The road to happiness: how Mazda aims to have the most satisfied customers in the world

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A year ago, Mazda launched a new in-house Customer Relations Centre. Leading the project is Andy Beale, the Customer Service Operations Manager. Here he explains how Mazda aims to have the happiest customers of any car company.

Mazda C Relations © Michael Bailie 16-2780

 “For many people, a lot can happen in a year. Whether it’s buying a new car, moving home, getting married or having children, those 12 months can fly by in a blur. I know that feeling of days blurring into months. A year ago, my team and I launched a new internal Customer Relations Centre for Mazda UK. We had a simple objective: transform Mazda owners into the happiest, most satisfied drivers on the road.

Everyone involved knew it would be a huge task. At the start of the journey, Mazda was languishing in the lower levels of customer satisfaction surveys. By 2018, it aims to be the third highest non- premium ranked car maker. By 2021, it has a vision of being the best in the world.

This is what Mazda calls ‘Challenger Spirit’, where we set out to make things better, evolve and improve.

Mazda has revitalised its entire range of cars with radical new approaches to the design and engineering of new models, winning no end of plaudits along the way. Even the dealer partners’ showrooms have been rebranded to reflect the new range of cars.

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Are there any early signs of success? The answer is a resounding yes

Now the company wants to achieve the same level of transformation with its customer service. And in the UK, it’s my job to turn the vision into a reality.

I have worked with the business for 17 years. Before launching the in-house Customer Relations Department, based at the UK headquarters in Dartford, I spent 18 months as part of a Mazda Europe working group. This identified the necessary steps needed to ensure Mazda customers were as happy dealing with the brand as they were pleased with their car.

Mazda, Dartford. Dartford, England. 11th November 2015. Photo: Drew Gibson.

One year in, and following the best part of a £1 million investment in staff, training and IT systems, are there any early signs of success? The answer is a resounding yes.

Under the previous structure, which saw a number of external agency partners handle Mazda customer relations, the average volume of calls that could be resolved first-time was 35 per cent. After a year of the new in-house operation, that has almost doubled, to 68 per cent.

That’s not all, though. The average email went unopened for four days; it’s now one day. The volume of ongoing cases has fallen from an average of 156 to 101. And, arguably most impressive of all, the typical duration of a customer case has tumbled from 35 to just three days.

Who contacts Mazda? What about? And how?

In all, the brand enjoys around 10,000 points of contact a month. Those can take the form of phone calls, emails or correspondence on social media. As many as 5000 of those are phone calls, and around half are from Mazda owners. Of the remainder, the majority are Mazda dealers making arrangements on a customer’s behalf.

Calls could be about a wide range of issues, from requests for information on still-to-be-launched new cars, such as the all-new Mazda MX-5 RF which generated a lot of enquiries ahead of its public unveiling, to practical issues around updating a Mazda’s digital service record.

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Other customers call to complain. And it’s here that Mazda’s fresh approach to customer care shines through.

Every call handler is deemed a Resolution Manager. It means they are given the power to take decisions on how best to proceed without having to escalate a case any further. As an extreme example: if a customer were to suffer an issue after the Mazda warranty had expired, we have a loyalty matrix that helps us decide how much support we could give them. Our team could authorise a solution without any need for a supervisor’s approval.

We have been successful because we empower our staff. And we ask them for suggestions on improving processes, with 50 per cent of those suggestions influencing our approach. This empowered approach is built around four key pillars: Easy; Surprised; Connected; Personal.

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The technical team is the ultimate resource for customers, Mazda dealers and independent garages

Nicole Bassett is a Resolution Manager. She explains that a key advantage of adopting an in-house set-up is something as simple as having Mazda’s technical team sitting right next to the relationship managers.

“There are times when I don’t know what I’d do without the technical team,” she says. From troubleshooting mechanical maladies that might have left a dealer’s technicians flummoxed, to sourcing obscure components for equally obscure Japanese-market Mazdas that have been imported to the UK by private individuals, the technical team is the ultimate resource for customers, Mazda dealers and independent garages alike.

In an age where it’s possible to buy an Audi, BMW or Mercedes for broadly same price as a Mazda, creating an unrivalled ownership experience can give crucial advantages in a competitive market.

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The next step on the road to happier customers is a live webchat, which will be introduced before the end of the year. A new generation of customer prefers to use social media, and automation or virtual assistants are an industry buzzword. However, we believe that where an expensive item such as a car is concerned, it’s still reassuring to have an understanding person at the other end of a phone or handling correspondence.

Naturally, the company stands to gain more than thank-you cards in the post and the satisfaction of knowing its customers are driving around with a warm glow about Mazda.

By the sixth year of the project, it is expected to make a positive contribution to the business. How? By reducing the risk of drivers turning to another brand, increasing levels of customer loyalty and improving advocacy.

It’s been a heck of a year. But our drive for happier customers has only just begun…”

Mazda C Relations © Michael Bailie 16-2819

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