Boler-Davis: GM won't rest on laurels as it launches 28 products

Alicia Boler-Davis: "We took the unusual step of linking customer experience and product quality."

Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
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NEW ORLEANS -- General Motors topped the J.D. Power vehicle quality survey for the first time in 2013. But Alicia Boler-Davis, GM's senior vice president of global customer experience and quality, knows this is no time for the Detroit carmaker to rest on its laurels.

"Our biggest challenge -- 28 new products over two years," she said in her keynote speech at the J.D. Power International Automotive Roundtable here Friday, referring to the company's ambitious launch schedule for 2013-14. "That's been our focus. It has caused us to look at the vehicle development process.

"It has forced us to go back and make some big changes in how we launch. It's not just 2013 and 2014. If we don't launch them well, we won't have a chance to top any survey."

Boler-Davis, who was manager of a suburban Detroit GM plant just two years ago, talked about some steps the company has taken to put quality at the center of its culture.

"To deliver on our pledge and take customer experience where we want it to be, we took the unusual step of linking customer experience and product quality," she said. "I'm the first person to lead these functions. This has allowed us to build a customer-centric strategy."

Last month, GM set up a Customer Engagement Center at its suburban Detroit tech center that aims to bring engineers into contact with customers to learn about their wants and needs.

And it doesn't stop there, she said. Having watched the problems other carmakers had with infotainment systems, GM has worked hard to find out what customers want in these systems.

"We sent engineers into the field to ride with customers," Boler-Davis said. "We learned a lot."

The systems include Chevrolet MyLink, Cadillac Cue and Buick IntelliLink.

GM is working to shorten communication lines between dealerships and engineers so customer problems can be resolved faster.

"I was surprised at how long it takes an issue to get from finding the right person to getting it fixed. Now, having customer experience and quality together, we can get it from the dealer to the engineer responsible in a day."

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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