For decades, General Motors viewed frustrated customers as a costly nuisance. Today, the maker says it wants to turn them into loyal owners.
At least, that’s the strategy behind the new Customer Engagement Center officially opening at the GM Technical Center in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Michigan. The facility, which will eventually employ nearly 350 “advisors” and managers, is part of a dramatic shift in the way GM wants to do business – a recognition that in today’s crowded and highly competitive automotive market it doesn’t take much to send buyers over to your competition if they aren’t treated right.
“I don’t know if there’s anything more important than getting a customer to come back,” said Mark Reuss, president of GM’s North American automotive operations, during a tour of the new facility which consolidates earlier call centers based as far away as Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Customer Engagement Center is a so-called Level II facility. It’s where owners of GM products can turn if they have a nagging issue that dealers either can’t or won’t repair, whether a defective transmission or something as simple, yet frustrating, as an in-car infotainment system that won’t properly pair with an owner’s smartphone.
In year past, the facility would have been called a “complaint department,” explained Jim Moloney, who serves as general director of the Michigan center and others around the country. “We viewed them as cost centers,” where the goal was to do as little as necessary – and spend as little as possible, Moloney explained. Today, GM has given its advisors more flexibility to do what it takes, even if it means authorizing an expensive repair that might not have been required under an owner’s warranty.
“We can’t afford to lose a single customer,” said Moloney, echoing GM President Reuss. Indeed, industry studies have suggested that it can cost as much as 10 times more to win over a new buyer – through advertising and other efforts – compared to what it takes to keep an existing owner, so manufacturers like GM are starting to recognize even an out-of-warranty repair can be treated as a cost-effective marketing tool.
GM is by no means the only maker today putting a premium on customer service. For example, for Hyundai it became a critical step in the process of rebuilding a tarnished brand image, starting with the launch of the maker’s then industry-best 10-year warranty. Of course, it helped to have vehicle quality on a steady upward climb.