How Toyota of Melbourne is succeeding in the new economy
Changing times causes certain business to analyze how the market is evolving and innovate to take advantage of changing or new customer expectations. Others fail to adapt, or wishfully think things will go back to the way they were and often end up bewildered when clients go elsewhere.
Long before American businesses were rushing to respond to he coronavirus pandemic, Toyota of Melbourne’s Christopher (Chris) Heinze began putting in place an innovative approach to car buying and service. These creative steps made for a much more user-friendly customer experience, but also helped them adapt to the new realities created by the pandemic lockdown.
“Our approach was informed by what could be called the ‘Amazon World’ we live in, where the customer experience wasn’t completely based on visiting our showroom or service department alone, but rather bringing those services and access to the customer,” Heinze said.
He explained that, typically, customers would come to the dealership to look at cars, find out what their car payment might be or what financing rate they might qualify for. Now, instead of or before coming into their facilities on US 1 in Melbourne, many of these questions are answered online.
However, their vision went beyond this first phase. Now, customers can look at cars, pre-qualify to own them and then participate in a test drive or delivery after on-line sales is approved with the car delivered directly to their location of choice. The same system also was implemented to schedule repair or service: Toyota of Melbourne picks the car up, takes it to the dealership for repair or maintenance and returns the car to its driver when completed.
To facilitate purchases, Heinze said, “We built our own digital platform called EZ-Purchase, where customers can log on, play around with different payment options, see terms and special interest rates. It allows them to go as far as they want into the process, over as long a period as they chose and is extremely secure. Most eventually want to come into the dealership, but they like it because the process is almost complete before they get there.”
Engaging Technology with a Personal Touch
This approach was something Heinze began working on three years ago. With a team, they developed this platform locally, because, though Toyota corporate is working on something like this, they wanted a system that was intuitive for their consumers and reflected the uniqueness of this region, especially from a financial and regulatory basis, as these things vary from state to state. They also wanted something they could bring to market as soon as possible. They factored in the reality that car buying isn’t something people do on a regular basis, therefore, Heinze wanted it to be intuitive and as easy as possible for customers to complete at their pace.
“You have to approach developing something like this from the consumer’s perspective. It was something we knew we had to jump into as soon as possible, so we could work out the glitches early on,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, it has worked way beyond our expectations, in terms of not having to go in and rework the platform, though it is still evolving.” The team went live with the platform about a year ago, but just now are starting to understand the foresight of the move, especially during this recent the coronavirus pandemic.
Toyota of Melbourne is also working on an app for the service side which customers can use to track pickup and delivery in addition to how the vehicle is moving through the service continuum. Heinze said it all began when they asked themselves ‘How do we fit into the future?’ The answer was making the customer experience easier and being more mindful of people’s time. “As busy as people’s schedules are, we had to make doing business with us easier and more convenient,” he said.
This approach, coupled with Toyota’s reputation for automobiles that are beautifully designed, technically sophisticated, and which bring remarkable innovation at a price that is affordable to most people, positions them well in the market. The Toyota Corolla has been the bestselling car in the world, with the Rav4 being the bestselling midsize SUV and Prius, always one of the top hybrids. In fact, Heinze said that Toyota’s early entry into the hybrid market has enabled them to make their hybrid models more affordable and reliable than many of their competitors.
Another service provided at the dealership where this customer-centric approach is having a major impact is their Platinumwerks Collision Center. They intentionally branded this part of the company differently, because they wanted the community to know that their services went beyond the Toyota brand.
Because of the technology that goes into vehicles today, including very complex sensor equipment and aluminum body parts, manufacturers have recognized that the typical body shop is not always equipped to complete accident repairs as they were done in the past.
Toyota of Melbourne saw this evolving over time and began making substantial investments in their collision repair department, which is now certified by major foreign and domestic car manufacturers. Typically, manufacturers do not sell parts to repair services that are not factory authorized to do the work, mainly because of the liability involved.
“We made a commitment to be certified in as many brands as we could,” Heinze said, citing luxury brands such as Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Audi, Ford and of course the Toyota and Lexus brands. Certification is currently in process for BMW and VW, and the equipment to make repairs on these brands has already been purchased.
When one of the most appealing portfolios of automobiles is coupled with a simplified approach to sales and service that is industry-leading, it’s easy to see why Toyota of Melbourne continues to capture both new clients while maintaining a vibrant return-customer base. Additionally, with many clients choosing incentivized lease options, which maintain full warranty while offering the latest technological and safety options – along with a faster new car cycle update – consumers with varying needs find the dealership appealing on every level.
“Between our products, our people and our innovated approach to service, we feel we bring what customers are hoping to find,” Heinze said.