DaimlerChrysler will begin touting its Five Star dealers in a direct mailing to current and previous owners of Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.
'We want these current and past customers to know that their dealer is a Five Star dealer, that they (dealers) have gone through a cultural change,' said John MacDonald, DaimlerChrysler senior vice president of sales and service. 'We want that owner to come back and give him a try.'
In 1997, Chrysler Corp. overhauled its Five Star program. It dumped the old certification process, which simply called for dealers to achieve and maintain good customer satisfaction scores.
Now, to earn Five Star status, dealers must go through a time-consuming and costly certification process. Dealers must adopt, maintain and document best business practices. For example, dealers must establish a customer followup system in both the sales and service departments.
The best practices and procedures, and their documentation, are akin to an automotive supplier earning QS-9000 status.
Since Five Star was overhauled in 1997, some 1,200 dealers have been recertified under the more stringent rules, and they represent 52 percent of sales volume, said Gary Dilts, DaimlerChrysler vice president of retail strategies and dealer relations.
The new Five Star dealers do get some perks that are not extended to other dealers. For instance, DaimlerChrysler's new Get A Quote software, which enables consumers to request a quote on a new vehicle over the Internet, is available only to Five Star dealers.
'It is time to turn the volume up and let the public know about our Five Star dealers,' Dilts said.
Dealers are buying into Five Star, MacDon-ald said, despite the time commitment, the training and the expense.
MacDonald said he has not had any backlash from dealers who have no interest in gaining Five Star status.
'This is not a punitive effort,' he said. 'We want 100 percent of our dealers to be Five Star certified.'
But MacDonald acknowledged that that goal may not be attainable.
He said DaimlerChrysler is pushing its Five Star program even though the latest customer satisfaction index scores indicated that 83 percent of all DaimlerChrysler customers were completely satisfied with the buying process and another 10 percent were somewhat satisfied.