General Motors Lets Customers Guide It Back Toward Bright Lights: A Loyalty 360 Interview with GM’s General Director, Customer and Relationship Services

Unquestionably, General Motors has endured an arduous journey in recent years, stemming from questionable vehicle quality, to market share declines, to financial losses and finally a 2009 bankruptcy and federal bailout.

General Motors has emerged from that onerous period with renewed vigor, an absolute laser focus on the customer, enthusiastic senior leadership guiding that journey, and a fervent hope that it can reach that mountaintop again in the automobile industry. And for the first time, General Motors was named the car company with the best quality according to the J.D. Power & Associates’ annual automotive survey released in June.

After GM discontinued the Hummer, Saturn, Pontiac, and Saab brands, the new General Motors Company retained four of its major brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick. It kept 3,600 of its 6,000 U.S. dealerships. When GM filed for a government-assisted Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2009, the company reported $82.29 billion in assets.

Jim Moloney, General Director, Customer and Relationship Services, General Motors Company, shared his vivacious enthusiasm for the company’s new direction during a captivating interview with Loyalty 360 CEO Mark Johnson.

Shifting Contact Center Mindset

Moloney: Any time a customer or dealer calls looking for assistance, we have a variety of special groups that handle calls, social media interactions, chats, emails. I can honestly say I’m incredibly bullish on the focus we’re putting on the customer. In the contact center, we’re shifting our beliefs. We were running contact centers as cost driven complaint departments. Now, it’s much more centered around an engagement opportunity. Customers have reached out to us and want more information. How do we turn those things into much more positive interactions?

We believe these interactions foster a relationship that maybe we didn’t pay enough attention to in the past. It’s competitive in this category and we can’t afford to lose a single customer and that’s continuing to permeate our mindset.

Our Challenge

Moloney: We have discontinued brands, so we have some things working against us and those customers are in the open market. We disappointed them with some decisions we had to make. How do we ensure they’re still being communicated with by the company, and ensure we’re delivering this incredible new portfolio we have to launch?

15,000 Phone Calls/Emails Per Day

Moloney: We interact with a significant number of customers per day. How do we ensure that these interactions are positive ones? How do we make sure we’re reinforcing the journey of the customer, the customer experience? We’ve been at it for awhile and continue to build on that momentum.

We’re in the early stages of a more seamless and integrated approach to customer management. Now how do we get the marketing divisions/contact centers/lifecycle management people all pulling the rope in the same direction? They are all important enablers.

In the contact center we’re moving away from passive to how do we use proactive marketing, proactive customer engagement tactics – whether its driven by business rules or advanced analytics. We’re on that journey and are becoming more integrated than we ever have.

J.D. Power Top Quality Ranking

Moloney: The J.D. Power scores were positive, but we have to stay humble. We’re also dealing with a whole generation that wouldn’t cast an eye on products and how do we get them connected?

Incredible Leadership  

Moloney: We have incredible leadership driving massive change across the organization. Alicia Boler-Davis (recently promoted to Vice President of Global Quality and Global Customer Experience) has expanded our global quality. It’s the first time we put those two giant silos together. She sees opportunities that, quite frankly, we have ignored. We’re also gathering data that spilled all over the company in many ways, and have started to consolidate it so we have a better lens. We get a pulse every day and they’re tapping into us.

A Tuned-In Customer Experience

Moloney: It’s truly a tuned-in customer experience organization. You can’t ignore the folks who are having such rich interactions. Recently, we had a social media push and now we have our social media employees working beside marketing and public relations in a new way of collaborating around the customer. It’s incredibly exciting to be part of this transformation taking place.

How Do You Change Relationships Between Dealers and Prospective Buyers?

Moloney: Everybody’s appetite for change got a tuneup coming out of bankruptcy. If we go back to the same place that got us in such trouble, we’d be back in a bad way. The willingness to change has been very much in the open and different than pre-bankruptcy. With new personnel coming in, it was a challenge all around us.

But we’ve started to build momentum around initiatives such as Chevrolet’s significant partnership (renewed long-term partnership in January 2012) with Disney. We can use tools and learnings from Disney and apply them GM’s brands. At the end of the day, our dealers have to be the heroes. They’re the ones consummating the deal with the customers.

We’re Back in the Conversation

Moloney: In taking the product and the experience to the next level we need to have excellence and we need to have leadership and this company is committed to make that a reality. Manufacturers that truly have a network aligned with them will be at a competitive advantage. GM has made a pretty solid investment in that space. There’s a realization we have to move beyond where we are today and make sure we’re truly listening to the voice of the customer. We want to create true advocates for our brands, our products, and our dealers.

How do you take that satisfied customer and really turn them into a brand advocate so they’re out there on Facebook and Twitter and on all the forums, and telling friends how proud they are of our product? Increasingly, I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re back in the conversation.

Broken Model

Moloney: The model was so broken. If you looked at supply and demand, we were desperate for many years to keep factories running and make sure our obligations were met. We got into unhealthy relationships with our dealers and partners. It was a death spiral where no one was making any money and we weren’t rewarding the right behaviors.

Transparency is necessary. We have to be transparent to our customers. It’s no longer acceptable for our customers to be treated like that. We’re leveraging the contact centers, and with Mary (Barra -- GM’s Senior Vice President of Global Product Development) and Alicia are as our leaders, that’s why the company is changing and customers are beginning to take note.

Seeking a Return to the Bright Lights

Moloney: The level of technology and innovation in these products nowadays is mind-blowing and I don’t think you’ll see that let up. We’re in an arms race across the category. We’ve had a major transformation of our contact center and I’ll put our efforts up against anybody. When we get our act together, we’re pretty formidable. I like the way we’re marching.

When you go through the dark days we did, frankly, we want to put points on the board and do the right things for our customers. We’re fortunate we have a second chance. With smart people and resources, why can’t we be earning the same accolades as others? I want to see GM in those bright lights.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

 Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty 360. He has significant experience in selling, designing, and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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