Mazda wants 360-degree view of customers

Historically, car dealers and car manufacturers have departments that run as individual fiefdoms, each with "data silos" and different customer relationship management (CRM) programs, all uncoordinated.

The marketing department conducts direct mail and e-mail campaigns; the service department sends out coupons and reminders; the parts department runs its own promotions; and the consumer affairs office has its customer surveys.

That was certainly the case at the U.S. operations of Hiroshima, Japan-based automaker Mazda Motor Corp. "We identified over 60 different programs that touched the customer in one form or another. There was a lot of overlap and duplication," says Paul Millard, CRM manager at Mazda North American Operations in Irvine, Calif. "The downside is that you don't have a cohesive look or message to the customer, and the customer gets confused."

Fortunately, executives realized this was dysfunctional and started a CRM program in mid-2000 to bring some order to the customer contact information and eliminate the costly duplication of effort.

Now, instead of an uncoordinated flurry of surveys, promotions and reminders, Mazda wants a consistent, cohesive stream of messages in which each one "picks up where the other one leaves off," Millard says.

Is it a political challenge to get departments to change their longtime habits?

No, Millard says, because "the beauty of what we have going here is buy-in from the top [executives] on down. They realize this is a major issue." The CRM group has more than doubled in size from four to 10 people in the past 18 months and the company has made significant investments in CRM technology and improving data quality, he explains.

Last year, Mazda licensed CRM software from E.piphany Inc. in San Mateo, Calif. During a period of 14 weeks, Burlington, Mass.-based systems integrator Wheelhouse Corp. installed the CRM system. That meant determining the business requirements, business rules, data schema and naming conventions, as well as integrating multiple databases. Mazda had four major -- and separate -- databases: marketing, vehicle, service and warranty, and call center.

Because of changes made in the first six months, the CRM team is saving the automaker more than $1 million per year by reducing duplication of effort and the number of outside vendors involved in customer marketing and data, Millard says.

Data integration and cleansing were major efforts. For example, the marketing database was sorted by customer name, while the vehicle database was sorted by vehicle identification number. The marketing database had 10 years of customer contacts, but no query tools or analytics. It was also full of errors and duplicates.

With that mess cleaned up, the goal at Mazda is to get a more comprehensive view of its customers.

"We want to build profiles on our owners, segment those by value tiers and build lifetime value indices and loyalty indices," Millard says. "But we also want to use the data to develop [measures of] retention risks."

For example, Mazda could identify a person who is a loyal Mazda owner (because he has purchased multiple Mazda cars) but is having warranty service problems. "We can identify them as a retention risk and take proactive action right away to keep them as a loyal customer rather than let them fall off the radar screen," Millard says.

Another goal is to help call center representatives get a complete view of each caller's history with Mazda. The CRM team is trying to building a computer screen that would show customer service representatives "what vehicle the customer currently owns, vehicles they've owned before, their service history, their previous contacts with Mazda and whether there's a current [promotional] offer that they're eligible for and [that] we can offer while they're on the phone," says Millard.

That would make the call center "a more proactive marketing channel, rather than just a consumer affairs line," he says.

For example, imagine a caller who just purchased his third Mazda but now has a warranty service problem and -- after repeated visits to the service department, which can't fix the problem -- is 1,000 miles beyond the warranty coverage.

"The customer service rep can see they're a very valuable customer, but now they're a retention risk, so the rep is able to extend some goodwill dollars and grant the work under warranty because they're a preferred customer," Millard says.

These days, "customers and prospects want information and they want it now," he says. "So it behooves us to provide as much data to the people [at Mazda's call center] who are on the front lines and empower them to make decisions that will enhance the customer's experience with Mazda."

Mazda, which is in the early stages of the CRM journey, is determined to avoid the problems inherent in CRM projects that are too big to manage. "We're going into this with realistic expectations," Millard says. "We'll take baby steps and build on some successes ... and also gain some return on the investment over the first year or two."

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