, then the staff might reject it since it’s additional work. However, Zeals’s service is ultimately a service that reduces working hours for staff. This is a very important point. By the way, is the “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation” being introduced at other dealerships as well?
Mr. Shimizu: Thanks to your support, although the service has just been introduced, more than ten Toyota Motor dealerships have adopted it. The reasons for each dealership introducing this service are quite similar, which is either as a follow-up system for their existing customers, or using it to better meet their needs by understanding how to use LINE more effectively. Recently, the service has been increasingly used together with the “My Toyota Maintenance Handbook.”
100 reservations were made during Golden Week when the store was closed. The service successfully facilitated customer service outside of business hours.
Q: Please tell us about the success after its introduction. It has only been a few months since you’ve started using the system, but have there been any visible results or changes in numbers?
Mr. Izaki: First of all, the number of LINE friend registrations has increased. When we first started using LINE to attract customers to our store events, the number of registrations was increasing, but recently it has become stagnant. However, since we started using “LINE Easy Warehouse reservation,” the number of registrations has been consistently increasing by 1,000 users every month. Looking at reports from the customer service team, it seems that customers are saying things like, “I didn’t know this service existed. Thank you for telling me about it,” and “It’s so convenient.” Because of comments like this, it motivates all of our customers to use the service.
Mr. Ōe: I think it’s very important to make things convenient for the customer. Even if you have a LINE account, there are many cases when customers don’t see the benefit in becoming friends with a company that just sends one-way messages. However, with the launch of the “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation,” people started to realize, “I can make reservations with this service! It’s convenient!” As a result, according to the staff, more and more people have registered as friends.
Q: We heard that there is big success even during non-business hours.
Mr. Izaki: Yes, that’s right. Like previous years, we had a long vacation during Golden Week, but with the introduction of the “LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation,” we were able to receive more than 100 reservations during the break.
In fact, if you look at the statistics after launching “LINE Easy WarehouseReservation,” half of the company’s reservations are made outside of business hours. Prior to using the service, the basic method for customers to make a reservation was by calling the company during business hours, but this was not an effective system.
I’ve discovered that even if I reply to an after-hours inquiry during working hours the next day, I still get a proper response when using LINE. I feel like in this area, the service has been very effective. According to the results of our customer survey, 95% of customers who used the LINE reservation system say that they will use this system again for their next reservation. As long as customers aren’t changing their cars, I think that the number of LINE reservations will continue to increase.
Mr. Suenaga: Other than that, I have heard from on-site staff that things have gotten “easier.” Compared to the customer service work being done before, the elimination of misunderstandings and unnecessary working hours is huge. I think customers and staff were stressed about these things.
In addition, the better the sales staff’s performance, the busier they become, but you can help manage this to a certain extent using LINE. In fact, there is an increase in on-site staff saying, “This is a great service!” If it wasn’t really a good service, I don’t think there would be this kind of feedback.
Q: You must’ve been worried how much support a startup could give to your company. Please tell us what you thought of the Zeals’ support system.
Mr. Izaki: To be honest, I didn’t expect to get such great support. Even though we were the first store to introduce the system, I felt supported since the Zeals team worked together with us through the PDCA cycle. In the past, I’ve introduced many new services, but I’ve never had such strong support. Not only did Zeals ask for the leadership’s opinions, but they also wanted to hear the opinions of on-site staff, and this made us feel reassured that they cared about the entire dealership.
Mr. Suenaga: Actually, this isn’t the first time that I’ve worked with Mr. Shimizu. We worked together during the 2019 Okayama Awards, but at first, I still had my doubts of “how far would they be willing to go for us?”
However, our concerns were soon resolved. Zeals took the initiative to do things locally, which is something that Toyota Motor Corporation places importance on. I felt that Zeals was different from other companies and I think the members and staff who were involved in this project felt this way too. There are many companies that prepare exceptional proposals and can do sales, but there are not many companies that willingly go on-site to work together with our team. This attitude gave me confidence in them.
Digitalization isn’t our goal. Using “easy digital” to become closer to our customers is the purpose.
Q: Finally, please tell us about the future prospects for both companies.
Mr. Suenaga: Our company uses the phrase, “easy digital,” but “Line Easy Warehouse Reservation,” needs to be a service that is intended to deepen the relationship that we have with customers. In the end, it all comes down to whether the customer is happy or not, and if they want to use the service or not. Digitalization of a company doesn’t necessarily accomplish the intended goal of DX (digital transformation). I don’t see digitalization as just a way to get rid of paper. I think that it is important instead to introduce services that are well-intentioned and are services that customers want to use.
Mr. Izaki: We aren’t necessarily trying to go digital. Instead, we are simply trying to streamline parts of our company by digitizing them and to use the extra time created as a result to give our customers the proper attention they deserve.
Mr. Suenaga: Yes. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we do things by paper, telephone, or digital, as long as the customers want it. In this case, customers chose digital (i.e. LINE Easy Warehouse Reservation), and are happy with it. In the future, I would like to continue not being ruled over by short-term DX decisions and to put customers first when thinking about digitalization.
Mr. Shimizu: I feel like I have come to understand the importance and meaning of “easy digital”, and I want to keep this attitude in mind as we tackle future challenges.
For the future, I want to work on making the LINE chatbot into a comprehensive contact point, which customers can use to make reservations for test drives, receive used car appraisals, and get insurance reviews. We will continue to do our best to expand the omotenashi (hospitality) practices that can make both customers and staff happy, such as we did with the Okayama Toyopet initiative.
Thank you very much for this opportunity!