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Toyota is a brand New Zealanders have trusted for generations. They have always prided themselves on great customer service, but realise that today’s consumer wants to be treated as an individual with solutions that are specific to their needs. A “one size fits most” approach no longer cuts it in a world where social media means everyone is an influencer.  

Alway the first to respond to market demands, Toyota NZ moved away from the traditional customer sales journey to a philosophy of hospitality, where personal relationships are the key. Hospitality means treating your “customer” as a welcome guest. To do this, Toyota seeks to create a unique guest experience for everyone who walks onto one of their dealerships – a very different idea to seeing everyone as a potential sale!


Having already developed face-to-face training with hospitality expert, Alexis O’Connell from The Hospitality Company, who helped their teams develop a hospitality mindset, the challenge was to now get this consistent messaging out to new staff across the business. 

Toyota realised they needed an elearning specialist to help them create a course that would reach their teams across New Zealand quickly. They wanted learning that was story-based and used real-world examples, but that also spoke to the learner in a way they could relate to immediately. 

Toyota asked us to work with their hospitality subject matter expert to discuss their goals and desired outcomes for the project. They knew they wanted something that felt as warm and inviting as the face-to-face training, so their team members who could not experience it for themselves received the same understanding and sense of purpose. As Alexis said, they wanted a “Toyota family feel”.


They approached the project with an enthusiasm and openness to all the possibilities good elearning design can offer, and true to their hospitality philosophy, flew Smartwork Creative to their Head Office in Palmerston North to walk us through the face-to-face training and talk best practice as well as the needs of their people. We worked with their Learning and Development team and Alexis to capture Toyota’s values. 

It was decided the best method was to break the content into four separate easy to digest modules to focus the learning, and cater to the fact that their staff had guests needing their immediate attention. This meant the content would be direct, engaging and relevant to them in their current situation – regardless of where they worked in the business. Toyota’s hospitality does not stop at the frontline. Everyone from the groomers to the mechanics to the sales teams have undertaken to make Toyota the preferred choice by treating everyone from the public as a welcome guest. 

Each module focused on a specific part of the learning with its own set of unique interactive experiences. It was agreed that a blend of video and scenario-based critical thinking exercises would suit their people. This bespoke thinking allowed the modules to be designed specifically for Toyota and their culture, using imagery and wording their teams relate to. Each module could stand alone and be rolled out across the business and partnerships, as well as fit together as a complete course.

Our Instructional Designer, Erica, worked closely with Alexis to get to grips with the deeper thinking behind a hospitality focus to selling cars. Most people associate hospitality with the restaurant industry and while this is Alexis’ background, the concept of making your team and your visitors feel important and valued is boundaryless. 

We looked for opportunities to highlight moments when adding in extra care and consideration could be emphasised in such a way that put people first. This meant fleshing out the differences between good service and hospitality, what teams are already doing that works in with this new thinking, and what they can do to build upon it. The thrust of the learning was to take them from reactive (service) to proactive (hospitality). Toyota’s teams were already delivering excellent customer service, so the step towards hospitality was a small but crucial one.

Praising your team in Toyota's hospitality elearning module
Erica wrote and designed the interactives and scenarios for each module with this in mind, and then collaborated with Alexis to ensure the messaging was clear, concise, and on-brand. All the modules Smartwork Creative produces are founded on solid adult learning theory, and once we were happy with the focus and that the learning was correctly addressed, it was given to Toyota’s Learning and Development team and Alexis to approve. After a collaborative round of checks of the instructional design it was all a go.

The project was then handed over to our team of designers with JJ taking on the production challenge using marketing images and videos Toyota provided. Our design genius, Erin, took into account Toyota’s branding, and the desire to make the modules feel welcoming and friendly, and built a beautiful template the client was very happy with.

how to develop your strong culture of hospitality from Toyota's hospitality elearning module

As with all creative processes, there was some back and forth as the build continued, to ensure the best experience for the learners possible, and the client appreciated how “accommodating and competent with all the random thoughts” we are. Like Toyota, we believe in putting people first. We were especially pleased when Alexis wrote us to say:

Wonderful work! I’m totally sold on team projects like this – although perhaps not all teams are as good as you people!

We shared each step of the modules’ development to ensure the learner experience (what is being taught) as well as the user experience (the function of the design elements) was fit for purpose. Nothing creates better feedback than user testing, and we ensure we capture as much of this as possible throughout the process.

The build took an unexpected turn with the national COVID-19 lockdown, but the project was not derailed, and it was agreed by all involved that it was even more important to have something for the teams to have in place once business resumed as normal (whenever that was going to be). 

As they are completed and quality checked, the modules are being rolled out by Toyota to all their employees and partners to support them as they continue to “go above and beyond” at a time in New Zealand where relationships and kindness are increasingly valued.