LOS ANGELES - Trying to erase the order-taker image of its dealerships, Toyota Division this week will roll out a pilot dealer-standards program designed to raise customer satisfaction with the sales transaction to the same high level as Toyota's product quality. The plan, called Signature, will be tested at 50 stores in the next six months.
Jim Melton, Toyota corporate manager of retail development, said the program has become necessary because the company's 1,200 dealers are expected to handle 30 percent sales growth over the next decade.
'A lot of dealers don't have the efficiencies in place to handle the gain to 1.8 million sales a year,' Melton said. 'Dealers are tired of getting ground up. They're tired of the product being rated up here and the CSI rated down there.'
Since 1998, according to J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota consistently has outpaced the rest of the industry in product quality - and just as consistently trailed in sales satisfaction.
As measured by Power's Initial Quality Survey, which samples buyers' satisfaction with the quality of their vehicle, Toyota registered only 1.62 defects per vehicle in 1998, 1.35 in 1999 and 1.18 in 2000. That compared with the industry's average of 1.76 defects per vehicle in 1998, and 1.67 and 1.54, respectively, for the next two years.
In contrast, Toyota trailed the industry in Power's Sales Satisfaction Index. The company scored 108 in 1998, 114 in 1999 and 118 in 2000, compared with an industry average of 120, 121 and 124 for those years.
For Signature, Toyota benchmarked dealer standards programs from DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Honda. However, unlike those programs, Signature has no cash incentives or dealer discounts for dealers who hit targets.
No cash involved
Although top dealers may get trips, a special luncheon or 'ego things' such as Toyota-badged gear, CSI scores will not be linked to cash, Melton said.
'The dealers don't want us to hold their money so we can give it to them later,' Melton said.
Toyota already has a program in place to audit the processes at work in a dealership, called Toyota Quality Experience. Signature is more of a best-practices program to let dealers know what customers expect of them.
Signature will evaluate dealers in 14 areas identified by customers as needing improvement across the board. Toyota field staff will walk dealers through the process of mapping its business processes and putting the work instructions in cold type.
Far too often, a dealership has a process mapped, but personnel turnover has meant a departing manager takes the process with him. Signature will allow a dealership to have a consistent program in place, complete with measures for continuous improvement, Melton said.
Rather than audit dealers monthly, Toyota will give dealers a running 90-day trend line as their method of grading.
'Focusing on short-term scores drives the wrong behavior,' Melton said.
'This is not the program of the month. This is a fundamental change in the way we need to do business.'