Lexus Drives Sales With New Focus On Call Center

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Lexus credits its 1998 record sales partly to the personalized call center service that resulted when it implemented Clarify's FrontOffice software.

Lexus will sell more than 140,000 new cars in 1998, bringing the total number of units in operation to more than 700,000. Of the sales, 70 percent are from repeat buyers.

"What differentiates us from the competition is service, the way we handle our customer relationships. We want to be sure their experience with Lexus as a company matches their experience with the car they buy," said Carroll Gordon, customer satisfaction operations manager for Lexus.

Unlike the mainframe-based system Lexus was using, the integrated call center solution from San Jose, CA-based Clarify allows Lexus to manage additional workload without adding more agents, she said.

Currently, less than 25 dedicated call center agents manage approximately 120,000 calls per year from customers requesting information on a variety of topics -- from general requests about new vehicle availability to very specific questions on topics such as vehicle repair.

The call center has seen an estimated 10 percent gain in efficiency and a substantial decrease in training time and costs, said the company.

Lexus, the luxury vehicle division of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., competes with several auto makers for a niche market of luxury car buyers with high expectations for both product quality and service.

To ensure each customer receives personalized attention when they call in, customer requests are handled from start to finish by the same call center agent. Previously, agents had to hang up with the customer, research hard copy files for information and then call the customer back.

The process is now streamlined to improve efficiency and customer responsiveness. For example, the Clarify system automatically routes each incoming call to the appropriate agent and creates a screen pop that provides the customer's name, account history and other relevant information.

"Our agents have all the information they need at their fingertips and our customers know they're talking with someone who understands their request," Gordon said.

The system integrates functions such as word processing and literature fulfillment to improve agent productivity. Previously reps had to spend time away from their desks to look for information and send literature.

Agents now spend their time on the phone with customers. "They're less stressed and more efficient," Gordon said.

Lexus plans to go beyond providing its customers with fast, responsive support. The company will also use the detailed VOC (voice of the customer) information it gathers through the Clarify system to deliver better service, and to improve its processes and products.

According to Gordon, this VOC data is crucial to Lexus and is reviewed on a monthly basis by executive management, as well as major departments. Using Clarify, Lexus managers can quickly create and analyze detailed reports on customer requests and preferences -- enabling the company to improve its response time to new trends and customer issues.

Toyota also plans to provide its extensive network of dealers with Web access to the Clarify system, giving them the same capability as its call centers to view customer information and manage requests.

"A large portion of our calls are [from] customers seeking product information and vehicle availability," Gordon said. "The Clarify system is going to help us provide those answers a lot quicker, and allow our more than 175 dealerships to deliver the same level of personalized attention we provide in our own call centers."

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