Focus is follow-up on complaints, leads

GM raises the bar on dealership bonus program

Focus is follow-up on complaints, leads

General Motors is making it easier for its 4,300 dealerships to meet a mandate that they have an approved reputation-management vendor in place to fetch and monitor customer reviews.
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DETROIT -- General Motors dealers are being asked to make changes for 2014 aimed at keeping existing customers happy and reeling in some new ones.

Dealerships that participate in GM's Standards for Excellence bonus program will be required to designate a "customer experience manager." That designee will be the point person for handling any problem or complaint flagged from a customer survey or GM call center.

Boler-Davis: Single point of contact

"We're able to go to a single point of contact at the dealership in order to make sure we're addressing the issue as quickly as possible, rather than having multiple calls trying to find the right person," said Alicia Boler-Davis, GM's senior vice president of global quality and customer experience.

Also starting in 2014, dealership personnel will be required to go through training on operating a business development center, an office within the dealership in charge of following up on sales and service leads.

"They're all going to be required to go through an initial level of awareness training of what a BDC might look like," said David Mingle, GM's executive director of customer experience. "But it's up to the dealer as to what they want to execute."

GM's Standards for Excellence program pays dealers quarterly bonuses for increasing their year-over-year sales volume, hitting customer satisfaction benchmarks and participating in programs such as online reputation management and courtesy transportation for service customers.

The program is an important income stream for many stores. Dealerships now pay $15,000 to $35,000 a year to participate, depending on the stores' sales volume and brand. They can earn $10,000 to more than $100,000 a quarter.

Boler-Davis said GM is "making a big push for BDCs." She said only a small number of GM's roughly 4,300 dealerships, mostly large-volume stores, operate the centers.

"We're leveraging some of our dealers who have been in it for several years to show the dealer network, 'This is how much of an increase I've had from a sales or service perspective,'" she said.

Meanwhile, industrywide, many dealerships have been ditching their BDCs while asking regular sales staffers to pursue Internet leads and work the phones more actively.

GM dealerships have been designating customer experience managers over the past several months. It's part of a coordinated strategy under which GM also is beefing up its customer call centers to resolve customer problems more quickly and to flag potential product bugs.

GM recently opened a call center at its suburban Detroit technical center, its main hub for vehicle design and engineering. The idea is to create a closed-loop system, where customer feedback is routed through the call center to GM product developers. The new center even includes a so-called listening lounge, where designers and engineers can listen in on customer calls.

The center will house about 300 contract workers, overseen by about 35 GM managers. GM moved the work from a third-party center operator in Buenos Aires under a broader effort to bring management of its call centers in-house to fix customer problems faster and identify trouble spots more easily.

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