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Tech & Innovation
APR 2, 2019

Toyota Connected’s Keys to the Future

By Cristian Vlad, With Moyuko Takei
Photo credit: Toyota Connected Japan

The impact of technology on human mobility seems obvious, but what about the social impact? Are apps the answer to everything, or do human-based services still carry value? GLOBIS faculty Cristian Vlad recently interviewed Moyuko Takei of Toyota Connected Japan about how her team aims to shape the next great revolution in mobility.

CV:        What kind of work are you doing at Toyota Connected?

MT:      My current role is to help formulate and roll out the business vision for transformations ahead. We’re talking about large-scale transformations which take place, let’s say, once every 100 years in the mobility industry, and the next one is imminent.

Until recently, society has enjoyed the freedom of transportation that comes from owning private cars. This model has become so ingrained in our collective outlook that whole cities have been developed around it. As a result, we have witnessed a series of social consequences: children have been prohibited from playing in the street, drivers have spent useless hours in horrendous traffic, and the air we breathe has been polluted. Ironically, mobility has actually become inconvenient.

We invite people to reconsider the social element of mobility as we devise concrete services for future generations. For example, imagine that you are driving along the coast in Izu and you have no lunch plans for the day, but you want to try some of the local food. You can, of course, Google restaurants in the area, but chances are you will find hundreds of choices, each with dozens of reviews. How do you know which ones to trust? The Toyota Connected human concierge service is delivered in the language of the car owner by real people, for real people based on collected data.

CV:        So what, exactly, are you aiming to do?

MT:       We try to find solutions that suit every need. As I mentioned, the human concierge service helps with booking facilities or restaurants. Or, in case of an emergency, our connected services can help arrange for an emergency vehicle to come your way. There are plenty of apps out there aiming to serve the same need, but our human operators contribute with a personalized and highly empathic touch that simply can’t be replicated.

Toyota was the first in Japan to provide such services to car owners, and Toyota Connected is managing these services. You may find this hard to believe, but we’ve been doing it for over 15 years, and we’ve seen that connecting our clients with people they trust for personalized assistance allows them to truly enjoy their mobility.

Photo credit: Cristian Vlad

CV:        How do you envision future global expansion?

MT:        The quality of Japanese products and services is well known and appreciated all around the world. However, this does not mean that we are just planning to copy and paste our services into other regions. What works in Japan does not always apply elsewhere. We need to closely observe and interact with the lifestyles, cultures, and customs of other countries. This will answer some important questions about how to best serve their needs: can we do this alone? Do we need to develop any new networks or ecosystems? Do we need new partners?

As I mentioned earlier, we are planning a large-scale transformation, and for it we’ll need smart, new mobility services which completely charm our customers and become essential elements in the society of the future.

CV:        So you can’t simply copy the Japanese method, but is there anything that you feel is uniquely Japanese about your services?

MT:       I guess our process of developing solutions to anticipate needs is quite Japanese. The customer-first principle is a key element of the Toyota Way, though it is certainly not only Japanese customers who appreciate careful, timely, and well formulated services.

CV:        What do you think is key to developing and maintaining a collaborative organization of growth?

MT:       A few things. First, keeping the real goal in mind. At Toyota Connected, we constantly ask ourselves: “Who is our work bringing joy to?” We are not interested in collaboration only for the sake of collaboration. We need to remain aware of who we are (or should be) collaborating with, what kind of value we are creating, and for whom.

Second, growth strategy. My team is really small, but our motto is: “Start small and organically grow bigger.” This is how we work, and this is how we innovate. When working in a larger organization, agility and transformation are usually quite difficult. You end up with unresolved issues all over the place. It is much easier this way, and it’s so much fun!

Third, resisting routine. Even in some of the most inspiring business environments, entitlement and “business as usual” can creep in and make themselves at home. It is so important to stay humble. We need to forget ourselves in order to see everything else and become truly customer centric. You cannot guestimate the customer, or even understand their realities by sitting behind an office desk and tapping words on a computer. The world is happening outside.