For car dealerships, service is the name of the game

You've been back to your local car dealer half a dozen times -- and the car still isn't right. Sound familiar? ``We're very much aware of people's concern that they can't get a car fixed, their fear of going into a dealership with a problem, and even their very reluctance to walk into a dealership,'' says Lee R. Miskowski, national service development manager for Ford.

And that bothers not only Ford Motor Company, but all other carmakers as well.

What to do about it?

Of those people who come back for service in its Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealerships, ``about 75 percent are totally satisfied with the way they are treated, another 15 percent are reasonably satisfied, and the remaining 10 percent are totally dissatisfied,'' reports Joseph A. Kordick, general manager of the Ford parts and service division.

What troubles car owners most on car repair? In order:

The way a dealer treats the customer.

Price of the repair.


Technical competence of the dealership technicians.

The logical extension of building a car is taking care of it and working with dealers to handle customers.

Ford dealerships write up 100 million car-repair orders a year, and every unhappy person spreads the story to what some estimate is another 100 people. That's a lot of potentially critical motorists, not to mention the money involved.

``The only game left in town is service,'' Mr. Kordick insists. ``On everything else we're getting our heads beaten off.

``Starting this month, we plan to survey every one of our buyers,'' Kordick reports. The top 5 to 10 percent of the best-scoring dealers will be authorized to ``take care of any customer who comes in with a legitimate complaint whether the vehicle is in warranty or not.'' The line will be drawn when the mileage is unreasonably high or the complaint unjustified.

``A dealer is authorized to handle a situation in accordance with the best business judgment that he has,'' Kordick says. If he's unhappy, the customer can even get in touch with Kordick, who says he is taking some of the calls himself.

Ford is also waiving its prior-approval requirements for some of its warranty work when a dealer makes sure its technician force is trained for the job. The training will cost the dealer money, but he'll gain in customer goodwill.

While there is already diagnostic equipment in the service shops, next spring Buick will launch what it calls ``the best electronic service tool available,'' according to Donald E. Hackworth, Buick general manager.

Called the Computerized Automotive Maintenance System, CAMS is a joint development of Buick and IBM as well as other General Motors units, including Electronic Data Systems. CAMS will help the technician identify a problem and correct it.

Ford also has its OASIS program (On-Line Automotive Service Information System), designed to help service technicians diagnose and repair a problem in a car.

To build a better dialogue with its own dealership body, Ford is strengthening its field personnel, who are a buffer between the dealer and the manufacturer. ``The dealers tell us our field force is too young and, in many cases, immature. That's because of the high turnover rate in the industry,'' says Kordick.

Ford is working on a plan to help dealers supply free loaners to service customers. All of this costs the dealer money and a few of them balk. Of Ford's 5,700 dealers nationwide, about 5,000 are signed up for the OASIS program. ``Eventually we'll get all of them on stream,'' says Mr. Miskowski.

Besides its 29 service schools around the country, Ford has also taken its training program to more than 100 vocational schools where dealership technicians can enroll.

Will all of this work for the motorist? You can be sure the auto companies intend to find out.

First of two articles on having your car fixed. The second will appear tomorrow.

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