Thursday, May 31, 2012

“My Guy” … or “My Big Brother”

We recently sent out the results of our annual North American Service Manager Survey: 23 reporting brands in the US and Canada, over 9,500 respondents, 61% response rate, 15+ topics, 100+ questions, ~38,000 text responses.

Even more impressive is what the industry has achieved since we launched this survey in 2005. The chart below shows average 2005 and 2012 Top-Two Box Satisfaction scores for the topics we cover.

Every category but two (Technical Training and Customer Satisfaction Measurement) has increased, including three categories (Support for Service Retention, Tools, and Diagnostic Equipment) that we introduced in later years to keep the survey up to date and relevant.

What is behind these tremendous improvements? A lot of hard work and never-tiring, continuous improvement, every year, over many years. Just to list a few examples from OEMs we talked to and that have shown score increases – both big and small – since the previous iteration of the survey in 2011:
  • Service Marketing: One OEM provided its dealers with better tools to segment and target their customer base. This measure, coupled with more "turnkey" retail-oriented promotions (dealers opt in and the OEM handles the execution), led to significantly higher satisfaction with Service Marketing.
  • Field Service Business Support: Another OEM sees the payoff from several years of training its field force in a consultative approach to developing annual business plans with dealers. Dealers are now actively looking for field force help in planning and “working the plans”.
  • Technical Support: Yet another OEM added Saturday hours to better support dealers that are open Saturdays – change does not have to be complicated!
  • Warranty Administration: A contentious area if there ever was one, but positive change is possible – One OEM increased self-authorization limits for warranty and goodwill, enabling the dealer to take care of the customer on the spot. This improved the service level and claims resolution process in the warranty claims call center, driving a big jump in scores!
  • Customer Satisfaction Measurement: The troubled child of the industry – low scores and one of only two categories with no improvement since 2005 in terms of industry average scores. There is an exception: one of our OEMs showing significantly higher year-over-year scores in this area. They moved away from strictly numerical scores to a more descriptive approach that asks clients to describe their service experience: How would you describe your service reception? Would you choose "I was greeted quickly by an associate that knew my name and why I was there that day." or would you choose "I had to wait for 10 minutes until someone would even acknowledge my presence."?
  • Communication: One of our OEMs, showing great improvements across the board, told us that they are changing the way they are communicating with their dealers in order to build stronger relationships with them. They are basically making the change from a fairly “top-down” approach to more of a “town hall” model. They combined this with making significant changes in service marketing, warranty administration (sounds familiar!), and customer complaint handling. For instance, they eliminated and changed some of the more contentious and potentially adversarial policies.
And the list continues…Multiply this (very incomplete) list over a period of seven years with 20 or so brands and you get at least a superficial impression of what the industry has accomplished and what is reflected in the tremendous improvements since 2005.

But, on a higher level and moving beyond the scores, what do all these measures – more open communication, improved marketing programs, new customer satisfaction methodology, better field, warranty and technical support – have in common? What is the “DNA” of these improvements?

We talked to another client for this blog; a client with an overall satisfaction improvement of nearly 40 points since 2005, catapulting them from near bottom to the top of the industry. This client summarizes it very well by stating: “The components which I believe have helped us be successful AND [emphasis added] have a strong partnership with our Service Managers include” … and then goes on to list, with few exceptions and with particular emphasis on accessibility and responsiveness, all the components shown above!

So, the “DNA”, the unifying theme of all these activities, is for OEMs to build trust and relationships with the people that they expect to build trust and relationships with the vehicle owner. “My guy” – that’s the way vehicle owners think of their neighborhood garage. They have a relationship with “my guy”, they trust him (or her) and, therefore, they come back time after time. If OEMs want dealer service personnel to become more like “my guy”, they have to be careful to avoid being “my big brother” and be more “my guy” themselves.

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