A company that delivers
Recently nominated for a FOCUS on Excellence Award for its Isuzu bakkie range, General Motors (GM) is a prominent player in the competitive light commercial vehicle (LCV) segment. FOCUS speaks to Malcolm Gauld, GMSA vice president of sales and marketing, about what it takes to keep customers happy during tough economic times.
As you know, FOCUS on Excellence Award sales, service and parts support nominations are based on the quarterly Comparative Customer Satisfaction Monitor (CCSM) produced by research company, Scott Byers, which names the transport industry’s top achievers in the field of customer satisfaction. In your opinion, why was Isuzu nominated for this award?
There is no doubt that this has been a very tough year, and I believe that customers tend to gravitate towards products that they know and trust during uncertain times like these.
As a brand, Isuzu has been active in South Africa for a very long time. People are very familiar with the brand and know that it signifies the highest quality in vehicle manufacturing.
In short, Isuzu is a dependable brand that represents a safe option during difficult times. Customers know that the product will always be well supported.
As a vehicle manufacturer, what are the key factors to take into consideration when trying to ensure total customer satisfaction?
I’m a firm believer that, regardless of the industry that you operate within, people buy from people. The most important thing is that you build solid relationships with your customers. In my experience, customers aren’t unreasonable or unrealistic; they realise that problems and errors will occasionally crop up.
What is crucial, however, is that you deliver on your promises, engage them in open dialogue and go out of your way to offer them the best service possible.
And with this in mind, GM makes use of an initiative called “GM Difference”. Can you explain this initiative to us?
Quite simply, GM Difference is a set of customer service standards that is aimed at continually improving the service that we offer to customers. Both the company and its dealers have committed themselves to upholding these standards and it drives all interaction that GM has with its customers. Surveys are regularly conducted and all our employees are rated on their compliance with the GM Difference standards.
Ensuring excellent parts and service support is also incredibly important, especially within the transport industry where downtime has to be kept down to a minimum. What is the company doing to help customers keep their vehicles on the road?
Yes, assisting customers in reducing downtime is very important. Many customers in the LCV segment use their vehicles as business tools and they cannot afford to wait for weeks while a specific part or component is ordered.
Because of this, we try to make sure that parts are always readily available and that our technicians have the expertise to get their vehicles up and running as quickly as possible.
Luckily we have a comprehensive dealer network that allows customers easy access to parts and service support. We are well represented throughout the country and, because of this, customers never need to travel too far to have their needs attended to.
We are also in the process of investing heavily in a new parts distribution centre (PDC) in Port Elizabeth. The cost of the facility is around R250 million and will be 38 000 m2 in size. We hope to have it fully operational in late 2010.
Hopefully, this shows our customers that we aren’t afraid to invest in the future of the South African automotive industry. Our vehicles will always have the necessary service and parts support.
The last 18 months have been very difficult. What are the biggest challenges in meeting customers’ needs during a time like this?
Financing has been a big problem. Customers haven’t been able to gain access to the financing needed to purchase new vehicles. As a manufacturer, one can only attempt to assist one’s customers by trying to offer innovative financing packages and entering into partnerships with lending institutions. Thankfully, GM has been quite successful in achieving this.
Also, you have to try to instil confidence in the customer’s mind. Because of this, we recently extended our warrantee period and now have one of the longest warrantee periods in the industry. We also offer industry-leading roadside assistance. Our programme gives customers the opportunity to phone in for assistance even if they have a flat tyre or have simply run out of fuel. Regardless of the problem, we will help.
Finally, Isuzu and Opel – GM’s brands within the LCV market segment – offer customers tremendous value for money. There is a massive demand for used Isuzu and Opel vehicles, which means that the resale value of these vehicles is high. Buying an Opel or Isuzu bakkie is a good investment. The customer won’t be left with a vehicle that he or she can’t sell.
What are your expectations for 2010?
The LCV market is interesting because it offers a very good indication of the state of the economy. The bakkie is the engine room of the South African economy; one need only look at LCV sales statistics to see how the local economy is doing. If business in general is booming, bakkie sales reflect that.
The good news is that the market appears to be improving. Financing is once again becoming accessible and there are indications that things are returning to normal.
I believe that we will see the market stabilise and improve towards the end of 2010. Customers have been forced to extend the lifecycles of their vehicles, but they will start to return to the showroom floor next year.
We will continue to focus on offering our customers quality products and reliable service. As long as we do everything in our power to ensure that our customers are satisfied, they will support us. So, we are very enthusiastic that 2010 will be a positive year.