Kaizen, the Strategy of Continuous Improvement

Toyota-movingforww Toyota does it right

Nobody really wants to have their car serviced unless it needs to be serviced. Today mine needed to be serviced.

I heard a banging noise under my car several days ago and made a 7 a.m. appointment for today at  Lia Toyota of Colonie, located in Schenectady, New York. No, I don’t own a Toyota – I own a 1998 Lexus 300SL, and yes it gets serviced at Toyota. Why?  That’s the topic for another blog, but basically everyone at Lia Toyota is just smart, nice and they smile a lot.

Toyota-seating They don’t seem to mind taking me to the airport, answering my questions or giving me a loaner car while we wait for a car part. This is the third time Mark Wells has been my Service Advisor and he  treats me like a smart customer and tells me up front what I need to know. He is just plain good.

So, there’s a noise under my car, but worse than that on the way home from my cousin’s house I blew the fuse for my heater while trying to charge my cell phone. That is my humble diagnosis of the problem (I found out later I was correct and it’s common). Cold is not the word for my 1½ hour drive  home last night.  In addition, I had the pleasure of discussing my plight with a New York state trooper who pulled me over for driving erratically. I told him I was about to freeze to death and was trying to cover myself with blankets and newspapers and anything else I could find. Though assured that I was not impaired, he still checked to see that my car wasn't stolen and I wasn’t connected to the Bernie Madoff scandal. He then told me to be careful and get home.

Toyota-mngr It is now 8 a.m. and I am settled into the new guest lounge at Lia Toyota of Colonie. I am also connected to the Web under the Toyota guest program, drinking good coffee and watching the Today Show, pretty much like I would be at home. 

The showroom is about two months old, and the carpet design is pleasing to both men and women—according to a quick survey. It is a patterned rust, brown and beige loop carpet which coordinates with the brown and cream leather furniture.  Around the carpet is polished marble and porcelain throughout the glass cubicles. I must admit that I was somewhat amazed at the location of the lounge – in the middle of the showroom and within sight of the service area. This is different than most service areas where they keep you away and have big signs that say “no customers.” By the way, the service area looks as sterile as the operating room at the local hospital.

Toyota-showroom I have already had a couple of updates on my car from Mark and it doesn’t look serious. While waiting I take a trip to the ladies’ room—the TV is on and the walls are done in a light grey marble tile. Very nice. I am told there’s also a TV in the men’s room.

I ask Tom Sinkora, the Service Manager, if he would chat with me a minute. He is dressed in a white dress shirt and tie and says he is happy to talk with me. I ask him about the showroom, who did the design and the colors etc. He says it’s part of Toyota's Image II program as well as input from the Lia family. Tom is filled with great information and undoubtedly knows what’s important. First question is why did I bring my Lexus to the Toyota  dealership? I tell him my story about how the service sticker in my last Toyota had their name on it so I tried them out. After I got the Lexus I decided why go anywhere else? 

Toyota-otto I ask him about Kaizen, which is a term for the Japanese strategy of continuous improvement, and how that fits with Toyota.  I told him how impressed I was with the showroom and that I liked watching them work on my car. Tom tells me Toyota wants it that way. It’s easier to get it back to the customer, which saves time. And we all know time is money. He also tells me that the parts department is also located next to the service area, which saves time. This sounds like the strategy of continuous improvement.  Again I am impressed with his knowledge and friendliness and that his first words weren’t, "is there something wrong?"

By the way Toyota has a blog called Toyota Open Road blog.

What does this mean for other business owners?

  • Is there wireless in your showroom? Ok, maybe you don’t need a TV in the bathroom but how about one in the showroom with the news and weather?
  • Frequent updates on your customer’s order?
  • Good coffee or bottled water?
  • An explanation of how the process works and going out of your way to explain it to the customer?
  • Comfy chairs are a plus as well as the good coffee.
  • Do you listen to your customers?  I asked Tom about putting in a treadmill and he didn’t even snicker. He said he had an empty room where one might go and he had been thinking about it.

Well now, my car is done and it isn’t even close to 9 a.m.

2 thoughts on “Kaizen, the Strategy of Continuous Improvement”

  1. Lis,
    I can relate to this post! I recently visited a Honda dealer in Maryland to get an oil change. I was very unimpressed with the service. The service rep came out to greet me but made no attempt to engage me as a valued customer. He went about his business entering data into the computer. He managed to convince me to get my 15K check done while I was there. The waiting room was nothing to speak of. The car was done well within the promised time. Here’s the funny part – after the service rep escorted me to the cashier and I paid, I went to my car, which was parked inside the service garage. I had no idea how I was supposed to open the door! Fortunately, another customer was standing there and told me I needed to simply drive forward over a cable and that would cause the door to open. Great service? I think not!! I’ll stick with my local Honda dealer next time! P.S. Love your new photo on the stool!

  2. Hey Caren, thanks for the post; funny how the little things matter–like how you get your car out of the shop! With all of that said and done, I couldn’t figure out how to get mine out of the shop either! How is your Disc training going?

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