Nitto invests to understand, better serve its customers
CYPRESS, Calif. — A few years ago, Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc. started seeing conversations online and through social media from people in Europe wondering when the Nitto tires they had ordered would arrive.
There was only one problem: Nitto doesn't sell tires in Europe.
Digging into this Nitto discovered someone had set up a European-based website, complete with a login and a create-an-account section, encouraging viewers to become a Nitto dealer and to purchase the company's tires. The site even offered a credit-card application and wire transfer form to send in money for the products purchased.
The reality: It was all a fake.
Thanks to the social media room operated though the company's technical services department, Nitto quickly discovered the fraudulent website and had it shut down within days. It then caught a reboot of the site quickly thereafter.
Welcome to the world of online tire selling and marketing.
Nitto likely would not have uncovered the fraudulent website so quickly, company officials said, if it hadn't broadened its customer service and internal communications efforts several years ago, giving the ability to compile and share all interactions the company had with customers, including those via social media. The upshot of the effort was to provide a better understanding of customers' concerns and needs and to better meet their expectations.
Nitto's expanded focus on the digital experiences of its customers began to take shape as it developed a social media following that today numbers more than 12 million fans.
The company realized that Nitto, to its fans and tire dealer customers, was more than just the tires it sold. Rather it was everything the Nitto brand is about, including the marketing, the customer service, how customer complaints are resolved, the programs it offers and how they are presented to dealers.
Nitto also recognized that while millennials are a core part of its customer base, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, too, are fans, and all of these generational groups have adopted similar expectations regarding communications and how they want to be treated.
"Social isn't just for young people anymore," Efrain Viveros, Nitto director of technical services, said in a recent interview at the company's offices in Cypress. "Everybody's kind of adopted it as a standard nowadays, so with that, everybody's expectation has increased tremendously."
To get a better handle on its customers, the conversations that were happening in the marketplace — including in forums and on social media — and to be more responsive to them, Nitto adopted a policy called the San Gen principles, the three gems, Mr. Viveros said.
"It comes from Toyota — Gemba, Genbutsu, Genjitus — and it translates into 'go and experience and discover reality,' meaning I don't just want to hear a phone call and make a decision from here, or hear a salesperson come and give me his 30-minute interpretation. We want to have a good understanding."
Nitto created a software program, dubbed digi-Gen, for short, which stands for Gemba in a digital world, to manage and create reports from all of the various communications it was receiving from customers, whether that be on the phone, in emails, social media or some other platform.
But gathering information and data was just one step in Nitto's efforts to understand better and be more responsive to its customers and to the market.
To put this information to work, the Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. associate brand had to find a way to take all the data and communications it was gathering and share it not only with its customer agents in the technical services department, but also with the different departments in the company.
Under Mr. Viveros, Nitto's digi-Gen software was able to:
- Provide real-time data;
- Refresh automatically;
- Build in "certain things to ... lead things to experts or maybe escalate things so they get addressed faster"; and
- Provide trending data to allow customer agents to "have the right context" when dealing with customers.
"We want (agents) to think because if they are thinking they are going to be reacting quicker, and if they are reacting quicker, we are going to address things a lot faster," Mr. Viveros said.
Since implementing the digi-Gen program, complaints and warranty issues addressed by the company's technical services agents have declined to 14 percent of conversations from 80 percent.
"We're talking more about the product as opposed to dealing with issues," Mr. Viveros said.
Nitto was able to do this, he said, because it was able to follow cases more thoroughly.
"We were able to actually track a case. If somebody gave a call then later sent us an email, we can now put those and attach them to the same case. We have a full view of the situation."
The effort has aided brand perception and sentiment towards Nitto as well, according to Stephen Leu, director, brand publishing, citing a recent annual AutoPacific Inc. study of replacement tire brands.
"Our net promoter score, the brand loyalty score is extremely high, and general consumer satisfaction rates very highly too."
It's also helped Nitto build better products by providing faster feedback from dealers about how the company's tires are performing.
"Unless it's negative, you don't really get anything," Mr. Viveros said. "This will allow us to really start to understand how things are, even at the initial stages. How it's penetrating. It gives us more information so we can adjust."
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