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Jeep redoubles customer service efforts

Big goals: Mike Manley says Jeep can return to its sales glory but it could take a few years.

Internal data points to a turnaround for Jeep but poor brand perceptions linger

Jeep logo23 Nov 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in LOS ANGELES

JEEP says that despite freefalling sales and a reputation for plummeting customer satisfaction rates, the brand’s reputation is lagging behind internal data that shows that both are on the rebound due to concerted efforts started more than two years ago.

Speaking to Australian journalists at the Los Angeles motor show last week, the global head of Jeep Mike Manley revealed that the turnaround started after he appointed former president and CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia (and since August 1 this year FCA’s head of aftersales for the Asia-Pacific), Pat Dougherty, in December 2014.

“When I look back over the last 24-month period, our customer service has frankly not been where we needed to be or where the market deserves it to be,” he admitted.

“But when I put Pat Dougherty in the market, he started the process of rebuilding our customer satisfaction, and I think that’s what (Mr Dougherty’s successor) Steve (Zanlunghi) is doing is designed to continue that.

“It’s going to be a big, big focus for us. I think we’ve made some improvements. What I think you’ll recognise is that perception lags to what actually happens. We’ll have to accept that, but we’ll have to continue to drive it and that’s what we’ll continue to keep doing.”

While Mr Zanlunghi acknowledged that a worrying 50 per cent decline in year-to-date sales compared with the same period last year appears to be Jeep customers voting with their feet, he said that his team’s behind-the-scenes efforts since Mr Dougherty took control are finally paying real dividends that will soon become clear to those who remain with the brand.

“In the past 12 months, our internal customer satisfaction scores that we’ve been seeing have basically doubled,” he revealed. “So we’re hoping to see the fruits of that, the follow-up with the perception in the marketplace.

“There’s a lot of things that we’ve done – we’ve expanded the warehouse, we’ve got over 190 per cent more parts, we’ve worked on a system where we’re integrated with dealer’s systems, which are automatically replenishing parts as they come. We’re now directly trucking parts from our Melbourne warehouse now directly into our dealers in Sydney and Brisbane as well.

“And we’ve also introduced ‘Service Driven’ – a consulting course that all dealers are going through. We’re 60 per cent of the way through it, and once we’ve finished, what we’ll do is take a look at that bottom quartile, and if they’re not moving the needle or they’re staying below the certain score, then what we’re going to do is have them redo the course – at the dealers’ costs.

 center imageLeft: Global head of Jeep Mike Manley.

“So we are very much focused on customer satisfaction and service, and we’re doing a lot of stuff with our call centre as well to take care of customer needs.

“We don’t want to see the peaks and troughs that we’ve just seen... I’m going to go as fast as I can for sustained growth.”

From a record high of 30,408 registrations in 2014, Jeep sales slipped 20 per cent last year, and are on track to struggle to crack 13,000 units this year.

Mr Manley believes that concentrating on customer service and better product will ultimately prevail for Jeep, but he could not really put an accurate time frame as to when the brand will be once again breaking sales records.

“I think it’s almost impossible for me to give anything that we credibly relate to it,” he said. “The three, four, five price increases I think have had the biggest impact.

“But us recognising and having started the work in a very serious and meticulous way to drive customer service I think will put us in a much better position. And the currency has already recovered so for us it’s going in the right direction, and we just need it to continue.

“I’d love to get back to 30,000 sales and more than that. When I think about what the Jeep brand stands for, in terms of the spirit, freedom, adventure, that tomorrow can be better than today, I actually believe that spirit is very close to the spirit of Australia.

“Everything I know about Australia, everything I know about the people of Australia, I think there is this joy of life. And it fits this brand. I think if we get things right, we should – given the segment in Australia – we should be able to get to and go beyond that number.

“But it’s going to be a number of building products – product (and the Compass will help), I think it’s going to be all the work that Steve’s doing and Pat did (and I think that’s very necessary and I think all of that will help too), but I think it will take some time to get back there.

“And you know I’m going to push as hard as I can to two (years) – but that’s probably unrealistic, because we need to bring Compass into the market, we need more traction on Renegade… and we need to get the refresh of other models back into the market. Next generation Cherokee will help.

“It will be a cycle – I would love for it to happen in two years… but what I’m really looking for… is progress.”

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