Charlie Brown, a Saturn customer from Columbus, Ohio, was so happy with his shopping experience that he actually tattooed the company's logo onto his leg. Brown is just one of tens of thousands of regular-folks-turned-Saturn-evangelists after purchasing one of the million-plus cars Saturn has sold since October 25, 1990.
Owner enthusiasm runs so high that when the company held a 1994 "homecoming" at the Spring Hill, Tennessee manufacturing plant, over 44,000 owners attended. Another 90,000 attended regional homecoming events that same summer. In a world where only one out of every 14 Floridians has ever attended a Space Shuttle launch, Saturn's homecoming celebrations attracted one of every six Saturn owners.
Through "exceeding customers' expectations" and peppering them with after-the-sale niceties like free car washes, car-care clinics with burgers and soda, annual birthday cards, and frequent telephone checkups, Saturn is no longer just selling cars, but "an entire ownership experience."
The Recipe For Success
"We had the advantage of studying the industry to see what needed to be improved," explains Greg Martin, spokesperson at Saturn headquarters in Troy, Michigan.
The results of their study manifested into well-built, quality cars with exceptional value, empowered work teams and a pressure-free "no-hassle and no haggle" pricing policy. They also wound up sharing top-of-the-chart JD Powers customer satisfaction results with Lexus and Infinity -- cars that cost two to three times more than the average $15,000 Saturn. Now the company is expanding the same approach to their used car business.
"People try to identify one particular thing that we do and it's not really one particular thing," says Martin. "It's a combination of details that all add up to this really positive experience."
Points of Contact
Saturn has itemized those details into "40 moments of truth" -- the points of contact between the car, the company and the customer.
"At every point a Saturn person comes in contact with the car and customer, it all adds up to this impression that the customer forms about the company. It establishes a basis for a relationship that will decide whether the customer is enthusiastic about the company," explains Martin. "We try to exceed the customers' expectations every time they come in contact with us. So what you're generating there over a period of time is people who really love their cars, love the company, are very loyal and are very enthusiastic, who tell people about the care and treatment they received."
This dedication to superior service is far more than lip service -- it permeates throughout the organization right from the top.
"All of GM -- not just North America, but international operations as well -- looks at what has been accomplished at Saturn as a template for the future of their own businesses," says John Smale, chairman of the board at General Motors, Saturn's parent company.
When Things Go Wrong
The real test of customer service platitudes arrives when things go haywire. In 1991, Saturn was horrified to discover 1,836 new cars had been filled with improperly formulated coolant supplied from their Texaco vendor. Rather than risk customer satisfaction by repairing the cars, Saturn voluntarily REPLACED them. Then in 1993, when the company discovered a wiring harness could create underhood fires if generators ever short-circuited, they offered free replacements for all 325,767 cars then manufactured.
To help ensure every customer is completely satisfied, Saturn utilizes four telephonic customer assistance centers in addition to the one in Spring Hill.
"The people who are charged with satisfying the customer are empowered," says Martin. "They have the authority to do what's right to do -- whatever they can to make sure the customer is completely satisfied. There is no multi-layered organization they have to go through to enact simple customer satisfaction procedures."
By March 1992, Saturn ranked first in new car sales per facility, the first time in 15 years a domestic nameplate topped the list. By 1993, Saturn was earning an operating profit. In 1994, annual vehicle sales hit 286,003, up 25 percent over 1993. On June 1, 1995, Saturn's one-millionth vehicle rolled off the assembly line and there are currently 350 dealers (called retailers) selling Saturn automobiles in the U.S., Canada and Taiwan. Their next frontier? Sales to Japan will begin in 1997.
What can customer service managers do to get their logos tattooed on happy customers?
"They need to examine very, very closely where the points of contact are happening between customer and company," advises Martin. "They can't leave anything to chance or take anything for granted. Every person within the organization who makes the slightest contact with the customer is playing a role in that customer's impression of the company. Managers need to identify their own specific moments of truth."
Saturn Corporation's 40 Moments of Truth
1. Exposure to a TV ad for Saturn Corporation.
2. Exposure to a TV ad for a Saturn Product.
3. Exposure to a dealer advertisement.
4. How to find where the nearest Saturn dealer is located.
5. Customer arrives at dealership to shop.
6. Customer walks through the showroom door.
7. Customer's first interaction with dealership employee.
8. Customer's first exposure to product in showroom.
9. First time customer sees sticker.
10. Customer desires more information.
11. Customer's first interaction with salesperson.
12. Customer requests a test drive.
13. Customer decides to buy (selection/negotiation).
14. Customer takes delivery of new car.
15. Customer consummates the sale (closes the deal).
16. As part of the delivery process, the customer is introduced to the service department and an appointment is scheduled.
17. Customer is contacted after the sale.
18. Customer wants to bring car in for service. Is the dealership open and is service available when customer needs it?
19. Customer calls dealership for maintenance, repairs or information related to service.
20. Customer brings car to service area for the first time.
21. Customer asks, what's wrong, how much will it cost and how long will it take?
22. Service advisor calls customer with revised estimates of problems, cost and timing, completion of service and follow-up to verify satisfaction.
23. Customer is advised that necessary parts are unavailable.
24. Customer returns to pay for services provided.
25. Customer has paid for service and is ready to leave the dealership.
26. Customer leaves service garage and finds out later that the problems were not fixed.
27. Customer picks up car, drives away and something "new" happens unexpectedly.
28. Customer returns vehicle because problem(s) not fixed on previous attempt(s) to customer's satisfaction.
29. After several visits to the dealership for repairs/corrections, arbitration is offered.
30. Customer experiences negative events and needs support by dealer and Saturn to overcome dissatisfaction.
31. Customer is asked to complete comment card to evaluate service performance.
32. Customer experiences parking lot dent.
33. Customer goes to dealership to trade-in Saturn product.
Across All Phases
34. Calls 800-number for information.
35. Electronic purgatory -- being put on hold when calling dealership.
36. Customer interacts with non-customer contact employees.
37. Knowledge that Saturn/Saturn dealer is having special marketing event.
38. Hearing that there is a Saturn recall.
39. Exposure to information about product -- Consumer reports, TV news, etc.
40. Exposure linking Saturn to GM.