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Alfa maintaining customer satisfaction momentum

Made in Italy: According to Alfa Romeo, its cars will always be built in its native Italy, but a handful of Australian technicians are now also being honed there too.

Italian-trained techs bringing world-class Alfa Romeo experience to Australia

3 Feb 2017

ALFA Romeo says the days of dubious reliability and faltering customer satisfaction are far behind it as the company plans to maintain an upward trend in its performance, with a continued focus on improving its aftersales experience across the board.

Following an improvement of 15 index points in last year’s JD Power customer satisfaction survey, the car-maker has set itself a goal to repeat the result in 2017, driven by a strong parts network, more dependable cars and better trained technicians.

Speaking at the launch of the Giulia QV – the car Alfa says will kick-start its “renaissance” – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia aftersales director Stephane Lamari told GoAuto that a strong customer satisfaction focus would continue to deliver improvements and an alignment with the performance of its other brands.

“Since the beginning of 2016, we have put a lot of action to correct and bring back the level to the rest of the group and it actually works, and we will continue to work on increasing the customer satisfaction,” he said.

“We have another 15-point increase as a goal and I expect to see some effects in the next JD Power survey.”

Alfa has previously experienced supply chain restrictions but Mr Lamari explained that part of the positive JD result could be attributed to a vastly improved distribution and warehouse operation.

“I think we have the best logistics in the country. We have a 96 per cent fill rate in aftersales. This is something that has been a big issue in the past but it has been completely addressed.”

Alfa Romeo’s parts warehouse is managed by Ceva, while the distribution and transport network is handled by Toll Logistics.

The smooth logistics operations have also been supplemented by a busy air-freight system sourcing parts from Italy and reducing the lead times for customers regardless of cost, said Mr Lamari.

“We have everything in place to air ship the parts. In 2016, 70 per cent of transport costs were air freight. It’s really to improve the customer experience despite the cost. It’s nine times difference between air and sea.”

While the spares infrastructure is now one of the strongest links in Alfa Romeo’s aftersales chain, Mr Lamari said the company was focusing on further improving customer satisfaction through a better ‘fix first time’ rate – where a vehicle fault is resolved in one visit to a service centre.

One strategy to reduce return visits is with improved training for Australian technicians, and 20 of Alfa’s master technicians are jetting off to Italy this week for courses at the international training centre.

The techs will return after five full days learning about the latest Alfa technology including the various systems in the all-new Giulia and its Ferrari-inspired V6 engine that powers the flagship Quadrifoglio Verde version.

“Next week, all the (master) technicians have been sent to Italy for training and they will be trained for the specifics of these cars. This ensures that they will be able to fix the car as quick as possible and to ensure the customer has the best mobility while their car is in service.”

On return, the freshly trained master technicians will pass on their knowledge to their respective teams, potentially reducing the “time to diagnose,” according to Mr Lamari.

“Generally for the group it is the time to diagnose which is an area for improvement, which is why we anticipate and send them (technicians). 2017 for us is a training year.”

In addition to overseas training for the company’s most experienced techs, a more targeted assessment and training system is being implemented for all service staff to more effectively establish the necessary education on an individual basis.

“Each technician from the full network goes to an assessment online to evaluate all their knowledge for each different item that we have in our training and for a precise picture. According to the picture we will dedicate and build the training.

“Here we will know exactly who should come (for training) and to do what.”

The iconic Italian brand still has work to do to shake free a legacy created by a line of troublesome vehicles and below average customer service levels, but Mr Lamari said any residual reputation was completely undeserved.

“That’s the image of the Italian brands and it is unfair,” he said. “The Fiat 500 is the most reliable car in its category. If you asked any dealers, they process less warranties with Alfa Romeo cars than with a lot of the other brands they have in their franchises. But this is the image of the public.

“A lot of people that haven’t even driven one Italian car in their life, this is the image they have because they heard somebody saying that so they repeat it.”

FCA Australia president and CEO Steve Zanlunghi explained that vehicles such as the all-new Giulia set new standards in the company’s quality and reliability, but changing an incorrect widespread public opinion takes longer than establishing a high-quality line-up.

“You do it by building a quality vehicle because that’s what’s going to change the perception,” he said.

“We went very public by saying we were going to take our time coming to market with this vehicle to make sure we got it right, and that’s exactly what we did, but the perception is always going to lag the reality.”

Mr Lamari said that the false belief that Italian cars are sub-standard could only be reversed in exactly the same way that it was established, through ongoing customer conversation and public dialogue.

“We have to encourage these people to have the best experience and then talk about it,” he concluded.

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