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FCA sharpens its service pencil

Made in China: FCA Australia will look to import some parts for some models from outside the United States and it could include China.

Training for dealers, sourcing parts from China to lift FCA customer service

Fiat logo8 Apr 2016

FIAT Chrysler Autombiles (FCA) Australia will roll out dealer coaching, introduce new service programs and look at sourcing cheaper parts – including some from China – as the company looks to re build its reputation for customer service.

The car-maker has taken a number of hits for customer service levels in recent years, and was the subject of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation into between 800 and 1000 customer complaints relating to vehicle faults under its previous management from the start of 2013 to the end of 2014.

SUV specialist Jeep was included in the JD Power Customer Service Index (CSI) for the first time last year but found itself at the bottom of the list in 13th place with a score of 757 points, 40 points below the industry average.

First placed Honda recorded 816 points in the study, which is designed to provide an insight into the customer service levels of mainstream brands.

FCA Australia president and CEO Pat Dougherty this week admitted that progress was slow in redressing some quality control and spare parts pricing concerns but said the company was well on its way to “building foundations”.

“We have a quiet year in terms of new-product launches and that gives us the opportunity to put new business practices into place,” he told journalists at a media lunch.

Two months ago he appointed Stephane Lamari as the new director of aftersales, bringing with him extensive experience with a range of brands in Europe and South Africa, including Renault.

One of the first initiatives will be the launch of Brand XP, a Net Promotor Score system that measures customer satisfaction in sales and service and provides instant feedback from the dealer to FCA Australia head office in Port Melbourne.

The second is introducing the Dealer Management System (DMS) that will provide visibility into the dealerships and reveal operations such as parts stocking, vehicle stocking, financial management and so on.

“Then we can help dealers manage their businesses more effectively,” Mr Dougherty said.

He added that its own internal metrics show that the company is improving its standing with customers and that the new DMS will help make greater gains.

“We’re seeing improvements in customer service. We’re no longer on the bottom.

We’ll continue to move up the rankings.

“But previously we were spit balling – we didn’t know when it happened and what happened. With DMS we will know.

“We’ve made big steps about taking this to market but we want the customer to feel they have all our support.”

 center imageLeft: FCA Australia director of aftersales Stephane Lamari.Mr Lamari said: “This year we will have data available from dealers that will give us a clearer picture of sales and service and how that impacts on customer retention.”“At the moment I can’t access this data so it is hard for me to define how many dissatisfied customers we have and what the reason is for their dissatisfaction.”

FCA is also close to implementing a dealer coaching program to further improve customer interactions.

“We will introduce this to 68 dealers this year and the rest in 2017,” Mr Lamari said.

“Australia is the pilot for the (Asia Pacific) region. It will cover everything from meeting the customer to the interaction of the service advisor.”

The dealer coaching program will kick off on April 28 using four dealerships – one a stand-alone and the three as multi-franchise sites – as pilots.

“We have to help the dealer improve,” he said.

“We will show the right tools to improve the relationship with the customer.

The final goal is retention.”

In answer to some problems with perceived high prices and slow delivery of FCA-product components, the car-maker is investigating sourcing some parts – mainly for Jeep – from China.

“FCA has joint ventures in three factories in China – one a brand-new manufacturing plant, one an older plant and we have one for engines,” he said.

“That offers us a good opportunity for vehicles and parts. We also have a joint-venture with Tata in India so, for the Australian region, we have options for sourcing products.”

FCA also has a brand-new plant in Brazil and multiple other factories in the area that could become feedstock for Australia.

Mr Lamari said FCA in Australia has a transparent menu for servicing and parts “but we can have difficulty getting the parts at the right prices”.

“Sourcing from around the world may make prices cheaper and supply quicker,” he said.

“It will bring currency swings into stability and there will be times when the US will be attractive and other times when Asia will be attractive. We will have the luxury to move between production locations.”

Australian customers will have a more open service program when FCA introduces a fixed-price program similar to most rival companies. The program, which as yet has no introduction date, will replace the current menu-based service schedule.

“Fixed-price servicing is normal for Fiat in most other parts of the world. We want to bring that here,” he said.

Mr Lamari also said he would like to see service intervals extend to 12 months, up from a more common six-month maintenance period.

“It’s not just about price,” he said. “For convenience, customers would prefer to visit the service centre once a year, not twice.”

In Australia, the logistics of the size of the country is seen as being a problem but in fact Mr Lamari said it is one of the best in the world.

“The parts-fill rate – the supply of parts compared with the stock – is up to 95 per cent which is great,” he said.

“That ensures parts are on hand when the dealer needs them.

“The final goal is customer retention and it has to happen now. It’s an illusion to think you can get a customer back after three years – it won’t happen.”

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