Clarkston Chrysler Jeep Rolls out a New Line for Speech

With a global workforce of 384,723 employees, Daimler-Chrysler sold approximately 4,006,700 passenger cars and 712,200 commercial vehicles in 2004. At year's end of 2004, Chrysler's total revenue reached $67 billion. Keeping these numbers in mind, it is not surprising that Chrysler has a five star requirement for its sales and services providers around the globe. However, it is a little surprising to find that this large corporate parent company allows its individual dealerships the freedom to run as independent businesses. The parent company only obligates them to mention the five star requirements in greetings and advertising. Other than that, the dealership has little concern with the parent corporation.

One dealership has taken the initiative to fix and enhance its self-service customer-service system - Clarkston Chrysler Jeep in Clarkston, Mich.  Clarkston Chrysler has been in business for 20 years, employs 35 people and sells about 1,000 new and used vehicles every year. Prior to implementing speech, Clarkston Chrysler used an automated system called Call Command which did not use speech. The problem was that this system did not have the capability to track customer responses to satisfaction questions, so there was no way of tracking the results based on the call.  In addition, the dealership had to rely on the customer to call in rather than prospecting potential customers by calling them first.  In-house personnel were responsible for tracking the incoming calls for monitoring trends. Bob King, fixed operations director of Clarkston Chrysler, explained, "Neither of those was happening consistently, in my opinion, which is why I think the bridgeSpeak system works much better." Clarkston Chrysler also used a system called SmartLink, a direct mail service-reminder that Chrysler sends to its customers. The system downloaded the dealership's service history once per month to see what a vehicle, based on previous service, is due for; then the system sent out a reminder via mail. The only way to track the mailer's reach was to compare the scheduled customer list to the mailing list and give credit for all matching names to the SmartLink system. All of the measurements, including the short-term ones for speech, are abstract, but King felt that the speech system would be able to provide more concrete numbers in the long-term.

King was discussing these issues with long-time customer, Jon Poploskie, when Poploskie described a speech-recognition product that his company, bridgeSpeak®, designed specifically for automotive dealerships.  King liked the idea so much that he had him set up a demo of bridgeSpeak AR (Automotive Retail). Using professionally recorded prompts and speech recognition, the phone-based IVR solution acts as an inbound auto-attendant, and an outbound agent. By accessing the dealership's computer (DMS) system for customer records, customers are called proactively for appointment reminders, missed appointment follow up, parts notifications, customer service follow up, and customer mining.

Internal conversations began at Clarkston Chrysler in January of 2005, and by March, the dealership had made the final decision to go with speech recognition.  The only thing slowing the rollout was that Clarkston Chrysler's telephone system needed to be upgraded. These small upgrades allowed the bridgeSpeak server to interface with the phone server. The solution connects to the phone system via simple analog phone stations.  Clarkston needed enough stations to handle their anticipated call volume.  With this information, King decided that adding two additional ports would allow the automated speech recognition solution to handle up to four simultaneous calls and any additional calls could be answered by the operator.

By April, the dealership was ready to implement speech. The goals for this implementation included freeing up the only available operator (there is only one operator on duty at a time) and creating a more pleasant environment, as well as increasing customer contact rates regarding sales follow up and service follow-up. In order to achieve these goals, Clarkston Chrysler implemented a speech-enabled automated attendant phone system for routing calls to the appropriate department or person, rather than page them over the intercom. This dramatically reduced the constant paging that irritated customers and employees alike. Once the automated attendants were in place, operator-assisted calls went from 100 percent to 30 percent. The 30 percent that is redirected to the operator includes calls where the individual asks for the sales department.

Clarkston Chrysler monitored the system using customer feedback and bounce reports to fine tune the system, making sure that it maintained the 30 percent operator-assisted calls before they began incorporating several other modules into their auto attendant to provide different functions. The modules were introduced one at time beginning with parts notification, moving on to appointment reminders and missed appointment follow-ups, then recalls, and finally lease termination. For parts notification, the auto attendant calls customers to let them know that a part has arrived and allows them to schedule a service time to have the part installed.  With recalls, the auto attendant downloads information from the dealership's recall database which it then uses to alert customers to the recall and remind them to set an appointment to bring their vehicles to the dealership for the recall-related repairs/replacements. 

The multi-level prospecting module is used to mine the customer database for new sales and service opportunities. It is designed to generate business by calling customers and notifying them of offers from the dealership. For example, when a customer purchases a new car, the automated attendant calls the customer 90 days later to let them know it is time for the car's first service.  Along those same lines, the attendants also mine the database looking for potential follow-up appointments that can draw the customer back into the store, such as oil changes and alignments.  These appointments can be set up over the phone at the time of the message through the use of speech recognition. Similarly, the lease termination module sends out a notification 90 days before a lease is due to close, reminding the lessee to set up a pre-inspection, which the customer can then schedule using speech recognition.

According to King, he purchased the solution with no maintenance or leasing fees, so "the system is paying for itself in call completions alone." Over time, King would like to analyze inventory such as the number of parts ordered, but not installed.  So far, Clarkston Chrysler has seen a 15 percent increase (from 20 percent to 35 percent) in the number of oil changes since the speech recognition system was introduced. King explained that although oil changes do not generate a large amount of revenue, they are a great avenue for creating customer loyalty.

Even though it was not the speech recognition system's goal, Clarkston Chrysler's outbound calls that were answered by a customer rather than an answering machine had a containment rate of 93.7 percent. King required that customers have easy access to the operator should they want it, so this containment rate shows how successful the application was at enabling customers to serve themselves.  The dealership also monitors CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) and FFV (Fixed First Visit), which are also monitored at the corporate level. The customer satisfaction scores for the business center averaged 92 percent prior to implementing speech.  Post speech-enabling the phone systems, the score increased by five percent to 97. The business center's average for sales satisfaction scores also increased from 94 percent up to 97 percent for a 12-month period. While King hasn't had a chance to experience the full capabilities of the reporting system offered by bridgeSpeak, he plans to fine-tune the application to track trends on a monthly basis that look at: how much money is spent per service repair order including customer mining on oil changes for vehicles that have previously been in for service; the number of additional requests/work orders generating revenue; retrieving leads for existing customers who may be interested in additional services or products, for example, if service customers spend an average of $61 per visit and an oil change is only $25, then that service generated an additional $36; and retrieve leads for customers purchasing new cars that could be eligible for new installations and upgrades, which averages about $238.

Today, King feels that the system far outweighs the dealership's capabilities in that he is not currently utilizing all of its capabilities - leaving them plenty of untapped features.  King already plans to broaden the reach of the recall module.  In their very nature, recalls have no regular pattern of releases from the corporation; the information is distributed as soon as it is available leaving little time for the dealership to prepare.  When the release first goes out, there is a flood of interest from customers. Unfortunately, the dealership and the customers receive the information at the same time, so the dealership often does not have the parts available to meet the demand.  It is not until they have the parts ordered and in stock that they can really start prospecting by sending out alerts about the recall and setting up appointments for service.  Daimler-Chrysler has anywhere from 100 - 200 recalls out at any given time on various types of vehicles, models and parts.  King's goal for enhancing the recall system is to re-examine older recalls that had poor response rates and see if it can generate additional returns.  A potentially time-consuming endeavor, the selected recalls will depend heavily upon the parts available and will be left to the dealership to pick and choose which ones to pursue.  King's greatest concern is that he doesn't want to get into a situation where he is selling something to a customer who is coming in for a mandatory recall. He wants to create work for his employees, but also wants to assure his customers that his first priority is providing the best customer service possible, which is something he feels is possible with the new speech-enabled system.

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