Chrysler's CSI crash course
144 worst stores will get first training
Nearly 150 Chrysler Group dealerships face a year of intense training to treat consumers better as Chrysler struggles to raise its bottom-dwelling customer satisfaction scores.
Later, another roughly 650 dealerships will follow suit, said Peter Grady, Chrysler's head of network development and fleet. The training is expected to start within weeks.
Three years after it began a top-to-bottom makeover of its cars, pickups and SUVs, Chrysler Group now says the main threat to continued success is substandard customer service by its dealers.
The company has hired Cardone Group, a Florida-based automotive sales and service consulting company that helped Nissan and Infiniti dealers improve sales satisfaction. Cardone will help the 144 lowest-ranked of the group's nearly 2,600 dealerships diagnose what is wrong and fix it.
Cardone's training includes two days a month of sales training and interactive role-playing exercises. Cardone will focus on the dealerships that need the most help.
Separately, factory personnel from Chrysler's nine business centers will help train the rest of Chrysler's dealerships that sign up.
"As our products improve, if the dealers don't improve our customers' experience, that could be our Achilles' heel. And it probably is at the moment," Grady told Automotive News. "For the last 10 or 20 years, it's been product quality -- and I think we've basically shaken most of that. Now it's the experience in the dealership."
Chrysler didn't identify the first 144 dealerships that will go through the program.
A pilot program operating at a dozen Phoenix dealerships since mid-2012 has raised satisfaction scores in both sales and service dramatically, Grady says. Sales advocacy -- in which customers recommend a dealership to a friend after a visit -- increased by an average of five percentage points more than national averages.
All of Chrysler's nine business centers have completed training to expand the Phoenix pilot program nationwide.
Chrysler will share the cost of the training with the dealer. Grady declined to disclose the costs involved. Participation is voluntary, but Chrysler is strongly encouraging the selected dealerships to sign up.
The program relies on Internet customer surveys and follow-up e-mails from customers who visit the dealership for sales or service. Within a few days of a customer's visit, dealers receive feedback from the customer.
Then consultants from Cardone and factory representatives from a Chrysler business center work with the dealer to fix trouble spots.
"If you look at the root cause of a lot of the problems in a dealership -- any dealership -- communications is at the heart of a lot of them," said Derek Simonds, national sales manager at Cardone Group.
For example, service personnel will be trained to return a vehicle so that the customer knows exactly what was done and why.
Under previous efforts to boost CSI, or customer satisfaction index, scores, Chrysler simply threatened to yank incentive bonuses if dealers didn't raise the scores -- then left dealers to their own devices on how to do so, Grady said.
Dealership problems are "all different, and that's the thing. As you dig into it, this is why we went down this path ... everybody's got different problems," Grady said.
In November, the Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Chrysler brands finished in the bottom six with Kia and Mitsubishi in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index Study.
The low rankings came in the same year, 2012, that CEO Sergio Marchionne ended incentive payments in Chrysler's Dealer Standards program.
The CEO warned dealers at the time that he no longer would write checks to dealers who weren't taking care of customers.
Chrysler dealers didn't bring up the factory's customer satisfaction initiative during the make meeting in Orlando. But several dealers said afterward that they recognize that low customer satisfaction is their responsibility.
"This is our job. We can't blame the product anymore," said Dave Kelleher, former Chrysler National Dealer Council chairman and owner of David Dodge in suburban Philadelphia. Kelleher said dealers will welcome the help from the factory.
He said: "It's only going to help their businesses and help them be more profitable."
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.