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Toyota and Salesforce.com partnership brings CRM dashboard to driver’s seat

Toyota Motor Corp. and Salesforce.com are partnering to bring CRM to a new frontier: the dashboards of consumers’ automobiles. The companies said in late May that they will launch “Toyota Friend,” a private social network using Salesforce Chatter, its social marketing tool, in Japan with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles next year.?

“Their vision of Chatter is a way to have a new relationship with customers. They can send messages to a customer’s car, as well as information about products and updates,” says Robin Daniels, director of product marketing at Salesforce.com. “You can get a message through Chatter in your car, connecting customers and their families with Toyota. This is geared towards a 21st century way of ?working together.” ?

Toyota will use the private social network to send consumers a variety of product and service information, such as maintenance tips and advice on creating a better car ownership experience. For instance, Chatter could send consumers a tweet-like alert if their battery is running low, advising them to recharge. ?

Although Toyota’s plans call for a private network, consumers will be able to extend their interaction to others through Twitter, Facebook and other social networks and access ?Toyota Friend through their smartphones, tablet PCs and other mobile devices. The company said it has yet to determine how the platform will ?affect the carmaker’s other CRM ?initiatives. ?

“Much has yet to be determined about how this service will be funded, so we cannot say exactly what kind of budget effect it may or may not have on other programs,” says Paul Nolasco, spokesperson at Toyota Motors. “But we will be able to reduce costs by shifting Toyota Internet services and dealer-customer relations management systems to open-platform cloud computing. That will help us be able to offer Toyota Friend for free.” ?

The main purpose of the private social network is customer interaction, rather than marketing, says Daniels, who noted that Salesforce.com has more partnerships in the works but declined to provide details. “It’s about having a connection with your car. This feed can be pushed through Chatter, Facebook and Twitter,” she says. “No matter where you are, you get awareness in your vehicles.”?

Industry analysts note that a private social network for Toyota owners could be as utilitarian for consumers with concerns about their car as any other interest-based social network. ?

“It makes as much sense to build a social network around car ownership as it does to build them around their music or sports or what have you,” says James Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “For automakers, this won’t replace other channels like call centers, point of sale, or outbound email, but social in-car would be just another channel they add to their CRM strategy.” ?

He adds that the private network will also enable the automaker to stay aware of any major concerns its owners have. “It can provide a great platform for real-time customer feedback, including drivers seeking advice on some issue,” says Kobielus. “Then Toyota can send out its guidance on the issue through the same channel” to notify consumers about events.?

Paul Greenberg, managing principal of The 56 Group, an enterprise applications consulting firm, says that the carmaker could use the social network effectively to reach a “smaller, pre-built market” of people who will participate to find information about new products and services. ?

“Toyota Friend is a good idea,” he says. “This is a network in which customers can talk to other owners and dealers, and Toyota can now capture all of that internally as opposed to having to go externally to get it.”

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