Bridgestone Retail Operations Makes Move to Differentiate Customer Service

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A little more than two years ago, Bridgestone Retail Operations (BSRO) launched Vision 2020, a customer service program that aims to put BSRO’s customer service alongside the ranks of companies like Starbucks and Apple. Damien Harmon, COO at BSRO, discussed how the tire company has implemented this vision.

What was behind BSRO’s decision to overhaul its customer service structure? 

In general, there’s a lack of trust in the automotive service category, and we wanted to try and change that. We created our long-term strategic plan, Vision 2020, around that goal. Vision 2020 is driven by a singular purpose—to be the most trusted provider of automotive care in every neighborhood we serve. And we serve more than 2,200 neighborhoods through our Firestone Complete Auto Care, Tires Plus, Hibdon Tires Plus and Wheel Works locations nationwide.

What are the key areas that Bridgestone felt it needed to change from the old way of doing things? 

For a multi-unit business like BSRO, consistency of experience from location is critical. We want a customer at Firestone Complete Auto Care in Chicago to have the same experience as a customer at Tires Plus in Minneapolis or one at Wheel Works in San Jose. It’s what companies like Chick-fil-A excel at and we want to provide our customers with the same thing. 

In order to do that, we’ve implemented our Eight Levels of Operational Excellence to help us make improvements. The Eight Levels focus on everything from safety to training to merchandising to the customer experience. We developed this training program as a framework to guide our store teammates as they execute Vision 2020, because our stores are where the strategy is brought to life.

Why did Bridgestone decide to model its new customer service approach after retailers like Starbucks and Apple?  

Retailers like Starbucks and Apple are considered the gold standard when it comes to customer experience. BSRO wants to be recognized outside of the automotive service space for excellent customer service, so we needed to look outside of that space for inspiration and benchmark ourselves against what those companies are doing for their customers.

What is Bridgestone doing to be more like these companies? 

We’re investing heavily in R&D through our Store 2020 program. We’ve created what we consider to be retail research hubs, which are operating stores, that test the latest in customer experience initiatives. These locations offer an experience we feel is unmatched by other tire and automotive service centers, through the physical space, retail environment, the enhanced infrastructure and operational processes and protocols. 

The goal of these modified daily operations, many of which are modeled after best practices of top retailers, is to empower our store teams to deliver exceptional service behind the sales counter, in the service bays and everywhere in between. Our goal is to meet the demands of today’s consumers and what they’ve come to expect from a retailer—even an automotive aftermarket retailer—while servicing their vehicles more efficiently. 

Our Store 2020 locations are learning labs that serve as a proving ground to develop and test best practices and state-of-the-art concepts that can be shared across our company-owned stores, as well as with our Bridgestone affiliated retailer network. The affiliated retailer network is comprised of 3,000 independent dealer points of sale. We believe it’s important to share our learnings to elevate the industry as a whole from a customer experience perspective—a rising tide floats all boats.

Most people get excited about activities like getting coffee, not so much errands like getting an oil change. How does Bridgestone plan on getting around that obstacle and increasing customer satisfaction? 

We’re taking a holistic view of the entire experience a customer has in our stores, from when they walk through the doors to when they walk back out. It’s about more than just the experience they have with the particular service they brought their vehicle in for. What are the interactions like at the various touch points—from entry to end of the transaction. Did the employee greet them at the door? Was the store clean? Were they offered a tablet to use while they wait? Did the employee walk them through what’s going on with their vehicle, the services being performed and why? 

It’s the sum of all these parts that will determine the impression the customer has of BSRO when they leave and, equally important, if they decide to come back. 

What has the outcome been since launching Vision 2020? 

We’re making progress we’re proud of. During the past year, our store network customer satisfaction score has risen from 87.26 percent to 89.52 percent. When we converted one of our stores in Illinois to a Store 2020, we saw its customer satisfaction rise from 87.10 percent up to 95.98 percent over the course of 12 months. We’ve opened five more Store 2020 locations since then and we’re looking forward to seeing data from those stores. 

What tips would you give to an independent repair shop to overhaul its customer service? 

The basics of great customer service apply to everyone—from big company-owned networks like BSRO to a single-location independent shop. We’re all in the people business. We just happen to work on cars. So, developing a trust-based relationship with the customer is the driver of everything. Integrity, honesty, transparency, communication. These simple principles can help all of us elevate the industry to a new level. 

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