General Motors Co.'s pledge to put the customer first may sound like fodder for a press release, Kevin Williams admits.
But he says the auto maker's recent downsizing will sharpen its focus and help it carry through on the promise.
“We know that it sounds like corporate speak,” says Williams, GM vice president and general manager-North America Service and Parts Operations.
“GM has become a smaller, more focused company. Our future depends on this, and we have to do it,” he tells Ward's.
“We are selecting our best dealers, our best products and we are listening to our customers better, and we will have to demonstrate that we are serious.”
Critics long have assailed GM for its many layers of bureaucracy and a tendency to listen to Wall Street analysts more closely than its own customers, a combination that exacerbated the auto maker's massive market-share losses in recent years.
But after emerging from bankruptcy last month on the strength of billions of dollars in taxpayer loans, President and CEO Fritz Henderson promised a new direction for GM.
“Business as usual is over at GM,” Henderson told journalists gathered at its Detroit headquarters on July 10 to unveil the restructured auto maker.
Henderson said the auto maker would start with putting the customer first, and the phrase has since imbued nearly all of GM's marketing communications. But GM also has taken tangible steps, including thinning a bloated list of executives that created helped its massive bureaucracy.
Williams says his organization was restructured just over a year ago, with a focus on helping dealers retain their service customers.
“We have reorganized our entire organization around the customer,” he says during the chat. “The organization is better able to support our dealers, understand their needs and give them the resources to completely exceed the customer's needs.”
Some consumers remain skeptical, as evidenced by the line of questioning for Williams, who took over the service parts organization at GM late last year after holding leadership roles in its international, quality and purchasing groups.
Asked why people should take GM's new humility seriously, he points to the speed with which GM restructured itself this year by slashing its labor costs, deleveraging its balance sheet, resizing its dealer network and manufacturing footprint, and racing through bankruptcy in 39 days.
“The last couple of months are a demonstration to how fast we are moving,” he tells one chat participant. “We understand that we need to not just talk — deeds not words. Give us a chance and we will not let you down.”
Williams also says GM intends to improve the feedback it receives from dealers when customers get their vehicles serviced. Oftentimes, service department personnel will pressure customers to score their experience highly on feedback sheets.
“We are truly working hard to make (the) ownership experience the best in the world,” he says. “When we do this right, our dealers will have no need for these types of pressure tactics.”