One Person’s Trash…

…is another’s source of inspiration in TFS’ inaugural ‘Mike’s Innovation Challenge: Shark Tank’ contest

June 29, 2016

Good Show-- The finalists in TFS' take on the reality TV show "Shark Tank" made their new business pitches before a gathering of their fellow team members.

In the spirit of kaizen, it’s certainly no surprise that Toyota Financial Services recently held a new team member contest—“Mike’s Innovation Challenge: Shark Tank”—to promote its never-ending search for ever-better customer service. But who could have predicted that the winning entry would arise from the depths of a trash can?
“We used a skit with a prop, a trash can, to present our idea,” says Kalika Gupta, national Business Technology Solutions (BTS) delivery manager, of the event headlined by Mike Groff, TFS president and CEO. “I think that might have been one of the reasons we won.”
“We” refers to Gupta and her collaborators—Product Development Manager Hugh Sears and Product Manager Erin La—who came up with ToyotaGo. As they envision it, this mobile application would be offered to customers who purchase ToyotaCare Plus, the TFS product that extends the ToyotaCare prepaid maintenance plan that comes standard on all new Toyota vehicles.
Currently, such customers receive service reminders via old-fashioned mailers. The app would replace the paper with electronic alerts that pop up on the customers’ smartphone screens.
“I know what happens in my house,” says Gupta. “I either forget to schedule the service or the mailer gets thrown away and we have to dig through the trash to find it. No one wants to deal with paper these days.”

Expressive Executives -- The contest's panel of judges react positively to a team member's lively presentation.

“Fun and Engaging”
ToyotaGo was one of six ideas selected as finalists from among 68 entries submitted between March 21 and May 11. TFS team members had the opportunity to review and vote on their favorite ideas via the contest’s online portal. Those tallies, as well as other criteria, were then used by a cross-departmental advisory panel to determine which teams would have the opportunity to present their ideas before an audience of their peers. Simultaneously, each pitch would be evaluated by six executive judges: Chris Ballinger, senior vice president, chief financial officer, strategic innovation; Katherine Adkins, group vice president, general counsel and secretary; Julia Wada, group vice president of human resources and BTS; Albert Ma, chief information officer; David Christ, vice president of sales; and Ann Bybee, vice president of corporate strategy, communications and community.  Nearly 120 team members participated in this “live” event at TFS’ Torrance headquarters on June 2.
Miriam Naya, international treasury manager, says the contest—patterned on the popular reality television show of the same name—sought to expand on TFS’ participation in the Toyota-wide Innovation Fair held each fall.
“The fact is, we have a lot of people who have a lot of great ideas, but we don’t have enough mechanisms to communicate and share them,” says Naya. “This concept was a way to make innovation fun and engaging for everyone and help bring our best ideas to the attention of our executives.”

And the Winner Is... -- The top prize -- a $1,000 GEM award and up to $50,000 in funding for their mobile app concept -- went to (left to right) Hugh Sears, Kalika Gupta and Erin La.

A Mobile Starting Point?
Gupta certainly took full advantage of the opportunity. Though she came up with the original idea, she credits her colleagues with helping her flesh it out. For example, they helped answer such questions as:
  • Is such an app technically feasible?
  • Does it make good business sense?
  • Could it be more than just a service reminder?
  • Could it deliver discount service coupons to Toyota owners?
  • Could it be used to promote other TFS finance and insurance products?
  • Could it help TFS gather valuable customer data?
So that presentation, that started with Sears rummaging through a trash can, ended with a cost-benefit analysis that showed how the app could actually boost TFS’ bottom line. The executive judges, sufficiently intrigued, awarded the team a $1,000 GEM prize as well as up to $50,000 in funding to jumpstart the project.

“That’s enough to do a proof of concept,” says Gupta. “We’re a long ways from developing the perfect mobile marketing strategy. But you have to start somewhere and then build on it. This app could be that starting point.”
Meanwhile, TFS will continue to encourage team members to think outside the box. Next up on the calendar: the TFS Innovation Fair, set for October 18. To learn more, look for updates on My Toolbox [make link:*&val=1].
By Dan Miller 

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