Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NASPC OEM Aftersales Website Review, Phase II – Huge Improvements With Ford and BMW Moving to Best-In-Class

I recently received the following email from Ford (copied with responses):

Brett: I hope things are well with you. At the last conference in Indy, you mentioned the importance of having a good website to interact with customers. We couldn't agree more. We just launched a new site called It's designed to be a "one stop shop" for everything related to your vehicle. It's in its early stages, but we're already seeing strong traffic and revenue opportunities. You'll notice we serve up service specials, sell ESP contracts, show owners manuals/service schedules, etc. We also link to Ford Credit which enables customers to pay their vehicle bills each month. In the near future, we're also going to include video on "how to's" with our vehicle technology and features like navigation, SYNC, etc. You can view a lot of the information without entering a VIN. Again, early days but we see plenty of potential. I'd be interested in your thoughts when you get a chance. Thanks.

David: Will do. If I come up with something positive, can I write a blog around it?

Brett: Absolutely. Thanks again.

The new Ford web presence is spectacular. Ford leaped from back-of-the-pack to best-in-class. They are now the benchmark to gauge all others by. Since the end of March, 2009, when we did our first aftersales website review, the magnitude of change has been staggering. The dark green in the chart reflects improvement vs. the light green, which represents the March 30, 2009 starting points (except for a few companies where we adjusted their original scores downward). Most of the improvements were made in the OEMs’ service parts-related pages. The nature of the improvements have been mostly leap-frog in nature, rather than incremental. For the most part, auto OEMs have made the biggest changes, and they have displaced CE/Ag at the front of the pack. The big news is in the nature and quality of working with search engines like Google and Bing, as well as in the development of Owner Center websites. We will spend most of this blog on these items.

In Indy we talked about the logic behind putting more focus on the aftersales web presence. Customers have rapidly transformed over the past decade; we now have a click fulfillment culture. Google was a key transformative seed in all this – they made it easy to parse out a need and get a page full of relevant responses to that need. Bing is just as good as Google and gives us choices in need fulfillment. We need no more proof of this transformation; now is the time for action. If people routinely use Google to find things, people will routinely use Google to find service and parts education, service and parts fulfillment, and service and parts purchase extensions. Here’s the choice we all have. We can continue to hammer out 30 and 60-second radio and television messages that market to someone who happens to be watching a particular show at a particular time on a particular frequency. We can place ads in magazines only a few people read. Or, we can make smaller investments in our internet strategy (that conforms to our customers’ natural click behavior), and merchandise along the paths that our customers now naturally travel when gathering information and making choices. This is not just about cars and pickups; it is about tractors, excavators, motorcycles, and Class 8 trucks.

We talked about this at the NASPC in April. The OEM web presence is a fairly inexpensive forum for educating aftersales customers and providing key information that resonates with trust/value/cost/convenience. If we do this well, we will get high service retention. In order for us to accomplish this on the internet, we need it to be easy for customers to access, and it needs to be innovative to hold their attention (see our “Recession Busters and Low Hanging Fruit” blog for details on the scoring). Ford, now ranked in the best-in-class group, tells a compelling story that links all this together. Let’s take a little journey.

First off, go to Google and type in “Ford Service.” Google works in mysterious ways, so you may see something different, but you will probably see a well-placed link to the Ford owner site, and you’ll probably also see a map with links to local Ford dealers if you want to buy parts or schedule service. Many of the other auto OEMs have been working with Google to optimize their dealer listings. On the non-auto side, typing in “John Deere Service” gets similar results, but without the map and listing of local Deere dealers – Deere customers have to go to their homepage and use the dealer locator. The Ford approach is more convenient and should be more effective at channeling customers to dealers.

Clicking on the top line of the Google search (assuming Ford’s Google ad strategy targets you as well as it targets me) brings you to “” (Ford-Lincoln Mercury). If you have a Ford product, you can register it (the chart is from my daughter’s Escape Hybrid - she is a greenie). Once you make it through the registration (a somewhat cumbersome process that could use some refinement – GM’s owner site just asks for where you live and then loads your vehicles up for you automatically), you are welcomed into the womb of Ford owner service retention. You can immediately see all the service records for your vehicle at all the Ford dealers you’ve visited – this is incredibly impressive. It is sort of like a Ford MySpace – you can track your service records, contact dealers, print off service coupons, buy and price-out extended service contracts … there simply is not enough space to list and describe everything. Let’s just focus on service contracts – this is stunningly brilliant. You can get easy options, and exact costs, for extending your warranty as well as buying pre-paid service. There are a host of alternative financing options for these. But, do we trust these costs to be competitive? Yes, we can click on a chart and get an explanation that the costs we incur for these services are reasonable.

Too often I hear that Ag is different, heavy truck is different, construction is different. Maybe everybody but me really is different. I have a mini-excavator and I’d like an owner site to help me manage service. I have 3 tractors – I’d like an owner site for these, too. My wife won’t let me get a motorcycle, but if I had one, an owner’s site would be a perfect way to sell me more and keep me in the fold. Ford’s Owner Center is a brilliant step forward in approaching customer service retention from a basic behavioral point of view. We increasingly type and click to learn things and make purchase decisions. Farmers, hard-hats, and truckers do, too.

Once GM gets you to their service site, you are 1 click away from a dazzling dealer locator. I’d call it simply perfect. You get a special offer, a map, address, telephone number, and some background on the dealer clicked upon. Still confused? They have a chat function so you can talk to somebody. It simply does not get any better than that.

Ford and GM have taken two different paths in the overall architecture of their Owner Centers. Ford self-hosts their Owner Center, while GM relies on Yahoo to host theirs. So, for GM you have to set up a Yahoo email account, and be smart enough to figure out where you have to check 14 times not to get special Yahoo marketing communications (my favorite “marketing preferences” box to uncheck was “meeting someone special or a new friend”). Once I set up my Yahoo account (one that I must confess I will never use), loading in my GM trucks was extraordinarily easy; I clicked on my auto-fill toolbar button and clicked one GM search button – it found my trucks in about 3 seconds based on my address. Unlike Ford, however, it did not load in my dealer service histories. These are quite extensive (since I’m a dealer/distributor kind of guy) … I guess I’ll have to load them in myself.

Beyond some of the details, the overall focus of each Owner Center differs remarkably. Ford’s focus is on intelligent integration of the post-sale ownership experiences – it is all about choices I make with my vehicle while I own it. GM, however, paints with a much broader brush: I can manage various accounts like OnStar, I can keypunch in my service records, access special offers, talk to Fritz, learn about OnStar features, start dreaming about my next car or truck, access Chevy in the news, or read my Chevy newsletter. In short, it is the nexus of pretty much everything an owner can think of. In retailer jargon, Ford’s Owner Center is the service retention end-cap; GM’s is the main aisle of a general store.

So, what’s the bottom line? I called Brett Wheatley at Ford and asked him. First off, the Owner Center was a Ford FCSD-controlled initiative. So that’s why it is so focused on the ownership experience and not a more diluted corporate interest grab-bag. Since the launch, service contract sales are up and they have seen a big increase in scheduled service appointments via the internet. Soon they will integrate Sync applications inside (in addition to and will become the virtual iTunes nexus of Sync applications. One big benefit is the ability to capture current owner emails. Are they happy with Yeah, I could hear Brett’s smile while talking to him on the phone.

To retain customers, we can brilliantly leverage technology to integrate customers into an easy-to-manage, hands-off ownership experience and give them the information and key resources that will keep them coming back. In 2007-8 we talked about onboard diagnostics information being like your equity account statement; you look at it sporadically to check your equipment’s health. Owner sites are more like your checkbook- you use them pretty regularly, but the actions involved (pay a bill, schedule an oil change) are pretty straightforward. In either case, the focus needs to be on providing the right information, not marketing carpet bombing. People want relationships that are easy to manage. If we find these tools too complex or intrusive, we will get frustrated and find something else that meets our needs with less hassle.

The message in all this is to let technology do much more of the heavy lifting in your service retention strategies. Our society is already headed in this direction and many of our customers are used to experiences beyond most of our present capabilities. You need to ask your enterprise, what are all the core customer requirements that can be better served by lower cost technology? Recently, Carnie Colliver’s son, CJ, had his buddies over. CJ filched Carnie’s credit card out of his wallet, searched a local pizza place on his Dad’s iPhone, clicked on the link to call, ordered, gave the credit card number, and got food delivered to the door. This is not equivalent to the “teach a man to fish” process. CJ just turned 11 and no one taught him to do this. As CJ said, it was easier “than going into the kitchen and making a sandwich.” Technology is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a core life requirement.

Need more detail? Once we saw the incredible improvements made by Ford, we assembled a four-person team to review the websites for the entire group and document the path to best-in-class. While we were at it, we re-engineered our scoring system to accommodate the innovation and change that had taken place since March. You can email Jessica at to enquire about the availability of this report.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Go to a Dealer or Distributor for Service?

VW recently sent me a document that one of their dealers thumb-tacked to the wall to remind customers why dealer service is the best choice. The file was called “Assurance.” It got me thinking. I really liked it.

My mother never really knew what I did for a living, but she did know it had something to do with cars. My mother-in-law described me to family as an “efficiency expert.” She pretty much nailed it. Mostly people think I know a lot about cars, tractors, excavators, and trucks (all of which are parked at our farm), so I frequently get asked about where to get service. My personal fleet needs a lot of service, so I use my 25 years in the aftermarket to make intelligent choices. I always choose a dealer/distributor (let’s just call them “dealers”), because there really is no intelligent debate that supports using non-dealer service. Why?

Here’s what I tell my friends – I work down the list and they see the light after only a few points (I must admit that OEMs rarely tell the story this way). This is all a variation around a theme of trust/value/cost/convenience.

  1. Dealer Customers Have Incredible Leverage. I have incredible leverage when I go to a dealer. Why? Because they measure every aspect of my satisfaction with the experience. If I am less than satisfied with the dealer service, heads roll, both at the dealership and up the OEM food chain. I get calls. If, after these calls, I still am not satisfied, I can call the field sales office and they will stir the pot. Still not happy? I can call the big shots and, well, I really never have to go that far. Customers have incredible leverage with dealers, leverage they do not have with the independents. If I’m not happy with Sammy’s Service Senter and I call, I get to talk to his cousin. Not happy at Midas? Well, that’s like not being happy with Microsoft – who knows, I might get to talk to someone from a call center who is incredibly polite, and powerless.
  2. Dealers Really Are the Lowest Cost Choice. It is an old wives’ and nuns’ tale that you could catch STDs from public toilets. Those same nuns and old wives also said dealers are higher cost than independent shops. Our company surveys tens of thousands of customers each year, and we can’t find proof that dealers cost more when looked at from a truly level playing field. It looks like a toss-up. Independents generally have lower labor rates than dealers, but since their technicians have less brand-specific and OEM-driven training, not to mention fewer and older tools, and less sophisticated diagnostic capabilities, they need more hours to accomplish the maintenance or repair work. Well, that’s a wash if there ever was one. Independents typically “double net” parts, so they wind up making more on parts than dealers do … and the parts are from who-knows-where.
  3. Who Knows What Parts Quality Independents Use? Parts used by independents can be like Chinese dog food – who knows what the quality really is, and poor quality can kill. Americans are in love with quality. Stuff used to fall apart within a year or so – first with malignant cancerous rust, then the mechanical parts started failing. I could write a book about what has happened to improve quality, but it’s common knowledge. Americans may be in love with quality, but they do not really understand how they make very significant quality choices when they service their vehicles and machinery. I’ve done expert witness work on this. It is impossible to separate cost from quality from trust, but stick with me for a sentence or so. In early 2009, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) proudly proclaimed that dealers cost 34% more than independents. Americans were being bilked by over $11 billion annually based on higher dealer costs. If you pay $500 for their report, you find that about 28% of this $11 billion “overcharge” was in brakes and rotors. They used a 2002 Chrysler Sebring and a 2002 VW Jetta for their estimates. For the Chrysler, the AAIA said that independents could do it for $143.40 less than dealers. I took 20 minutes and went to the internet and priced pads and rotors for the Sebring. The best ones were $349.27. The cheapos were $72.48. The spread was $276.79, or twice what you could theoretically save in the AAIA’s bogus survey. How’s that for assurance? When I go to a dealer for this life-sustaining critical repair, the dealer typically specifies highest quality genuine replacement parts – the same quality parts that were in the machine when I bought it. If I want cheap parts, I generally have to plead my case to the dealer. I make the choice on the quality of the part that stops a 4,000 pound (or 40,000 pound) vehicle before I crash into a wall. Who makes the choice at an independent? And, do I trust what they tell me? Do I have any leverage to ensure they tell me the truth? For the 55 combinations of brakes and rotors in the chart above, the merchandising language all proclaimed that they meet manufacture’s specifications. I don’t buy it.
  4. Dealers Have Much More Expertise in Fixing Things. In the last fifteen years, there have been 1,484 fatalities in 30 airline accidents in the U.S. Over the same time period, 562,712 have been killed in motor vehicle accidents. Nobody wants to die in a plane, so we have a legal and regulatory system that makes sure the global aviation fleet is kept in a state of fairly exquisite quality repair. Each bolt used on a passenger jet has its own serial number that can be tracked from cradle to grave. So, in the U.S., you are over 400 times more likely to die in a car than a plane, but we seem to be OK with that. Let’s get back to cars, excavators, tractors, and trucks. Independents can use cheap parts and cheap techs to replace your brakes … that could stop you from crashing into a wall at 75 mph … and we seem to be OK with that. OEMs have massive training programs for their dealers. OEMs have incredible capabilities in helping diagnose problems – they squeeze all possible insights from fleet failures that are systematically documented by their extended enterprise. OEMs have robust communications systems between them and their dealers to detect problems and help get problems fixed right the first time. Dealers are the specialists. If you have numbness in your fingers, a bad headache, and sharp pain in your back, do you go to a chiropractor?
  5. Convenience Is an Over-rated Concept in Machine Repair. Sure, it’s nice to have a repair shop that’s close by. But convenience is more than a short drive. It’s about alternative transportation (or loaner equipment) while your vehicle is being repaired. It’s about having your repair completed when expected. It’s about not having to return to the repair shop to get the problem fixed, again. Even more important in the hierarchy, convenience considerations are (a) will they fix it? (b) are they even capable of fixing it? (c) is it really possible to make sure that I am not getting taken advantage of, and, (d) do I have any leverage in the maintenance or repair experience to express my displeasure and have this heard? Much of the reason we see incompetence in our society is due to convenience – close, easy, cheap, and fast – this does not always add up to “good.” Adding up a + b + c + d usually leads to a dealer. That’s pretty convenient. Close and fast does not always equal good.

  6. Trust Is a Missouri Concept. Show me. It is the net result of all of the above.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What’s Going On at NAPA?

If Genuine Parts – NAPA – were a technology company, would it be Digital or Apple? I think Digital. They seem to be failing in dream-like market conditions.

At one time NAPA was the aftermarket Terminator company – a machine that fed and grew the IRFs (independent repair facilities), propelled along a growth path that could be characterized as highly professional and highly competent.
They were the benchmark.

Any way you look at it, they have been receding so far in 2009, while several notable others have been cleaning up.

What’s happening?

Shifts in repair service are certainly taking place, and these shifts are putting NAPA at a disadvantage.

AutoZone has been steadily growing while primarily feasting on the DIY (do-it-yourself) market. A major impact of this recession, and its related Paradox of Thrift, is that more vehicle owners are taking on low-hanging-fruit repair responsibilities – antifreeze, battery replacement, LOF – the simple stuff. These newfound DIYers are shopping for this sort of stuff and, again, because of the Paradox of Thrift, are choosing lower cost alternatives. They shop at stores specializing in the DIY market and those that have the breadth of choice they want. Bingo! AutoZone.

Or, we can tell the same story with pictures. I went to Google and typed in “napa auto parts” and the first choice on the fetched list was AutoZone (I don’t understand Google – sometimes it was second on the list.). Cute. Now, go to the NAPA website and get ready to time travel back to Jobber World. It almost looks like it was designed in the 1950s – certainly it was not designed for a new millennium recession-era DIYer.

AutoZone’s web site was designed for the times we live in.

So what’s happening to NAPA? NAPA is getting slammed for not evolving its channel for the current recession-era market conditions, and it will not simply get over this little bump and get on with its role of world domination once things get better – not even for the truck, dozer, and tractor guys. AutoZone has its eye on the DIFM (do-it-for-me) market and will continue to steal share from NAPA with better merchandising, newer and fresher stores, and a broader/better concept. In a nutshell, the big news in the IAM is shifting non-OEM shares with a short term focus on satisfying the bump in DIY sales.

I asked Nissan’s Peter Bennett (a dear friend whose brain I am in awe of) what he thought. “Capitalistic constructive deconstruction at work. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. The losses and issues at the other business units within GPC, which have been considerably more severe, have no doubt hindered their investment strategy and focus on NAPA. But one suspects they’ve been in denial for quite some time. Like their website, their physical store presence has been outpaced by their competitors. I think NAPA stores are smaller, darker, and still mainly in strip malls or older semi-urban buildings. Their competitors have struck out in larger, brighter, and more inviting facilities. While assuming that most auto parts purchases are made by men, I wonder if the competitors’ brighter and newer facilities have proven to be more attractive to female customers? Comments from NAPA’s competitors in their quarterly statements frequently discuss their increasing initiatives to the Commercial sector – IRFs. Clearly NAPA is feeling that competitive sting.”

Bottom line: NAPA should acquire K-Mart from Sears and have Martha Stewart develop a line of designer spark plugs. OEMs? Unless your dealer parts departments look like an AutoZone store (BTW, they don’t), don’t bother chasing them. Focus on dealer service retention and wholesale.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Parts Sales for 2010?

We are working with 15 automotive OEMs on a three-year (2010-2012) collaborative industry parts sales forecast. Our role is to research and develop “strawman” positions on a wide spectrum of possible sales drivers, which the industry then critiques. At the end of the day we will develop a consensus 3-year forecast at both an industry and company level (individual companies identified only by their segment). We expect to initiate a similar process with the heavy truck (HT) industry in the near future.

While we are a few weeks away from completing the automotive forecasts, the results already look pretty interesting. Before we start looking out 3 years, what does it look like peeking into the NEARER TERM abyss? Scary, but, ultimately, OK. Let’s start with Carlisle’s Market Watch report, which tracks monthly sales indicators for 6 NASPC auto OEMs – it has domestics, Europeans, Asians in it. We report monthly parts sales indicators that antitrust lawyers tell us are OK and safe: sales gain/loss percentages, sales tractions vs. 5 year UIO, regional cuts, portfolio cuts, miles traveled differences, fuel price deltas, and IAM competitor cuts. What does the July ’09 data tell us?

Let’s look for some good news in the July report.

First off, we do not see the IAM players cleaning up in this awful market – Pep Boys and Autozone, the DIY specialists, are doing quite well … but that’s expected as more people take on recessionary maintenance responsibilities. The traditional do-it-for-me players are pretty much treading water – so, there is no clear evidence of a DIFM market shift away from dealers to the independents. That’s some good news in a bad market.

The spread of gains/losses in year-to-date Maintenance and Light Repair sales per 5-year UIO spans from a loss of 11.2% to a gain of 7.8%. The low watermark here is not who you’d expect, so the obvious Motown meltdown issues do not explain some bad news. The message here is that you can do well while in the abyss, if you do things differently. Looking at total parts sales trends through July 2009 (excluding accessories) we see a first-to-last difference of around 18%; some OEMs’ year-over-year performance for July was 18% better than others. Again, this says that there is very significant variability in recessionary impacts. So, the other good news is that Market Watch indicates we are pulling out of the sales decline nosedive.

We are through the first round of the collaboration process and have been immersed in the forecast drivers. Coincident with the Market Watch numbers showing the start of a rebound, examination of the auto drivers shows better news on the horizon. Since HT is not yet on the monthly market watch, we are flying blind there and we will save our HT pre-prognostications for upcoming weeks.

Following are a few of our first impressions:
  • Market Watch sales figures are somewhat trailing what we see and hear regarding increases in consumer confidence. Ours is not the only industry that this is happening to. We are still trapped in the Keynesian Paradox of Thrift, and there is a lag effect associated with the need to loosen one’s belt. We need to keep our game face on for another six months.
  • The sheer variability of the results in Market Watch tells me that there is a lot of slack in the system – that OEMs can have different (and better) results by doing things differently. We need to adopt a “no excuses” attitude about our businesses.
  • There has not been a fundamental and sustainable shift in repair behaviors by vehicle owners – otherwise, we’d see it in the press and the IAM numbers. There has been a temporary shift to DIY simply because of the “Paradox.” Don’t read too much into that. We need to focus on growth, not panic about threats, around every corner.
  • 2010 auto parts sales vs. 2009 auto parts sales will represent year-over-year growth.
  • We suspect that the growth leaders next year will be the ones doing the best this year in 5-year-UIO growth for M&R parts.
As Grover would say, “where there’s life there’s hope.”

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Decoding Satisfaction – David Carlisle

If you only read one blog this year, read this one – it could save you a lot of money. It’s about unconventionally decoding the real messages from your dealer surveys by using a little time, some common sense, and very basic arithmetic.

I said “could.” I thought a lot about Steve Jobs when I was writing this. If Apple was a Service Operations division, and he was running it, he’d “think different.” Somehow Jobs can fight – and win – the battles with Apple’s bureaucracy and introduce things like the iPhone. He thinks it is OK to change how he thinks, how his people think, and how his customers think.

Bottom line is that most companies need to change how they think about their customer surveys. They aren’t beauty pageants. You can’t understand a brain tumor by putting on a swimsuit. In reality, your customer surveys are really more like CAT Scan machines. They allow you to see stuff that needs to be changed – if you are willing to see it. So, bear with me for a few minutes. Be a Steve Jobs.

I focused my research on the 2009 NASPC North American Automotive Service Manger Survey, taken by over 9,000 dealer fixed operations managers (20 different brands with a 40% response rate). The first question in the survey is the ultimate beauty contest question: Overall Satisfaction. Respondents can check one of five boxes, ranging from “very satisfied” (5) to “very dissatisfied” (1).

Who cares if dealers are happy or unhappy when they service customer vehicles? Most of the dealer contact during the ownership experience is with the service department. Honda’s “3 Joys” explains their success; it was published in 1951 and includes the joy of “selling” ( Let’s just all agree that having happy dealers is a critical component of a successful car company.

Other than feeling good or bad about the top line results, how can we best learn from the surveys? Which group of respondents should we focus on? Here’s what I discovered:

Very Satisfied Dealers are quite enthusiastic and checked the Overall Satisfaction box stating that they were “very satisfied” overall. However, many of them still have suggestions for improvement as they fill out the more detailed questions. That’s when they checked the “other”, less-than-very-satisfied boxes. These dealers are each manufacturer’s success stories; the final state of evolution. But when we study their responses in detail, we will get feedback that really only represents “tweaks” to what we are doing. With some luck, we may be able to detect future danger signals, but probably not much more. After all, these dealers are very happy with the support they get from their manufacturer. In medical parlance, if we were to triage our customers, very satisfied dealers are – the usual occasional cold notwithstanding – healthy and have really no reason to see the doctor … except for their annual physical to get a clean bill of health. Don’t waste your time looking for answers to your problems by over-studying this group.

Dissatisfied Dealers are the ones who gave you “very” or “somewhat dissatisfied” (1 or 2) on the Overall Satisfaction question. Over the years, I’ve had a theory (often echoed by clients) that these are the dealers on whom we should focus. I felt we could learn more by understanding what makes these folks dissatisfied, rather than focusing on the “satisfieds.” I was wrong. We really do need to understand what makes these dealers not-tick, but we need a different research vehicle to do that.

This is typically a very small group of dealers – usually less than 5% of total responses. Even the best run organization will have a small number of disgruntled customers, and the reward for making these folks satisfied may not be worth the effort of addressing all their issues. I’d characterize this fairly small group of dealers as embracing the attitude, “hey, a lot’s wrong here, but let me tell you areas that are the least screwed up.” Further, these dealers are dissatisfied for a lot of reasons, many not easily captured within the survey questions. We find precious few patterns within this group, other than a general sense that this group is really comprised of “lost souls” and that it will take a lot to bring them back into the fold. In triage terms, these are the “terminally ill” and there is simply not much you can do except let them “rest in peace.”

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that their responses are “junk” – it’s just that there typically are too few to learn a lot through the standard satisfaction survey. We may need a different approach here, such as targeted phone interviews, to unearth what really bugs the “dissatisfieds.” Are they “chronically” dissatisfied for no apparent and valid reason? Or did we really do/are we really doing something disastrous that sent/is sending them over the edge? In the meantime, don’t waste your time looking for answers to your problems by over-studying this group.

Neutral Dealers are the ones who gave you a neutral response (3) on the Overall Satisfaction question. After writing off the dissatisfieds, I had a lot of hope for this group. I got that one wrong, too.

Again, this group is small – the percentage of neutral dealers is usually only a few percentage points higher than dissatisfieds. Further, look at the chart for the three satisfaction groups’ responses (segmented based on “Overall Satisfaction”) to the “Overall Technical Support” question. “Technical Support” is the one area of the survey that gets the lowest scores from all 20 participating brands – it is pretty close to the heart of a fixed operations manager. The response patterns show that the “Neutrals” look a lot more like the “Dissatisfied” group than the “Satisfied” group. I found this to be true with most of the questions in the survey. In medical terms, these dealers already have “cancer” – in the triage, send them to oncology to be treated with chemo or radiation. Don’t waste your time looking for answers to your problems by over-studying this group … unless you have a very strong commitment for comprehensive and sustainable improvement.

That leaves the “Somewhat Satisfied” dealers – the ones who checked off the “Somewhat Satisfied” box (4) on the first question regarding overall satisfaction. This is the goldmine that needs to be tapped into.

Let’s internalize what “Somewhat Satisfied” really means. Situation: a dealer service manager thinks about the very first satisfaction question on the survey that asks him/her about their “overall” satisfaction with the OEM. They conclude that things are good, but not perfect. So, they proceed to complete the remainder of the survey and paint a picture of strengths and weaknesses. They are not deliriously happy; not yet who-cares neutral and not just plain-old ticked off. They “think” when they fill out the survey and try to provide a response that is balanced and just.

We really want to listen to these dealers. If things don’t get better, they will slip into the neutral group and it will be very difficult to reel them back into the happy camp again. We have some slack with my top-box “very satisfieds” – We have very little slack with this group.

Do I try to move these dealers from good to great? Or, do I check some boxes myself, do nothing special, and let my dealers move from good to gone?

The red/ yellow/green chart deciphers the code of what both the “4s” (Somewhat Satisfied) and “5s” (Very Satisfied) are telling us. Three groups of dealers are represented: average of all dealers in the survey, “BIC” representing a best-in-class brand that did very well in the survey, and “WIC” representing a brand that was at the back of the pack.
  • In order to simplify pattern recognition, I normalized the survey scores using simple arithmetic – the details are in the italics at the bottom of the red/green/yellow chart.
  • Next, I shaded all cells that were less than 1.0 with red – these are areas of the business deemed by each dealer group to be more serious than Technical Support.
  • I shaded all cells of 1.0 or greater with green – areas deemed less serious than Technical Support.
  • All BIC and WIC red cells were changed to “yellow” if the corresponding “industry average” cell was red. My thinking was that red cells in the average group were indicators of overall “industry problems” and that OEMs should first focus on their own problems, then tackle the bigger industry issues.
  • I sorted the rows based on the “4” (somewhat satisfied) scores of the WIC brand. This allowed me to rank-order “issues” for each group by relative severity – the bigger issues floated to the top.
The WIC brand has a lot of issues that are bugging their “somewhat satisfied” dealers (which again confirms that this group is a goldmine), and a whole bunch of these issues cost a lot of money to fix: flat rate allowances, fairness of warranty payments, and loaner vehicles are at the top of the list. Knowing this brand quite well, all this makes a lot of sense. However, there are a bunch of important issues that are more policy-related and not budget busters. Many of the issues that are red for the 4s are also red for the 5s – so doing something to stop dealers slipping from good to gone also helps prevent the migration from great to good.

The BIC brand is interesting as well. The big issue their “Somewhat Satisfieds” have is with CSI Measurement – which is an industry issue for the “very satisfied” Overall Satisfaction group. There are a lot more red cells in the BIC “5” column – these are some nagging issues, tweaks that need some attention – but are not on the critical concern list.

  1. Focus mostly on what your Somewhat Satisfied dealers are telling you (and secondarily on what your Very Satisfied dealers are telling you.).
  2. Develop a prioritized list of “issues” for this group using the methodology I outlined above (or, email Harry Hollenberg at for a step-by-step description of what to do).
  3. Work from the top-down for your Somewhat Satisfied group of dealers. Then top-down for your Very Satisfied dealers.
  4. Focus on improving the most critical areas that are the most affordable within your budget.
  5. Find out what other things you are doing to improve dealer service satisfaction – find out where they are in the prioritized list – if they are low on the list, consider re-purposing the budget dollars to the more critical areas.
  6. Do this every year.
  7. Each year look at your “Neutrals” – they provide an early warning danger sign that should alert you that you are losing ground – never, ever, think that Neutrals are tolerable. They are simply more well-mannered Dissatisfieds, or are afraid to tell you what they really think.
  8. Talk to your NASPC survey steering committee member and encourage them to think outside the box at the next meeting. (a) They need to reopen a discussion of the reporting metrics for the surveys – if the “somewhat satisfieds” are the focus of our improvement efforts, won’t a “top-box” measure most accurately reflect our success? (b) Also, any discussion of changing from a 5 point scale to a 10 or 11 point scale is “muda” – there is a lot more opportunity to harvest more from what we already have with our current 5-point scale.