Chrysler sends mystery shoppers to dealerships

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli was a mystery shopper when he was Home Depot chairman.
DETROIT — Chrysler LLC wants to find out how well its dealership salespeople know their way around the company's vehicles. So the automaker is sending hundreds of mystery shoppers into the field to evaluate them.

Salespeople who pass the test with flying colors can win as much as $1,000 in a drawing. Chrysler claims the program can be a motivational tool and can focus its sales force on promoting the virtues of its vehicles, rather than deals.

Likes, dislikes

Mystery shopper programs have supporters and detractors. Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli is a believer and became a mystery shopper himself when he was chairman of Home Depot Inc. But critics say mystery shoppers can be easily identified by experienced salespeople and can alienate sales personnel if not handled carefully.

The "Chrysler Multi-Million Dollar Mystery Shop Challenge" began May 12 and will run through December. During that time, the automaker will conduct more than 20,000 mystery shopper visits, roughly one for every sales consultant at every dealership.

Chrysler has hired contractor Market Force Inc. to handle the shopping. The firm has a network of about 140,000 shoppers, says Mark Engelsdorfer, director of the Chrysler Academy, which is running the program.

Chrysler hopes the program will get the sales force focused on the attributes of its vehicles.

"It's an opportunity to increase the customer satisfaction and the product focus our salespeople should have," says Engelsdorfer, who adds that Chrysler had good results from a similar study in 2004.

No distraction

Chuck Fortinberry, owner of Clarkston Chrysler-Jeep in Clarkston, Mich., says Chrysler has assured dealers that the mystery shoppers won't distract salespeople by coming into the store when traffic is heavy.

Art Spinella, analyst for CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore., says salespeople are good at identifying real prospects. They don't appreciate spending time with mystery shoppers, he adds. "To have one of your ups get wasted by having to deal with a mystery shopper is not good."

Dealerships can benefit

Pen Frey, vice president of sales and operations for Jeff D'Ambrosio Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Downingtown, Pa., says dealerships can benefit from mystery shopping. But, he says, so many customers these days do advance research on the Internet and make initial contacts by phone that many are sold by the time they walk in the door. "The problem is, the live shopper is diminishing," Frey says. "The reason he got live is because somebody handled him right in the first place." 

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@autonews.com

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