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DOWN THE ROAD Chrysler invests in customer service
(Patriot Ledger Quincy MA; 07/04/98)

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you may well be a new look at your local 
 Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge or Jeep dealership. The old sign could be replaced 
 with a new one featuring five stars on it.

    "The five stars really mean something," explained James P. Holden, executive 
 vice president of sales and marketing, as he unveiled the new sign recently. 
 The five stars indicate a dealer has made a significant investment in upgrading 
 the dealership facility, its technology systems and the training of employees 
 to provide the best possible customer service. Chrysler describes the effort, 
 Customer Connect, nothing short of the re-franchising of its dealership 

    Customers should notice some differences immediately. For instance, the five-
 star dealership likely will have a computer kiosk in the showroom or a computer 
 on the sales person's desk that allows the customer to configure a vehicle and 
 receive a price quote. (The same information will be available on Chrysler's 
 Internet web site.) "This takes the confusion, misinformation and mistrust out 
 of the process," said Holden.

    All customers of the service department at a five-star dealership will 
 receive a follow-up phone call within 24 hours to see if they are satisfied 
 with the repair work. If not, the dealership will fix the problem. In addition, 
 the problem will be followed back through the process to determine what and 
 where things went awry.

    "Most programs in the past aimed at driving up customer satisfaction scores 
 for the manufacturer surveys and the J. D. Power surveys. We'd send cookies and 
 give away oil changes to get good scores," said Rob Robbins, president of 
 Crestwood Dodge, a five-star dealership in Garden City, Mich., where Chrysler 
 unveiled Customer Connect to reporters. "Now the focus is on process change 
 that drives real customer satisfaction."

    Dealers like Robbins go through a self-evaluation process to demonstrate 
 they are ready for five-star inspection. Chrysler representatives then validate 
 if the dealership meets the standards and requires a 90-day probationary period 
 to ensure the dealership maintains the standards. The dealership then is 
 certified as five star and signs are installed. The dealership is audited on 
 occasion and if it is not living up to five star standards, the dealership 
 receives a 90-day warning before the signs are removed.

    Currently, 32 percent, or 800, of Chrysler dealers are five-star dealers. 
 Chrysler's goal is to eventually have all dealers certified, though no 
 dealership franchise will be canceled if the dealership fails to be certified 
 as five star. As incentive, however, five-star dealers receive benefits other 
 Chrysler dealers do not: advertising the five star status; E-mail customer 
 referrals from Chrysler's web site; and direct mail advertising explaining what 
 the five stars mean and what the dealership has done to achieve five-star 

    Michelle Krebs is a columnist for Motor Matters.

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