Watching the GM saga unfold, the most striking thing is how long it took for changes to be made, in the face of clear data.
I recently came across an old news story about GM -- around 1999 or 2000 was when the analysis was written. It was course material in a marketing management course. The how-not-to-manage-your-marketing-function part of the course.
The article talked about the pressing needs: To rationalize the brands and banners. Rationalize the dealer network. Get a better fix on consumer desires. The same article made reference to these problems having been in place and observed at least a decade before.
It makes me think how truly impressive it is when a company can make big changes without a huge crisis. It speaks well of a whole culture when this can happen, not just of an executive. Because the example we have of GM is of a whole company that seemed to be living in a cone of silence half the time.
The service experience: GM vs Acura
The Integra was a delightful car, totally fun to drive and the perfect accessory for a young career woman. When I took it in to the dealership, here's what it was like:
- Everyone was sharply dressed.
- The place was clean, and they served free coffee.
- They had a van that would drop you off if you worked nearby, or drop you at a transit station if you didn't.
- When you picked the car up, it was always freshly washed
- There were little paper things inside so you knew no oil from the mechanics feet got on your carpet or seat
- The whole thing was a pleasure. I actually enjoyed the ritual of it. I felt like I belonged to an exclusive club.
A few years later, I accepted a fabulous position as a regional manager for a bank. The job came with a car, and my market area included Oshawa, home of three GM plants and the head offices of GM Canada. I wore out three cars on that job, all pretty good vehicles, actually. Two Grand Prix and a Grand Am. No problems, just a lot of driving.
But here's the customer experience at a big GM dealer in Oshawa.
- The reception area was so dirty, I didn't sit down
- I actually didn't put my purse or briefcase down either, because the cement floor was pretty awful too
- There was a beat up wooden podium that served as a counter. It looked like it had been repainted about a hundred times.
- The guy serving me was dressed in oily gray coveralls
- I wondered if I was in the right place
- I felt like I had stumbled into some kind of guy's clubhouse
- They didn't wash the car. In fact, I kind of took a good look at the seat before I popped my suited behind down
- I never went back
If you see it once, it's a pattern
OK, it was one dealership. But there's a good saying in the world of sales and service: "if you see it once, it's a pattern." There are no isolated instances. If some bad thing is happening in one place, it's happening in other places.
Did no-one know how the industry was changing? Or did no-one care? Or did they think that it wouldn't really matter? Or did people try to make changes but just give up due to the tremendous inertia in the organization?
Things may have changed a lot at that dealership. But how would I know -- I never went back to check. And that is just the reality of dealing with consumers. Once we write you off, you're gone from our world.
GM seems to have a game plan now. And good luck to them implementing it, because they have a BIG hill to climb.