By Steve Bauer
ORLANDO, Fla. — In an effort to maximize customer satisfaction and retainment amid a weakened economy and increased competition from Chinese imports, Yamaha unveiled its “Blueprint for the Future” at its annual dealer meeting in Orlando, Fla.
The business plan encompasses three main points: continued production of world-class products; a new focus on dealer services; and maintaining satisfied and loyal customers who will recruit a new consumer base through word of mouth. At the heart of the plan are several new dealer initiatives, including a fully integrated customer satisfaction system, a new training program called Yamaha Motor University, and Pro Yamaha, a system that rewards dealers based on their business practices and customer satisfaction.
“As the economic climate has changed, particularly in the past year, so has the business environment for motorcycle, ATV and side-by-side dealers,” said Bob Starr, head of Yamaha’s corporate communications. “And in order to keep business at a strong level for all our dealers, we need to do the best job we can to retain all our customers. And the best way to do that is to give the customers that we have the best level of service and maintain the highest level of customer satisfaction. And by retaining customers, that will translate into new customers. So for us that’s a way of growing the business.”
New company commitments
Yamaha also announced a major investment in expanding its sales, service and accessories staff, saying it hopes the increase in staff will reduce the burden the company’s district managers have carried in trying to service an unbalanced ratio of dealers.
“A good example of how unbalanced our ratio has been would be our field staff,” Starr said. “Basically it’s been sitting at the same number for several years, and you can’t provide the best level of service with the ratio that we were dealing with before. In order for us to show our dealers that we want them to provide a higher level of customer service and satisfaction, we have to provide a better level of service to our customers, the dealers.”
Starr wouldn’t say exactly how much the company has invested, but says it’s a large leap from the past and encompasses a significant amount of the company’s budget.
In addition to the financial investment, Yamaha announced it would be changing its marketing focus, shying away from the blanket approach it has used in the past. Starr says the company realizes what might work for one region of the country won’t for another, and its past approach has sometimes led to dealers feeling frustrated with a marketing plan that didn’t fit their needs.
“For years, on the marketing side, we have gone under the assumption that one size fits all, and that doesn’t work,” he said. “If you’re in the Upper Midwest, the market for a certain product line is different than it would be in southern Florida or Maine, etc. Now with our new initiatives we’re going to do more area marketing and look at what works in certain markets. So for example, there will be track days offered in areas that are high sport bike concentrations, and so on.”
The centerpiece of Yamaha’s new dealer initiatives is its Pro Yamaha program, which was created based on strategies used by the company’s most successful dealers. With this program, dealers will be given strategies on how to improve the customer experience in each store, and can collect points for each level of customer service they achieve, with Yamaha providing financial incentives for dealerships that reach various levels of success. Starr says it’s an opportunity for dealers to strive to improve their businesses, helping not only to possibly increase sales and earn incentive revenue, but building a relationship with each customer so they’ll continue to return for another purchase, service or other support.
“The rationale behind Pro Yamaha is that it falls in line with all the other initiatives we’re doing, and that’s we’ve been on at least a 10-year cycle of pretty substantial growth as a business,” he said. “This past year with the economic shift as things leveled out and in some cases declined, that the best way to go about dealing with that is to do the best job we can in retaining our customers.
“The Pro Yamaha initiatives are all driven to help the dealers reach certain customer satisfaction goals. And it’s a variety of things, and a lot of it is basic. For example coming to the dealer meetings, attending seminars, some very basic things we’re trying to offer our dealer network to provide a higher level of customer satisfaction.”
Starr says the initial response from dealers has been extremely positive.
“I haven’t heard one negative comment about the programs and to be honest usually I do,” he said. “And I don’t think dealers give negative comments necessarily to be negative, but they provide their comments as constructive criticism, telling us how they’d like to see things improve next year. And so far I’ve gotten none of that.”
Two additional programs, Yamaha Motor University and the Customer Satisfaction System, are further examples of the company’s efforts to provide dealers with up-to-date education and communication programs to allow them to better serve their customers.
“Basically (YMU) allows us to offer better education and educational materials to our dealer network, whether it’s the sales, service or support staff of a dealership, just to make them more prepared to deal with the changing business environment,” Starr said. “There has never been a more cohesive plan for better education at this company than there is now.”
Starr also believes the new Customer Satisfaction System is the company’s most sophisticated measurement system, an area that has been lacking in the past.
“To be honest we were quite inconsistent with our measuring of it before,” he said. “One of the great features (of the new system) is dealers can get real-time feedback regarding customer satisfaction. So a customer fills out a survey electronically, and the dealers can see the results of it as soon as it’s sent out by the consumer.”
Starr hopes the launch of these programs shows Yamaha’s dealers the company is being proactive about its business practices in a changing business environment, something he believes will strengthen dealers’ ties with the company.