Subaru Embraces Heart and Humor for Success

by Connie Kelly

Picture this: You are a customer service manager with a seasoned team of representatives and want to do something that motivates and educates—a creative activity that inspires associates to deliver great service even when times are tough. Where do you go for ideas?

Subaru of America's Customer Dealer Services (CDS) training manager, Renee Fricke, rarely finds herself without unique ways to keep the team engaged. Not only does she create fun and excitement every year for Customer Service Week, she finds something different to do every month. She says, “I look for ideas everywhere.” Among her favorites are game shows and contests. Renee visits websites designed for educators, event planners, trainers and customer service providers. And, to be sure they are serving the organization, twice a month the CDS team meets with someone from another department to learn more about what they do and how the CDS team fits in.

Subaru Strategic Focus: Be a Person of Service Always

“The key to our success is that our team understands that we all need to be a person of service—always, not just at Subaru.” says Renee. One way she reinforces the central theme of service is through continuous learning opportunities. All CDS reps receive customer service, technical and product knowledge training. “Everything we do has to meet three criteria: time, budget and relevance.”

She explains, “I can't create events that take them away from the customer. Also, everyone's concern is to be creative with little or no cost. Finally,” she says, “it has to make sense. It has to be relative to customer service, build alliances and cooperation and, of course, be fun. I like to keep things light and lively.”And, the events need to be aligned with the organization's vision and values.

Vision and Values Provide Cornerstones for Long-term Relationships

Subaru's Vision and Values Statement makes it clear that passion, enthusiasm, respect and commitment are the cornerstones for building long-term relationships with customers. It simply states, “Subaru consistently strives to rank in the top 10 of all manufacturers for outstanding customer service, satisfaction and loyalty.” The Customer Dealer Services department of Subaru taps into the company's greatest asset, its employees, for furthering its vision.

Going All Out for Customer Service Week

While Renee sponsors monthly events she and the CDS went all out for Customer Service Week last year with five days of contests, games, puzzles and food. Communico's own Tom Larkin was a featured guest speaker and highlighted the MAGIC® approach to Customer Relations. Renee asked Tom to join the festivities and meet the team because, she says, “We've all read the book, How to Talk to Customers; we use it in our training and refer to it often.”

Creative Events Support the Service Theme

Among the more popular events of the week was the Chair Parade. Contestants were challenged to “decorate your chair and win a day off!” Chairs were judged by a “distinguished panel” and prizes were awarded for Best Work Related theme, Most Funny, Most Creative, Best Effort, Best Use of Unusual Items and Best Overall Green theme, among others.

Prizes Awarded to the Most “MAGIC-al”

“Caught in the Act” is another Customer Service Week event that challenged the team to “catch” their co-workers providing great service. A prize was awarded to every person caught being MAGIC-al.

Breakfast Club Contest Encourages Teamwork and Service

Renee also invited the group to team up for a Breakfast Club contest. Each team was assigned a day to cook and serve breakfast with any chosen theme. The winning team booked the group on an International Breakfast Flight, complete with boarding passes, a jet-way, uniforms, travel posters and international breakfast foods.

At Subaru, creativity and fun ruled that week. Renee says, “The whole company gets involved in Customer Service Week. We start planning for it over the summer and I constantly look for ideas to motivate the team.”

Top-down Support Helps Ensure Success

The CDS team enjoys a high level of success due in part to the full support of the entire Subaru of America organization, from the top down. Director, Charlie McEntee, especially champions the efforts of the CDS. Renee says, “Everyone is valued for their contribution to the company. There's no real distinction and everyone's opinion is important.”

Subaru's Customer Dealer Services surely combines heart and humor with exceptional product knowledge to foster continued customer loyalty. The company's mission statement sums it up best: “It's everyone's responsibility to foster and cultivate an environment of inclusion so that the Subaru team will enjoy peak productivity, strong teamwork and a sense of engagement."

Subaru just opened another dealership in Atlanta, across the street from a competitor dealership that just went out of business. Opening new dealerships in this economy? Definitely a result of its focus on employee and customer relationships as well as its strong reputation for service.

Connie Kelly is a Communico facilitator with over 30 years experience in helping others communicate more effectively through the spoken word and in writing.
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