Executive Q&A: Yamaha's Social Customer Strategy Hits the High Notes

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Jeff Hawley, director of Yamaha's customer experience group, explores the company's social integration efforts and how self-service communities have allowed CX to blossom.

Companies are like orchestras-though one person may lead, it takes everyone working in harmony to make sure the group hits the high notes. For Yamaha, social media and self-service have brought greater customer understanding to the entire organization, allowing the company to fine tune its CX strategies. But, just as service channels and customer behavior continue to evolve, Yamaha must continuously alter its approach to maintain its well-respected customer service.

"We'll likely never be 100 percent happy with our systems and processes and flows, but we try hard to get there," says Jeff Hawley, director of customer experience group at Yamaha. "One of my favorite quotes is from Sean Rad, founder ofad.ly: "Data beats emotions." My team lives by this mantra and just because we think and feel like we are doing a good job with providing exceptional customer experience doesn't mean we are. Show me the numbers."

In this interview with 1to1 Media, Hawley discusses Yamaha's social customer service strategy, self-service's impact on the customer experience, and the challenges that sparked the company's emphasis on emerging technologies.

1to1 Media: How has Yamaha evolved alongside technology in order to meet changing customer demands? How has the company integrated emerging technology, such as social media and mobile?

Jeff Hawley: Yamaha has long looked to technology as a way to improve music performance, music education, reproduction of music, and general enjoyment of music. It was natural for us to look at utilizing social and mobile technology to better meet changing customer demands and our overall ability to provide world-class customer service. By integrating social content, customer tweets, and Facebook posts into our existing customer service framework, we were able to rapidly scale and use our existing customer service team without having to reinvent the wheel. Rather than building a new system, finding a new vendor, or hiring and expanding specialized agents to handle social customer service, we present social in the same manner case-wise and system-wise as we would an email, support form, or log from a call. Data is data.

We've really been working hard over the past few years to update and think in this same way around mobile. While we aren't where we want to be yet with the entirety of our digital experience on mobile devices, we are working to craft the framework to not only deliver a fantastic experience today and next month, but well into the future. Integrating and syncing-up the plethora of existing, emerging, and ever-changing social, video, multimedia, and product data sources and being able to deliver them in real time on all screens at all times is a big task. I feel that we are up to the challenge and I'd expect to show off huge strides around mobile accessibility this year as we complete this effort.

1to1: With self-service playing such a major role in the customer service space, how has Yamaha adapted its strategy to accommodate customers across channels?

JH: The concept of self-service certainly isn't a new one. Yamaha was a big player early on in this space with our very large and successful user forums and communities such asmotifator.com. With more than 40,000 registered users and more than one million posts, this sort of community self-service site has been rather effective for us.Our next phase of self-service seems to be around having better awareness of who the customer is while on our catalog site,usa.yamaha.com. We've updated the user registration flow there, added a loyalty and gamification component, and social sign-in in an effort to better offer support solutions by knowing who our customers are and how they interact with us online. Bringing self-service tools and options to the site seems to be not just on the radar for Yamaha, but also a hot topic in the social commerce and customer experience space in general.

1to1: What types of challenges have sparked changes within the company?

JH: Being large and extremely diverse is a great thing, but being large and extremely diverse is also a difficult thing. I think that as with most companies of our size we have had to address the various product, system, and branding silos that had built up over time. We saw this in a small scale around customer service and how various subsets of the customer service and support teams might have handled cases and used, or not used, technology in the past and we have rallied around finding the best way to work together to standardize and improve processes as "One Yamaha." This isn't just a CX team effort-it spans across just about everything we do. Work smart, work as a team, and focus on efficient processes while always putting the customer at the center of what we do.

1to1: From music to motorcycles, how does Yamaha maintain service and experience consistency across the company's various areas of expertise?

JH: We don't want to force consistency for consistency's sake and we know that we do serve different customers who have different expectations and needs. A band mom trying to find a fix for her daughter's clarinet would have a different set of specific needs than that of a professional touring guitarist or an AV home theater installer. We also recognized that customers today expect companies to know and remember their histories. At the end of the day, they all expect us to listen, to be efficient, and to act on feedback that we receive. We aim to deliver on those core expectations. We measure, we benchmark, and we are always improving.

1to1: Have there been any customer interactions in particular that have triggered a change in how Yamaha's customer service and experience departments do business? How did the company react?

JH: One of the early events that occurred in social that really shook things up from my perspective involved Neil Patrick Harris. A few years back he tweeted and mentioned a Yamaha product and asked his millions of rabid fans to advise on whether he should get one. There was an obvious awareness on our side as to how many impressions that tweet generated, but the real impact was around how poorly equipped we were at the time to actually respond. Whether engaging with a famous musician, actor, highly influentialsocial customer, or the guitar hobbyist with five followers, we didn't have a defined flow and central way to manage, track, and integrate conversations. Our path down the road of combining social with our Web analytics, CRM, and core marketing processes largely came out of that single @ActuallyNPH tweet.