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Toyota, Community & Public Participation
Friday, February 5th, 2010

How the carmaker could be better engaging its community to assess and fix recent safety problems.


Over the past weeks and months, Toyota has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  Reports of technical problems with its cars, along with suggestions that it failed to take safety reports seriously, have damaged its brand and relationships that matter most – with its customers.  I’m on of those, with a 2007 Prius.logo-toyota-3d-silver

PR professionals have already been lamenting what the see as the carmaker’s slow, confused and unstrategic communications response.

I’ve been thinking about this too, but from a public participation perspective – about how Toyota could be building and engaging its community, especially its loyal base of “true believers”, as it responds to safety concerns.

Here are some of the community-building steps I think they should be considering:

Actively involving their community in assessing the scope of the problem.
Part of Toyota’s woes is the perception that it doesn’t fully understand the scope of safety problems.  To really find out, it could use an online story tool where customers could privately submit reports of technical issues, along with their car’s serial number.  This could provide Toyota with a rich dataset to analyze and contact information for those most concerned for proactive customer service.

Sending personalized help and advice to individual community members
Right now, owners are worried and are seeking information.  But by Toyota’s own admission, callers are experiencing long wait times “on hold” to call centres.  Not ideal.  A better approach would be to create an online tool where owners could register for information, by providing their model, year of production and email address.  Using this contact, Toyota could send people personalized information for their specific car, including whether there is a problem, where clients can go to get it fixed, and what they can do in the meantime.

Hosting local dealership dialogue events
People who purchased their cars from local dealerships may have stronger relationships with these showrooms and individual sales staff than with Toyota head office.  The problem right now is that many of these local representatives may be getting their news from TV, just like everybody else.  Instead, Toyota could be reaching out to these community members by empowering and encouraging dealers to host in-person events with customers to share experiences, fixes and timelines.

Right now, Toyota’s approach seems old-fashioned and top-down.  Already, pundits are predicting severe damage to the brand unless it changes strategy.  Hopefully they are using social media to listen for suggestions.

Have other suggestion for Toyota?  Share them with us and our @ascentum community!

– Ellis Westwood –

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  1. Vincent Leo says:

    I like your opinion!