by Stephanie Overby

How IT Helps Nissan Beat Chevy in the Electric Car Game

Oct 28, 20113 mins
AnalyticsCar TechCRM Systems

By overhauling its customer experience, Nissan was able to drive sales of its electric hatchback, the Leaf.

The all-electric Nissan Leaf had the potential to woo eco-conscious shoppers away from the Chevy Volt when it was launched last December. But from a customer service and sales perspective, the Japanese automaker was at a distinct disadvantage. Chevrolet consistently scored four stars on J.D. Power’s five-star customer service and sales experience scales; Nissan earned just two.

“We knew we were going to have a product where demand was going to outstrip supply,” says David Mingle, senior director of Nissan North America’s customer management office. “That provided us with opportunity to experiment and try new things.”

In the past, Nissan customers had inconsistent experiences across various customer touch points. Not all of their information traveled with them from one encounter to the next. Each brand and customer-facing division had its own processes and procured its own IT services. “We were not maximizing the enterprise value of customer contacts,” explains Mingle. A potential customer could configure a car and submit a quote request online, but little of that data made it to lead management. A call about paying off a car loan—a sign someone might be in the market for a new car—never made it to sales.

Scott Strickland joined the company in July of 2010 as director of information services to centralize the company’s $70 million marketing and sales technology spend. The first order of business was to create a new digital marketing platform, using the Nissan Leaf as the test case. In three months, he and Mingle charted a road map for a 360-degree view of the customer, including a hosted CRM solution, email-management software, social media analytics, master customer data management and cloud-based infrastructure.

On top of it all was the new website for the Leaf. A potential customer won’t notice much difference from other model-specific websites. But behind the scenes, the site collects all the data from customer input and interaction, and the digital marketing platform analyzes it and—most importantly—makes sure the information stays with the customer throughout his interaction with the company.

“The miracle is that we’re able to justify the business case to generate funding in our current budget cycle,” Strickland says. That’s a testament to value of customer centricity, says Mingle. “Companies today realize that they key differentiator is going to be customer treatment.”

By mid-September, Nissan had sold nearly 6,000 Leafs in the United States, while GM moved less than 3,000 Volts. Although it’s far too early to declare a winner, Strickland says the car’s new marketing platform is already delivering lessons for a wider rollout, such as the importance of a flexible design phase to “allow the team time to test drive the proposed business processes” and the value of tight deadlines that “remove the luxury of exploring every alternative or ongoing debate.”

“We’re trying to set up self-contained experiments—placing a bunch of smaller bets instead of a couple of big ones. And the Leaf [digital marketing platform] is an example for that,” says Strickland.