World Wide Waste with Gerry McGovern

Karen Peeters ‘Discovering digital reliability and quality: the Toyota story’

John Carter
June 17, 2020
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Karen Peeters ‘Discovering digital reliability and quality: the Toyota story’

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Episode Transcript

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Gerry McGovern  00:00

Welcome to World Wide Waste, a podcast about how digital is killing the planet and what to do about it. What is quality when it comes to web design, web development, web management? How do we know the customer is having a quality experience? How do we know as a web professional that we are doing a quality job? These are questions Karen Peeters, General Manager, Omni-Channel Management at Toyota Europe has been asking. I must apologize that the quality of the recording of Karen’s voice is very poor. We had technical difficulties. However, the quality of the information that Karen delivers is extremely high. In fact, it is some of the most important insights that I have heard in 25 years of working in web management. If we focused more on quality and reliability in digital, instead of on quantity and rapid execution, we would create so much less waste. If you want to focus on quality on the web, one of the first things you do is focus on fast downloading pages.

Karen Peeters  01:34

The main thing we saw was a shift to mobile and we’ve been mainly fighting with marketing for years on the importance of speed, right? That low-speed pages is really chasing people away. Combined with the fact that we had too much, let’s say, hobby cooks in the kitchen trying to just quickly build, creativity agencies trying to do something to quickly do a campaign, and we needed something to show and to prove that this was impacting quality. It’s also linked to a piece of work that we did on digital governance, where we said, ‘Look, we are a company known for the quality of our products, the cars. We’re obsessed by quality. But in essence, a digital product should have the same care about quality.’

So we revised our KPI framework. In the beginning, everything was about site traffic. So now we put as a foundation, we have digital quality, we have digital satisfaction, and then we have business contribution. So we redesigned the framework we’re working against just to make sure that we do deliver and the satisfaction – in fact, the whole work was starting from the quality. But on the quality, what we’re looking at is the loading time, the average JavaScript errors, the amount of mistakes – spelling mistakes, missing images, broken links, blah blah blah. So we have a whole framework of this which is showing the average performance by market. And we really challenged them to get to certain targets. So, for instance, on speed, the most perfect speed would be scored 1. Our target is currently 0.85. But in certain markets – where, for instance, the consumer in the Nordics, they are even more demanding – we are raising the bar, because at 0.85 performance in the Nordics, it’s still not delivering the highest customer satisfaction. They still think it’s too slow.

The whole digital quality framework that we designed was very much in line with our thinking on vehicle quality. So I started to have meetings with the vehicle quality divisions in our team to understand what is your definition of quality? How do you measure quality? Especially when we started releasing the app, which is a customer app that we have, the fact that the app is a product was even stronger than we had before. Because the app becomes a tool for the consumer to manage his car, so, especially for this one, we went one step further in aligning what we call the typical vehicle quality processes and trying to think what could be the virtual replica. And this is also picked up by the quality team and together there is an initiative around what we call digital quality product alignment. We’re still, of course, building it step by step. I’m not saying we are there yet. So what we have now achieved – say, from our website, we see quality performance being really speed of loading and this kind of stuff, but we’re taking it further step by step as we are evolving, and especially as, for instance, the role of an app is becoming more important.

Gerry M  05:02

It continues to amaze me why we have so many poor quality websites, too much poor quality code, too much poor quality content.

Karen  05:14

I always think it’s because digital is a bit of cowboy lands. Anyone who can code a little can go digital.

Gerry M  05:18

A foundation of quality is how you deal with bugs, out-of-date content, broken links. Many organizations I’ve dealt with over the years find it extremely difficult to fix basic things, to remove out-of-date content, to fix broken links.

Karen  05:38

We have someone who’s looking what is on the tickets that are coming in, so we can identify if there is a structural issue or it’s really a content issue, so we can more quickly identify a bug, and then we also have resolution time targets. So where sometimes the problem is really complicated – like if it’s a car configurator, the problem could be in the database, it could be in the code, it could be in the model setup, it could be in images, could be in 3D, could be really any one. But even for these ones we have a way or a process where all these people on these very specific complex ones have a fixed time slot – that is quite recent, by the way – in the week where all of them are available. So if one of the issues is occurring, they can all get on the phone and we can see what is the fastest way to resolve it.

Because one thing is to see what is the quality. The second thing is to identify how many ongoing quality issues – because the website is constantly changing, right? How many of these issues can be identified as structural issues, and then also how quickly can we solve them? Instead of saying, ‘Okay, there’s something on the Belgian site. One day we will fix it.’ No. The issue is we’ve seen a reoccurring issue, how can you fix it? This is all of the kinds of thinking that we have in-house. It took us maybe a bit too long, if we reflect back, that we are sitting in the middle of an organization obsessed by quality, so it is more than natural that we use all the tools and frameworks that we can learn from our people working on the product quality to apply these same methods for us.

Gerry M  07:12

Interacting with digital requires a reduction of the senses. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of people feel particularly stressed with Zoom-type meetings. You can’t really read the room, you can’t really get a sense for what’s actually happening. What it forces you to do is really concentrate on listening a lot more. You go to much more singular senses, and that’s a real problem. Toyota have been aware of these sorts of issues for years, and have been very focused in relation to their metrics in delivering good visualizations of how they show and present data. They recognized that digital metrics in particular are very problematic. It’s very difficult to understand what digital data is actually telling you. How many visitors, how many pages they looked at, it’s very hard to get a sense for what all this means. So they looked at their core metrics, like page performance, and they said, ‘How could we visualize this better?’ And they come up with a very interesting concept, a UFO-type orb that they place in their headquarters office in Belgium that they call Simon.

Karen  08:30

Simon because it looks like the game of Simon that we all know from when we were young, with the colors. It’s turning around any changing color. So if there is something, everyone sees that something is going on, and the right people know how to interpret it.

Gerry M  08:46

This is amazing. A UFO-type orb sitting in Toyota headquarters that changes colors based on the experience people are having on the website. So if the websites are downloading really quickly, the orb is nice and white colored. However, as the websites begin to slow down, the orb begins to change color and gets redder and redder.

Karen  09:11

If you look in Toyota, the way we work, the visualization of problems is one of the elements that we learn in the whole Toyota concept. So the problem that you often have with digital is that it’s perceived as very complicated, and when you start to explain, you’re losing all of the people. But by having a device like this, we can very easily explain what it stands for, so it makes it much more accessible. So we had info sessions – even with our President and CEO – explaining what this thing was doing. It was not just on that topic – we were explaining everything that was happening in the team – but this, people remember it.

Gerry M  09:51

One of the most important things you can do as a digital designer is to help visualize the experience that the people who are you using your product are having, and bring that visualization into your organization in an empathetic way. We need innovative ideas like Simon to create a sense of what is actually happening out there. Because in most digital teams, we actually don’t know what is actually happening out there in the world of use, and this is a real Achilles heel of digital. Another thing we have to do is create systems that allow for the ongoing maintenance and continuous improvement of the digital environment. So many times, we find a mistake on a website, bring that back and then nothing happens. How can you be delivering quality if you’re not able to respond to errors and bugs that you’re finding on the website, and to be able to respond in a timely, efficient manner?

Karen  10:58

With the tool that we have, we can very quickly analyze. I mean, you can really drill down and see almost like where in the code is it and then we can see, okay, which agency or which market or whatever, who wrote this code, because we need to get in touch with them. Every month we have a digital quality stand-up meeting where we go through all the quality KPIs and see where we have an issue. We also have one person who is almost full time only looking into the quality items and escalating where it would be needed.

But I think, to really take a step back, a couple of years ago, we were really struggling on what we call digital governance. We had created the pillars of what we call digital governance, of which quality is one of them. But we started to do interviews with really GMs and above in the organization. What does digital mean for you? This is where we realized that digital, everyone gives a different meaning to it. For some people, digital is anything you see on your screen, so if their email would be down, they would call me. But for some people, it’s more like okay, this is related to the website. So already to define together what do we mean by digital and what do we mean then by digital quality was, I think, the starting point. But first of all, the most important thing is that we realized also in these discussions is that we had KPIs but we didn’t have a governance framework for our digital product like we had it for fiscal. So where we manage the network, we have KPIs on network, we have KPIs on satisfaction, KPIs on product quality and things like this. So we really tried to replicate this, but for digital.

Gerry M  12:43

Quality is an ongoing conversation, something that requires constant research. Toyota are famous for the reliability of their cars. What does reliability mean when it comes to the websites and the apps? Isn’t it as important that the website is reliable, that the app is reliable?

Karen  13:07

When we did the top task together with you, one of these items that came out very strongly was reliability. But reliability is a very broad topic. Reliability is also ‘I can rely on this bloody website to tell me now what I need to know’. And ‘now’ means that it’s performing fast, I can find what I’m looking for. So it’s a whole spectrum of elements that together will tick the box of what we call basic quality – so its speed, bug-free, data correctness, accessible, and so on and so on.

Gerry M  13:41

Toyota are becoming proactive when it comes to quality and reliability on their websites and apps. So they’re not waiting any more to discover problems, discover issues and then go and fix them. They’re looking to put in quality control marks in advance to make sure that the best quality web environment is introduced to begin with.

Karen  14:07

Because of mobile, we put the maximum amount of words that can go into a title or in a paragraph, just to avoid a page which looks good on desktop doesn’t look like a thousand meters long on mobile. And this is also really kind of useful. For instance, when you’re trying to load an image in a page which is too heavy. I mean, now it is like post checking, but we are about to move to a new platform. And there we will even block publishing if it’s not meeting the quality standard.

Gerry M  14:38

What does quality have to do with the environment? Quality products are products that last. Quality websites tend to be websites that actually deliver basic functional information, rather than amazing bells and whistles, than wow moments, than incredibly useless innovation that we find in so much that is digital. Quality and reliability are often more associated with maintenance. It is this maintenance culture that we need far more in digital than the phony creativity, the phony and useless innovation, the wow factors that drive so much of digital decision making. And of course, it’s an ongoing conversation. It never ends. We’re constantly seeking to incrementally improve and deliver a better experience.

Karen  15:32

At the same time, we’re not there yet, right? I mean, having the measurement tool is a starting point. Now we need to make sure that all of our markets are meeting the targets, which is still at the moment not the case. We have more and more markets getting close or meeting the target, but we need to constantly keep working. You need to keep an eye on it. It’s an ongoing effort.

Gerry M  15:54

If you’re interested in these sorts of ideas, I’ve published a book called World Wide Waste. You can find out more at Thank you. I hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you’d like to be part of the conversation or community, hop on over to, where you can join the Slack community and help shape future episodes and connect with other designers around the world. Or join the HCD newsletter, where you can win books and get updates. Subscribe to our content on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and listen to any of our design podcasts, such as Getting Started in Design and Bringing Design Closer, with Gerry Scullion; Power of Ten with Andy Polaine; Decoding Culture with Dr John Curran; ProdPod with Adrienne Tan; and EthnoPod with Jay Hasbrouck. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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