Service Manager Patrick Mackey recently faced a disgruntled General Motors customer who came to him reluctantly for a repair after another dealership had failed to fix the problem.
Mackey decided to smooth things over. Give me a chance to fix the car, he offered, and I'll pay your car payment for one month. Plus, I'll give you a year's extension to your OnStar subscription to make up for the inconvenience.
It was an offer few service managers would have made. But Mackey works at a GM Certified Elite dealership: Brasher Motor Co. of Weimar in Texas.
With that Certified Elite status come perks, one of which is the ability to make aggressive offers with the confidence that the factory won't nickel-and-dime the dealership for doing it.
"Everybody could do that, even if you're not Certified Elite, but you have to submit a form and hope GM will approve it," says Mackey. "My rep told me, 'You can do whatever I can do. I can't tell you no.' I knew I could get it paid for by GM."
In July 2011, GM developed its Certified Elite program to help qualified dealers run a more efficient service business and improve customer service satisfaction. Of GM's 4,300 dealers, 300 currently qualify. Those who do say they derive tremendous benefits from the designation.
"It allows the managers to do their job without having to get permission," says Joe Clemens, general manager of another Certified Elite dealership, Sapaugh Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac in Herculaneum, Mo.
"It allows us to handle our warranty claims a lot easier and make the best decisions for all the parties concerned," Clemens says. "It saves us a day on average of getting the decision handled. So the customer feels like we're making the decision right here and we've got their best interest in mind."
- Complete all technical training GM requires per brand
- Fix warranty repairs right the first time
- Use a target volume of Genuine GM Parts
- Perform all available updates on new vehicles before delivering them
- Retain a target number of paying service customers within a 12-month period
Source: General Motors
It doesn't cost dealers to participate in Certified Elite, but GM grades its dealerships on five areas every six months to see whether they qualify. The criteria are tough, which is why just 7 percent of GM's dealers make the cut.
"You really have to be the best of the best to earn this distinction," says Dave Burnicle, senior manager for Service Development and Service Effectiveness at GM, in Grand Blanc, Mich.
Dealers who make the grade win what Burnicle calls "enhanced empowerment" when it comes to approving warranty claims. For example, if a technician needs more time to make a repair than GM typically pays for, the dealership does not need GM's approval to spend that extra time, he says.
Certified Elite dealerships do not have to keep old warranty parts for 15 days, as most GM dealerships do. They have to keep parts for only one day, freeing up storage space.
The dealerships also get more flexibility in spending advertising funds. They can use the money to buy items such as tablets for the service lanes, Burnicle says.
Finally, the dealerships get direct access to GM's Level 2 technical assistance center, which advises on knottier problems.
"This allows dealers to bypass Level 1 when they call the help desk," Burnicle says. "These dealers have already completed their training and earned the right to go straight to Level 2 and get help faster."
Dealers say they also get their GM reimbursement money a "couple of days" faster.
Brasher Motor, owned by Tommy Brasher, has been Certified Elite for two years. In that time, the store's customer satisfaction score has risen to the 81st percentile from the 76th.
Brasher credits much of that to the increased ability to service his customers. He says service revenues are up, too, but he wasn't able to provide figures.
"We don't have to let someone in Detroit make warranty decisions for us," Brasher says. "We know what's right. We can handle it on the spot. It makes the customer happy."
Clemens, of Sapaugh Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac, says being a Certified Elite store saves the customer time.
Before the dealership was Certified Elite, a customer might wait an entire day for GM to approve a warranty repair, and the store ended up supplying the customer with a loaner car. The dealership services about 150 cars a day, and providing even 10 of those customers with loaners for a day would cost the store $420.
Now, Clemens can get the work done right away, which pleases the customer.
The dealership has qualified for Certified Elite status for all but one six-month period since the program began.
"If you're not doing those practices, you're not really doing your best business," Clemens says. "Anybody can sell a car for any price, but taking care of a customer and keeping them coming back is so much more important to me than just selling them a car. Those who succeed at service will win at this game long term."