Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do we have a say as customers in the new GM?

As GM customers, when it comes to new product, will we be “talked at” or “listened to”?

The early indications of what is going on at GM sound like a lop-sided parent-child conversation:

When you fill out a Christmas wish list, would you prefer your parents fill it out instead and sign your name?

Maybe they should blow out your birthday candles?
Strip the petals off of your daisy?
Blow the spores off of your wish flower?
Make a wish on your shooting star?

No, No, No, and No.

You didn’t like it when your parents didn’t listen, and you shouldn’t now when your companies don’t either.

Since we are all small owners of the largest percentage of GM stock now (61%), we have a duty to ask and to examine our Company’s way forward. Asking these questions is especially important now that the Government appointed car czar, Steve Rattner, has vacated his post leaving former steelworker union advocate, Ron Bloom, in charge of government oversight.

The bankruptcy may have been record quick, but we all should care more about the eventual results and the ultimate change and not the overall speed of bankruptcy.

Last Friday, Fritz Henderson, long time CFO, employee of GM, and new CEO of GM, laid out his focus on us – his customers,

“Going forward, I have three priorities for the new GM: customers, cars and culture. I list “customers” first because they are our top priority… we’re going to be obsessed with it – because if we don’t get this right, we don’t get to do anything else. It’s that simple.“ (GM FastLane Blogs, July 10th)

He then gave us a clear indication how his organization was ramping up to “serve” customers by choosing, making, and selling great products to us while listening to our complaints.

On serving customers: Henderson said, "Today marks a new beginning for General Motors, one that will allow every employee, including me, to get back to the business of designing, building and selling great cars and trucks and serving the needs of our customers." He also promised a pilot program to be able to buy cars on eBay. (Friday Morning Press Conference, July 10th)

On listening to complaints: The automaker is launching a "Tell Fritz" Web site to allow owners and the public to share their concerns with senior management, and Henderson plans to go out on the road every month.

On personnel changes to carry out this focus: The following new appointments have been made with four long-time insiders:

Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman responsible for all creative elements of products and customer relationships (This now includes Marketing)
Tom Stephens, Vice Chairman, Product Development, (Lutz’ old job)
Ed Welburn, Vice President of Design, (same job as before)

These three (above) will work together to guide all creative aspects of design. GM's brands, marketing, advertising, and communications will report to Lutz for consistent messaging and results. Lutz will report to Henderson.

Mark LaNeve, Vice President Sales and Service (Same job but no longer includes Marketing)

In summary, the total change to focus on customers boils down to these stark elements:

1) Make shopping and buying easier through a bid on-line (eBay) process – long overdue, not really any different for customers who can already do this on eBay Motors, at CarMax, AutoNation, and a host of other sites.

2) Make Service better – not clear how yet.

3) Let Bob, Tom, and Ed design the cars and let Mark sell them – These same 4 have been doing that for the last 10 years.

4) Launch a Tell Fritz website – Good, but a standard corporate feedback channel that is focused too narrowly on complaints.

5) Get Fritz and management on the road to hear concerns – Same as 4.

So how will the new GM hear customers?
Where is the new listening apparatus?
Who has come in to bring the fresh blood?

Like readers of this Vision blog, the VLane blog, attendees of twitter #carchat, and devotees of so many other forums, I want to talk cars, all the time, every hour, of every day. I don’t want a meager on-line chat with Bob Lutz, and I don’t want a job in his organization. I want a robust 21st century, customer-driven, OPEN, organization, whose organic makeup is consistently infused with my blood. You can still make the cars and make decisions, but at least use my energy in the process. That would be fresh. That would be new. That would be American. I am one of an army of CUSTOMERS. I have daily opinions that will make the GM product better, but the Company needs to know how to listen to me instead of talking at me.

Let’s think about it:

Will I give you an idea you can't make? >> Doubt it. You’re pretty good at making stuff, so let’s talk.
Will I give you ideas that are too expensive to implement? >> Doubt it. When you consider the cost of OnStar, employee healthcare, and the Volt, most of my ideas are cheap.
Will I tell you that someone else is already doing it better? >> Hope so. We should all be so lucky to have such early warning networks.
Or are my ideas so patently uninformed, that engaging me is futile? >> It’s beginning to smell that way now, and if you cannot break free of this belief, you will lose me forever.

Resetting this balance is the critical, time-sensitive challenge in GM’s bid to re-focus on customers.

As Fritz closed on Friday, “"We recognize that we've been given a rare second chance at GM, and we are very grateful for that.”

You have, and it is rare, and unfortunately it appears that you are losing the battle already.

Here is GM’s “re-opening” Press Conference (embedded below) and July 10th press release for you to read for yourself.


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