DETROIT — When Chrysler LLC first contacted Doug Betts last summer, the Nissan quality chief's main worry was that Chrysler was trying to poach members of his Nashville-based staff.
Little did Betts realize that the initial contact would lead him to a new job, one that's virtually unheard of in the auto industry: chief customer officer. Betts' task is to launch a new quality system into every department of Chrysler.
"Everybody in the company has an effect on customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction," he says. "Somebody needs to oversee that."
Betts, 44, has a big job. This year Chrysler vehicles tied Suzuki for last in Consumer Reports' annual auto issue, where Chrysler vehicles finished at or near the bottom of rankings for overall quality in every segment in which they compete.
Chrysler is trying to react quickly to what customers say about its vehicles. The company has announced about 500 changes to its vehicles and promises many more.
Betts' task: Improve performance on the assembly line; at parts factories, retail lots and dealer service bays; and on industry score cards. He has moved quickly, forming 18 customer satisfaction teams that started work in February and involve nearly 250 people.
"He's got a tough challenge ahead of him," said Neal Oddes, director of product research at J.D. Power and Associates. "He's got to get the new products off to a good start and get the old products back to where they were. It's a very important task."
Betts' odyssey started with a phone call from an official at Cerberus Capital Management last July, shortly after DaimlerChrysler AG announced that the New York private equity firm was the winning bidder for Chrysler.