DETROIT -- At many of General Motors' 1,200 smallest dealerships, a GM rep hasn't walked through the door in 25 years. That's about to change.
Beginning in the first quarter of next year, GM district managers will make regular visits to those small, mostly rural dealerships, which now have only call-center contact with the company. GM created the call center system about 25 years ago.
The move back to face-to-face contact with GM reps is aimed at helping smaller dealers improve their business and customer service, said Alan Batey, GM's U.S. vice president of sales and service. GM has about 4,400 U.S. dealerships.
"If you really want to take customer experience to the next level and be a partner and adviser to the dealers, sitting across the table on a regular basis and working on strategy is definitely going to yield a lot more upside," Batey told Automotive News.
Batey made the announcement Tuesday evening at a national meeting of Chevrolet dealers in Las Vegas. GM's Buick, GMC and Cadillac dealers also will be notified of the change, a GM spokesman said.
Batey said the role of district managers has evolved from one of pushing cars onto unwilling dealers -- "to get orders and keep those factories running" -- to one of "trusted adviser."
"The dealer should see him as an adviser and someone they really trust to work hand-in-hand with to build the business," Batey said.
GM plans to add about 75 district managers under the effort, Batey said.
Employees at the regional call centers that low-volume dealers now communicate with, known as RCCs, were contract workers.
GM maintains 268 sales districts nationally.
GM's district managers typically call on about 15 dealerships, while workers at the call centers handle around 30, Batey said. The managers help dealers withsales strategies and marketing plans while ensuring that GM's cars and trucks are allocated to the right spots.
Most GM dealers also are in the process of renovating their stores to comply with voluntary image programs at each brand. Many have said GM's design guidelines are too rigid and complain that they don't have a voice in the process.
Batey said the personal, on-site contact is "obviously going to help" dealers work through the renovation process but that the facilities issue was not a core reason for GM's decision to add the district managers.
Once the change is implemented, smaller dealers will have one district manager for both sales and service issues. Larger dealers typically have one district manager for sales and another for service.
GM will recruit the new managers from outside and inside the company, even from nonsales functions such as purchasing, Batey said.