For example, "our tools are calibrated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology," Smith said. "So, when we say it's 32 psi in your tires, it really is 32 because we make sure the gages the technicians use to touch a customer's car are calibrated to a standard."
It's common for manufacturers in the auto industry to achieve certification under the ISO standards, but not so for dealerships.
Fitzgerald, who is 83 and still typically works seven days a week, viewed ISO as a tool to better organize his far-flung enterprise, reduce variation and make sure each location — and manager — performed to the same expectations. Following the ISO prescription, company officials developed flow charts and manuals documenting 39 processes centered on the customer. Internal and third-party audits are used to verify that processes are followed and ensure the company strives for continuous improvement.
Performance standards extend from the showroom floor to administration to the service department.
"Everyone knows what a good job looks like," Smith said. "It doesn't mean they're going to execute it perfectly every time, but everyone knows what's expected of them. There's no surprises."
The management review team meets monthly to look at measurements for key processes. New employees undergo extensive training but also have quick reference resources and work instructions available on the company intranet on how to handle each type of customer interaction or task.
"We're not trying to catch people doing something wrong," Smith said. "We're trying to catch people doing something right and improve the process every chance we can get. It's given us the chance to be consistent in all of our dealings with consumers. When you have a chaotic system that's hit or miss, how do you improve?"
It also allowed Fitzgerald Auto Malls to streamline how it qualifies for meeting performance standards for each automaker and earning factory incentives. Documenting every process for each auto manufacturer was a burden, so Fitzgerald executives developed core requirements that exceeded those of every brand and replicated them across the organization, Smith said.