The best service is no service.'
At first, Chuck Halper, Hyundai Motor America's service director, seems to have an unusual service philosophy. 'What I mean by that,' he quickly adds, 'is to strive, first and foremost, to make sure you've got one hell of a good product. People don't really want to kill their Saturdays ... by taking their cars down to the dealership to part with their money to get something fixed.'
Halper was one of the architects of the service operation for the Infiniti Division of Nissan Motor Corp. U.S.A. At first glance, it doesn't seem as if there would be a lot of parallels between luxury-class Infiniti and entry-class Hyundai customers. But Halper says they both want the same things. 'The customers' expectation levels don't change because their wallets are a little smaller,' he says.
'I would argue that people that have a little less to spend on a new motor vehicle - maybe they only have one car in their family - have a need for maybe even a higher level of service than some of the so-called luxury-car customers who have three cars and maybe a little more flexibility in their schedules.'
With two years under his belt, how does Halper view the effectiveness of Hyundai's service organization? 'I think the best way to rate it is to allow our retailers to rate it,' he says. 'Industrial Marketing Research does an every-other-year survey of retailer service managers. They ask a battery of 150 or 200 questions about all measures of manufacturers' support. And in last year's study, Hyundai was rated by its dealers as fourth-best in the industry.'
Halper is quick to credit his staff for the high ranking. Hyundai's district managers 'know how the service business runs, and they know what our cars are all about. And I think they do a good job of gaining the respect of the retail community. That's why we get the good ratings.'
New diagnostic system
Hyundai is upgrading its dealership vehicle-diagnostic system, which is based on a personal computer. The intent is to put more diagnostic and training information at the service technicians' fingertips.
'We should almost think of today's automobile technician as a computer technician, an electronics specialist,' Halper says, 'someone who needs a fairly sophisticated support to help them properly diagnose and repair automobiles.'
The upgrade of the scan tool, called ProScan, will be available to Hyundai dealers later this summer.
Last year Hyundai also made news by posting its service manuals on its Web site - the first time an automaker has done this. The rationale: 'It gets back to a study I remember seeing that the No. 1 reason that technicians don't get cars fixed right the first time isn't their lack of skill; it's the lack of information,' Halper says.
'Being able to call up a particular page electronically right in the service bay without hunting all over the shop for a stolen book seems a much better way to do business. Besides, we can (instantly) update all those service manuals.'
Started at Chrysler
Halper got into the automobile business at an early age. His father owned a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Englewood, Calif.
He joined Chrysler Corp. right out of college, working at Los Angeles Car and Truck Assembly as a financial analyst in the budget and financial planning area. 'It's funny how little things can affect your life,' he recalls. 'I won a $500 scholarship from Bank of America when I was in college for doing well in accounting. They saw that at Chrysler ... and attached me to accounting. And I never forgave them for it,' he jokes.
After a year, Halper convinced his superiors to transfer him to production control, and he ended up supervising 'what they call deck men, basically inventory control analysts for the production line.'
When the plant shut down in 1972, Halper went to Nissan. 'I went to service, and I haven't left since.'
He ended up working in every part of the service organization. Halper was one of the lucky individuals tapped to start up Nissan's luxury-car division in the mid-1980s.
Initially he served as parts and service development manager. When Infiniti sales began in 1990, he became the parts and service manager. 'I went from cooking up the meal to going out and eating it,' he recalls. When Nissan reorganized in mid-1993, it eliminated almost all of Infiniti's dedicated national staff. He then served as manager of strategy and analysis in Nissan's Parts and Service Division.
Halper defines his job at Hyundai simply: 'Find out what customers want and need, and give it to them.'
He adds: 'Nobody can succeed anymore by managing defects. It's really an issue today of managing and designing to meet customers' expectations. And you might even say more than their expectations.'
Halper says his No. 1 goal for Hyundai's service organization starts with product. 'Whether you are speaking from the vantage point of the salesperson, marketer, service person, continue to ... work with your factory to produce a better and better car that requires less and less repair. That's really what I'm trying to do.
'That may not sound like the best thing that retailers like to hear,' he adds, 'because certainly the service section of the business is a profit opportunity. ...But I would argue that if we make a better car, our retailers will enjoy a much higher owner retention.'
In the 1990s Hyundai has had a rocky road dealing with customer concerns about quality. How can the company combat lingering negative perceptions? 'I think there is only one way to overcome those,' Halper says. 'First of all, you better recognize them and admit them. Understand them, get to the root cause, fix them and deliver what the customer expects, or better.'
Karen Passino is an Automotive News associate editor