Bridgestone’s 2020 Vision store in St. Charles, Illinois, is setting a new standard by which automotive maintenance shops should operate. The extent the company is willing to go to create a customer-friendly environment is mind-blowing. The store up for discussion today is a Firestone location, and they are setting the bar high.
History of Bridgestone
Harvey Firestone said, “Our company is built on people — those who work for us, and those we do business with.”
This goes to show they place emphasis on taking care of their employees, as well as their customers, to whom they refer to as “the boss.” Firestone surrounded himself with other greats of his time, such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
You may be wondering why Bridgestone refers to its customers as “bosses.” This way of thinking is engrained into the Bridgestone culture. Everything is based on taking care of the customer.
Bridgestone is the world’s largest company-owned tire and automotive service retailer with more than 2,200 stores nationwide and more than 23,000 teammates (employees). Bridgestone currently operates in 48 states and has a goal to be in all 50 in the near future. They operate four different brands, including Firestone Complete Auto Care (which was started by Harvey Firestone 91 years ago), Tires Plus Total Car Care, Hibdon Tires Plus and Wheel Works.
Stu Crum, president of Bridgestone Retail Operations, is now at the helm, and under his leadership, the company has a new vision. It’s called Vision 2020.
“We identified 9 percent of our customers represented 42 percent of our revenue and 47 percent of our profit. That was a big ‘aha’ for us,” Crum said. “When I was flying back from Boston about a year ago, I was reading a snapshot in USA Today. They had surveyed 500 women and asked them to name their five least favorite things to do. No. 2, was go to the dentist, and No. 1, was get your car serviced. Why? It’s because of trust. We believe if we can’t gain trust from our teammates (employees) and the industry, we can’t win. We have to be trusted, and we have to win this trust in the communities we serve.”
Crum has outlined five key concepts he believes will help Bridgestone accomplish its Vision 2020:
1. Increase customer loyalty
2. Harness the power of complete auto care
3. Build winning markets to grow
4. Drive strategic B2B growth
5. Establish a high-performance, customer-centric culture
Bridgestone analyzed its best performing locations and figured out how to spread the best experience to all locations.
Damien Harmon, vice president of Operations, explained the eight key elements that drive operational excellence include safety and environmental aspects, teammate (employee) experience, boss (customer) experience, staffing and labor, training rhythm, operating guides, merchandising excellence and, finally, business acumen. Every manager across the company is required to take a four-day training to acquire this knowledge and pass a certification test. Every store is expected to complete the training and be certified by the end of 2017.
It’s not just the operational aspects that Bridgestone has changed. The actual layout of the Vision 2020 stores has changed drastically, as well. Say goodbye to the days of the dauntingly large counter that separates the customer from the employee. The new layout allows the customer to stand right next to the service professional and view the monitor that explains the services they might need to have performed on their car. Full transparency is the goal.
Customers have a comfortable seating area in the center of the waiting area instead of on the edges of the room. This waiting area is complete with phone charging docks and a TV. Parents can entertain their children with a tablet provided by the store filled with kid-friendly games. The merchandise area, or shield shop as they call it, is the first of its kind, offering retail merchandise from T-shirts and golf balls to flashlights and windshield wipers. Vision 2020 stores also offer a seating area sponsored by Interstate Battery where customers can work or learn about the new technology these batteries offer. Wi-Fi is provided as well for the customer’s convenience.
The waiting room is complete with huge windows that allow the customer to see directly into the bay area. This furthers the transparent concept and lets the customer know that nothing is being hidden from them.
“The customer is at the center of every decision and everything that we do, so we want our bosses (customers) to know we literally want them to be the center of everything,” Harmon said.
Focus on Service and Trust
When Crum spoke to 3,000 of his teammates at his very first national conference, he relayed to them, “We’re really not in the tire business. We’re really not in the service business. We’re really in the people business.”
It’s all about people, and it’s all about service.
Crum told them, “I want you to look at this business differently. You are no longer competing against National Tire & Battery, Jiffy Lube, Goodyear and those folks. You are now competing against Nordstrom, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks, because we’re in the people business. We’re looking for the very best people, and we’re also trying to give people the very best customer experience.”
Jeffrey Lack, vice president of Marketing and Promotions, outlined their goals to gain lifetime customers.
Lack said, “Our goal here is to alleviate the anxiety customers feel when getting their cars serviced. We want to build trust that leads to long-term loyalty for our customers. We know it’s important for us to move from a transactional mindset with our customers to more of a lifetime customer mindset, in which we engage with them on a regular basis throughout the life of their vehicle. We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to be that trusted partner for life.”
Harmon added, “Our goal is to have consistency across all of our locations.”
Part of this consistency comes from how teammates communicate with customers, and they are now able to communicate with customers on an ongoing basis. Instead of sending everyone the same generic email, they can send out 135 different versions of emails. These emails are all specifically targeted to individual customers when they want, and likely need, that message. This allows employees to build a relationship with customers instead of being solely transaction-based.
Bridgestone monitors its customer satisfaction scores across the board, whether it be through social media, email, phone calls or surveys. Managers can compare their store’s customer satisfaction score with other local stores in the area.
Bridgestone takes customer satisfaction very seriously, which is reflected in their customized measuring scale. The customer satisfaction score is based upon eight points:
1. Providing trustworthy advice
2. Keeping the customer aware of the progress on their vehicle
3. Being respectful of the customer’s time
4. Likelihood to recommend
5. Making the customer feel welcome in the store
6. Being accessible to the customer
7. Listening to the customer’s needs
8. Explaining the invoice in full, once service is completed
Harmon said, “Our biggest opportunity as an organization is explaining the invoice to the customer. When I have paid for a service and someone walks me through what I paid for, I feel good about my purchase.”
By 2020, Bridgestone’s goal is to be ranked among the most admired customer service companies and to become the most trusted provider of automotive care in every neighborhood they serve.
Chris Blanchette, director of Operations and Innovation, took it a step further by saying, “Satisfaction means you’re striving for mediocrity; we’re striving for customer delight.”
Focus on Employees
When he took the reins, Crum shook up the structure of the company by reorganizing management. Prior to the shift toward Vision 2020 in 2014, area managers were responsible for 35 stores each. They now have many more area managers who manage eight to 10 stores each. This restructuring allows area managers to visit each store every week.
“We wanted to reduce the span of control so store managers were seeing their supervisors on a weekly basis, opposed to once a month,” Crum said.
Crum also believes strongly in creating a clear career path for the employees and making a greater effort to diversify the workforce at Bridgestone.
He said, “We are really trying to diversify our industry, as well. About 10 percent of our store managers are now women, which is an increase from the 2 percent we had two years ago, but that number needs to increase significantly. We had the first-ever female ASE technician of the year. We are more diverse now than we have ever been. We believe we can’t reach our 2020 vision unless we look like the communities in which we serve.”
Management is also focusing on making sure their technicians have the best and newest tools at their disposal. The company also rewards techs by featuring some of their ASE-certified technicians in their TV commercials to highlight the level of employees customers can depend on.
Bridgestone is able to retain talented technicians in part by the company’s willingness to pay for continued education and testing for their employees. Employees can earn their way to becoming an ASE Master Technician and often get promoted upon passing their ASE exams. Teammates have a defined career path with Bridgestone, whereas at many other companies, they do not.
“As a company, we have committed to hiring, retaining, inspiring and motivating the best talent in the industry,” Blanchette said. “We have pathways to get a general technician with no prior experience to an L1 Master Certified Technician, which can potentially take years. This really provides employees with a career path. We, as a company, are paying for the employees to get to the training, the training itself, the testing and paying to promote them once they have accomplished the educational process. We also provide employees with bonuses once they pass their tests. It truly is a program that offers employees much more than what the industry standard offers.”
Firestone has more ASE-certified technicians than any other company-owned tire and automotive services retailer, with more than 4,000 currently certified.
Setting a New Bar
Bridgestone currently has seven total Vision 2020 concept stores across the country, where they are testing many different ideas to ensure they roll out the best possible customer experience. The locations include Maplewood, Minnesota; Eden Prairie, Minnesota; Woodfield, Illinois; Suwanee, Georgia; Antioch, Tennessee; Alpharetta, Georgia; and St. Charles, Illinois.
Bridgestone has made it clear getting your car serviced doesn’t have to be on the list of unpleasant duties. A new standard has been set, and it will be interesting to see how other brands follow in years to come.