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Chrysler Dealers Get Schooled In Customer Satisfaction

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Chrysler has some work to do on the customer satisfaction front. In the most recent Sales Satisfaction Index published by J.D. Power and Associates, Fiat was the only one of the automaker's five brands to score above the industry average, while Dodge and Jeep battled it out at the bottom of the list. (In fact, Jeep has occupied the lowest rung in Power's rankings for the past two years.)

Now, according to AutoNews, 144 of Chrysler's worst-performing dealers are getting some training to bring them up to speed with the rest of the industry. Assuming all goes well, another 650 will follow later this year. 

That training takes the form of twice-monthly classes in sales and customer service, complete with the requisite role-playing exercises. Two days a month may not sound like an exhaustive schedule, but the pilot program Chrysler ran with dealerships in Phoenix, Arizona generated huge boosts in satisfaction on both the sales and service fronts. 

Participation from dealers is voluntary, but for those who choose to take part, Chrysler is splitting the cost of the training, which is led by consultants from the Cardone Group. 

And as for the other 1,800 Chrysler dealers, they can receive training from one of Chrysler's nine business centers. Representatives from those centers have taken the lessons learned in Phoenix and created a training program that can be replicated nationwide.

Our take

Distinctions between products are disappearing. As production quality has risen and brand loyalty has faded away, consumers are more willing to consider a wider array of options when shopping. Just as we don't usually browse one line of cell phone (Apple fans excluded, of course), nor do we typically shop just one line of automobile.

In that kind of environment, service is the distinguishing factor. You might be equally interested in, say, the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S. Given the similarities between those two models, the treatment you receive from staff at the Subaru and Scion dealerships will likely be a deciding factor in determining where you spend your cash.

Chrysler is smart to try boosting its customer satisfaction ratings. Its previous program -- called the Dealer Standards Program -- shelled out up to $800,000 each year to dealerships with strong customer service and great-looking facilities. Unfortunately, while that did encourage dealers to keep their showrooms shiny, it didn't do much to improve customer service. Perhaps giving dealers the tools to keep service satisfaction high, rather than simply rewarding those who manage to do so on their own, will bring the entire Chrysler network up to speed.

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