The 2022 Kiwami Award is an accolade so exclusive, so sought-after, that not even its winners are entirely sure how they’re chosen. “Believe us, we’ve tried to find out how it’s judged, what the metrics are,” laughs Aaron Surry, General Manager of Lexus Cambridge, which received the honour earlier this year. “But we’re none the wiser: all we know is that you need to completely embody the spirit of omotenashi, which means flawless customer service – and that has always been our goal.”
Part of the Steven Eagell Group, Lexus Cambridge’s Kiwami Award puts it among Lexus’s top ten European dealerships for customer service – out of more than 340 companies continent-wide. We asked Surry about how it feels to be in the elite, and the “extreme” lengths that Lexus Cambridge will go to for its customers.
What does winning the Lexus Kiwami Award 2022 mean to you and the team?
“It’s a huge deal. It is such a prestigious award, it means everything to us. We had no idea we were even in the running for it: we were at the Lexus UK Centre of Excellence Awards and had just won Centre of the Year, which was incredible – but there was an announcement at the end of the evening, saying there was going to be another special prize. We were amazed to hear it was a Kiwami Award, and even more to hear that we’d won. It was honestly phenomenal, we couldn’t believe it.”
And it’s been quite an award-packed year for you…
“It certainly has been a golden year! At the AM awards in May, we also won Franchise Dealership of the Year, against every other national competitor and manufacturer. It has been wonderful – and of course, it’s all credit to the team.”
What does it take to win a Kiwami Award?
“Well, ‘kiwami’ translates as ‘extreme’ in Japanese, as it essentially means you’re achieving extreme levels of customer satisfaction – known in Japan as omotenashi. That’s the key to it. If you win a Kiwami Award, you’re in the top ten elite Lexus dealerships across Europe; it means you’re the crème de la crème.”
What’s the secret of omotenashi?
“Like any business, the car sales industry can be very process-driven, but buying a vehicle is such a personal, emotive decision – so we strive to find out the ‘why’ of each customer, the reason why they’re buying a car. We don’t want them to feel like they’re being processed: we hone in the details of their situation, and tailor-make the experience to them – whether that’s with a small gesture or something much bigger.”
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Tell us about the big gestures – when has the team really gone above and beyond?
“We had a customer living in the Manchester area who wanted to buy a particular car from us, but it was a huge distance for them to come for a test drive. We did a video viewing, but they rightfully wanted to get behind the wheel before buying it – so we paid for them and their partner to stay in a Cambridge hotel and have dinner in a restaurant, before coming for a test drive the following morning.
“Even though they liked the car, they just said, ‘We’ll think about it’ – and of course that was absolutely fine. The following day, they called and told us they wanted to buy it: they’d been blown away by the experience we’d offered. It had shown them that we were absolutely the right business for them, because we’d demonstrated the lengths we go to for customers.”
Wow, that’s such a generous gesture. And what about the smaller details of omotenashi?
“Sometimes, a small gesture for us can feel huge for a customer. Recently, someone got in touch the day after buying a car from us, saying that they’d spotted a blemish on the bonnet. They were extremely unhappy and obviously we were very concerned too, so one of our managers went to their house personally, rather than asking them to bring the car back in.
“He took some polish with him, in the hope that it was something he could sort himself – and sure enough, the blemish turned out to be bird’s mess. The customer was delighted, and couldn’t thank us enough for sending a manager to sort their issue: it proved that we valued their concerns, and that we wanted everything to be perfect too.
“For us, it’s all about showing the customers that we’re listening to them, and that they are valued. If they love wine, we’ll give them a lovely bottle; if they play golf, we’ll source them some new balls. If they come to the dealership with their family, we’ll give the kids a little present. It’s something to make the experience memorable for all the right reasons.”
How do you listen to your customers, beyond the review sites and feedback processes?
“There’s no substitute for a proper conversation with somebody. After-sale surveys and digital feedback are great, but we’re also constantly talking to customers – and listening – to see what we could have done better, and we take all feedback straight to the team. We operate in a very agile way – if something needs fixing, we do it as soon as possible.”
Who takes responsibility for omotenashi?
“Everybody does – no matter what their role in the business. Whether they’re buying a gift for a customer and putting it on expenses, or taking some time to make something extra-special happen, there are no questions asked. There are 19 of us on the team, and it’s all our responsibility to drive it forwards. There are no arguments about the whats, the whys, the whos: everyone is empowered to use their initiative, and we aim for omotenashi together.”
How are you planning to celebrate the Kiwami Award 2022?
“We are booking a Michelin-starred restaurant in London for the entire team, for a very special evening out to celebrate. We want them to enjoy being on the receiving end of omotenashi for once – to see if from another perspective, in an experience that’s more elevated than your typical dinner out. I really hope they love it.”
Have there been any unexpected benefits of winning the Kiwami Award 2022?
“Absolutely – it is proving really valuable in our recruitment process. Of course, it’s fantastic to tell our customers about the award, but also when recruiting it shows applicants that they are potentially going to be joining a truly stellar business, so it makes working for us all the more appealing.”
How will you continue to deliver omotenashi in the future?
“During Covid we did thousands of personalised video tours, and we plan to continue them – they’re so useful for prospective customers. We are always discussing how we’ll improve; sometimes the best ideas come from team members who aren’t on the ‘front line’ of customer service – someone in the workshop, for example, maybe because they come at the situation from a different angle. It’s all about bringing together those viewpoints, and creating something amazing.”
Do you enjoy going the extra mile?
“Honestly, I love it. And I enjoy a challenge, too: if a customer isn’t happy, or feels that we should have done something differently, I want to not only rectify the situation but change their perception entirely. If I can achieve that, it’s such a buzz.
“If we can make a customer feel fantastic, make them feel that we’re the best – well, you can’t argue with that. It will stay with them forever.”