Acknowledging that its customer satisfaction needs to be improved, Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) will begin a dealer certification program that will lead to dealerships receiving manufacturer support in online searching so that each certified dealer will be spotlighted.
Al Gardiner, head of FCA network development, told Automotive News the automaker is trying to bring its dealers up to the level of the competition. “We’re laggards in my opinion right now, and it will get in our way if we don’t fix it quickly,” he said. For example, if the automaker were to receive low scores in a metric such as dealership recommendations, it will stifle potential sales growth.
To enhance dealership performance, FCA has introduced the Customer First Award for Excellence. Similar to the Five-Star Dealer Program that the carmaker had implemented years ago, the new program is FCA’s first attempt to influence customer satisfaction scores in three years under the Dealer Standards program, in effect at that time. Dealers Standards, criticized by retailers who believed it was factory interference, paid dealers significant incentives for hitting facility and process benchmarks.
Since the program ended, FCA has tried to push CSI enhancement with dealers. However, the voluntary program has no teeth. The carmaker can use neither incentives nor allocation cuts to achieve its goals. However, there has been some improvement. Dealers haven’t improved “at the same speed as the rest of the industry,” Gardner said. Further, he said that FCA dealers underperform their competitors in four areas:
- Vehicle delivery
- Negotiation process
- Dealership facility
FCA performance in these fields has slammed its scores, averaging a 25-point loss on the 1,000-point scale that is used by J.D. Power’s Buyer Index. “The program is designed to focus on the gaps where we know the deficiencies are,” Gardiner continued.
To achieve a Customer First designation, an FCA dealer will undergo an onsite review by a J.D. Power consultant. The consultant will look at facilities, training, sales and service customer handling. The consultant will also find out if customers would recommend the dealership to others.
If a dealer earns what should become the coveted Customer First designation, the dealership can use the fact in their marketing and FCA will pay so that online search results so the dealership’s visibility rises.
Acknowledging FCA’s CSI inconsistency since Dealers Standards ended, Gardiner emphasized that if FCA doesn’t “pay attention, our dealers don’t pay attention. In the next two years, we have to be above the industry average.” An annual survey, the certification process costs a dealership $15 per employee with FCA picking up the rest of the tab.