May 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

Making Tracks

TireRack.com wants to know what its customers think of its products; eager customers want to tell. The web merges the two desires into a super-charged customer survey.

The Tire Rack caters to car enthusiasts who care a great deal about the performance of their tires. Now it’s leveraging its web site to tap into customers’ feelings and knowledge about tires to help the company’s suppliers design tires that Tire Rack will in turn sell to those same customers.

Tire Rack will be the only U.S. seller of the Avon Tyres USA line that Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. will introduce this spring. By bridging customer-expressed needs with actual tire designs, Tire Rack expects to increase demand for Avon tires, says Matt Edmonds, Tire Rack’s vice president of marketing. “One of our real strengths,” he says, “is that we’ll be able to help create demand for the Avon brand.”

Tire Rack has been garnering customer feedback on tires since 1995, when it started surveying customers in forms mailed with catalogs three times a year. But after building an e-commerce web site in 1998, it expanded its surveying to a nearly constant basis through e-mailed customer-satisfaction surveys following each order.

Customers’ fanaticism

Now further web-based refinements are making it even easier for Tire Rack to take advantage of customers’ fanaticism about tires. Customers’ willingness to participate complements the increased ability the web offers to send out more frequent surveys, Edmonds says. And because Tire Rack now e-mails links to the web-based survey forms, it can send more surveys, gathering more data in less time and at less cost than under its former mail system. “A web-based survey allows us to easily and quickly compile data and work with it,” Edmonds says. “In the paper world, it would take time to get surveys mailed in and entered into our database. Now we can start to see results immediately.”

Customers who respond to surveys click a link in an e-mail message that takes them to a survey form on TireRack.com. The survey asks questions regarding customers’ perceived quality and performance of their tires on a scale of 1 to 10. Customer ratings of their tires, plus vehicle mileage, make and year are automatically compiled in a database. The data, which Tire Rack processes in a software program it developed in-house, are presented in real-time to visitors on TireRack.com who are researching how well particular tires perform.

Two Tire Rack staffers analyze additional information garnered from online written comments from customers. They then place the comments on the web for public review along with other research.

Because the survey data now are all input electronically on the web, Tire Rack has been able to filter the information in multiple ways to quickly present more useful data reports to its online customers. “As our database grows, we can offer consumers better ways to look at our data,” Edmonds says.

Sharing results

At the same time, Tire Rack itself uses the data to supplement its own research conducted on its test track. “We get feedback from customer surveys that often validates the information gained from our testing process, but it may reveal other things that our tests didn’t,” he says. With the speed of the web in channeling information, he adds, consumer surveys can serve as an early-warning tool for any problems or customer issues.

Tire Rack now is sharing its web-gathered information, along with results of its own driving tests, with Cooper Tire as the manufacturer gets ready to roll out the Avon line. Online and call center orders are most often shipped to tire-installing shops, but some customers purchase tires mounted and balanced on new rims for home delivery.

Tire Rack markets its web site through a broad range of advertising and public relations efforts, including appearances at community events and ads in national car magazines. That exposure, combined with the extensive research it’s able to gather and present through the web, is helping build its customer base among the general public as well as car enthusiasts, Edmonds says. “The web is truly becoming a great source of new customers for us,” he says.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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