GM has new customer care guru, with a big task ahead image

Consumers who call to complain about their General Motors car or truck could end up – if it’s serious enough – in front of the fast-rising executive that is now in charge of putting a friendlier face on the U.S. automaker.

Alicia Boler-Davis, 44, who less than two years ago was removed from running a car assembly plant, is now leading GM’s push to boost vehicle quality and improve customer satisfaction as part of an effort to increase sales.

In the past, GM divided these “quality” and “customer care” responsibilities among several people who reported to senior executives. But it now deems these areas so important that it has combined them and placed oversight under one person, and that person reports directly to Chief Executive Dan Akerson.

This is because reversing the existing poor reputation of the automaker for vehicle quality and customer care has been paramount to Akerson since GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009.

“She is street smart and boardroom-savvy,” said Jim Moloney, general director for the company’s call centers. “She’s built cars, so you can’t take her out on the factory floor and B.S. her, but she is also completely comfortable in a meeting with Akerson.”

“We know the perception of our products from a quality perspective still lags our actual performance,” Boler-Davis said in a recent interview at her office in GM’s technical center outside Detroit.

Though Boler-Davis has been on the job in its current form for only about four months, GM has already tallied some victories this year. It led the industry with eight vehicles garnering top honors in their segments in J.D. Power and Associates’ initial quality study, and Consumer Reports named the Chevy Impala and Silverado the top sedan and pickup in the United States.

While Boler-Davis should not receive too much credit for vehicles developed before her tenure, she has brought a new focus to the company’s care and quality efforts, industry analysts said.

After earning a chemical engineering degree at Northwestern University and working in the pharmaceutical and consumer foods industries, Boler-Davis joined GM in 1994 as an engineer in the midsize/luxury car division. In 2007, she became the first African-American woman named a manager of a GM assembly plant.

Via Reuters