Do the Big 3 Listen to their Customers?
The Big Three American auto companies are in turmoil. And they did it to themselves.
President Obama said, “The pain being felt in places that rely on our auto industry is not the fault of our workers, who labor tirelessly and desperately want to see their companies succeed. And it is not the fault of all the families and communities that supported manufacturing plants throughout the generations. Rather, it is a failure of leadership – from Washington to Detroit – that led our auto companies to this point.”
Certainly the economy has complicated the auto-makers lives. But their troubles began long before the start of the current recession. And it begs the question; “What could Detroit have done differently to avoid such a precipitous decline?” More importantly, “Are they doing the right thing now to improve their business in the future?”.
The key, as in any business, is a focus on customers. What do they want? What do they care about in an automobile? What do they not like and is Detroit fixing it?
The voice of the customer can be heard, loud and clear – if Detroit made the effort. Everyday customers weigh in on the internet in the focus of chat rooms, blogs, and auto review sites. In fact they do so at a phenomenal rate. The trick is to read enough or process enough of their thoughts and opinions to make sense of it all.
The semantic technology at Expert System can do the processing – at a speed and with accuracy that rivals human readers. Here is what we found.
Chrysler – Brakes & Engines!!
Of the Big 3 Ford looks like it is in relatively good shape. We collected and measured customer sentiment on an overall brand level between Ford and Chrysler. That chart is below. It shows that both companies maintained an even impression in the minds of consumers until very recently. By nearly the 4th quarter of 2008 did desire for the Chrysler brand begin to dip significantly below that of Ford. Why?
Average Brand Sentiment Ford vs. Chrysler
The answer lies in looking at the different features and identifying where problems lie – from the perspective of the customer. Every car lie within a brand will have a range of opinions about their merits or pitfalls.
Most car models have a range of likes and dislikes across their features from very poor to excellent. This would be expected. This range of opinion is shown below for all features of the Chrysler brand.
Opinion on all Chrysler Features
But once you dive into the features – acceleration, brakes, engines, exterior, fuel consumption, interior, price, seats, speed and test drive – a big difference emerges. As shown in the next two graphs a predominance of a poor rating on brakes and engines shows itself.
Opinion on Chrysler Brakes
Opinion on Chrysler Engines
If Chrysler had listened to what customers had been saying for over 2½ years it would seem they would have had time to fix the problem and prevented the decline in it overall brand image at the close of 2008. How hard would it have been to add larger more functional breaks, and at what cost? Granted engines might be a harder engineering trick but isn’t that the main reason Chrysler is now getting into bed with Fiat – for their engines? So it seems President Obama is right when he says the problems rest with management.
GM – The Right Mix of Brands?
In the last several days we have learned that GM will add Pontiac to the list of brands it will shed in addition to Saab, Saturn and Hummer. That will leave Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Certainly there are financial, contractual and technology reasons to reduce the brand mix in this way but is that what customers want? And should the voice of the customer be paramount in any restructuring decision? Let’s take a look.
Customer Sentiment GMC vs. Pontiac
In the minds of customers’ Pontiac edges out GMC in the excellent and good categories. Perhaps not by much but it does seem odd GM would abandon a brand that has a higher impression in the mind of those who are prepared to part with their money.
Customer Sentiment GMC vs Saab
While smaller in volume terms the comparison is even starker when it comes to Saab. If we compared Chevrolet to Saab the differences shrink but not by much. Customers clearly love their Saab more than they love the other brands GM has elected to keep. It’s as if the local jewellery store decided to sell off all its diamonds so they could keep selling gem stones. They make more money now but have less of a chance to make money later. It doesn’t seem like a recipe for long term health.
Who Has a Say?
Our government is investing enormous amounts of money into 2 of the biggest car makers in the world in the hopes they cannot just survive but thrive over time. It will take a lot of smart people making well informed and timely decisions to make this come true. Some of those people are or should be the ones who own and drive the cars in question. Semantic technology gives the government, shareholders, stakeholders and management a chance to listen in their opinions if they would only take advantage of it. In point of fact owners have been signalling to car makers for years with their voices. If they are not listened to they will soon signal instead with their dollars elsewhere.