Alfa Romeo North America head Larry Dominique told dealers that the Italian brand wouldn’t survive in the U.S. if it didn’t significantly improve its customer satisfaction scores.
The retailers responded, and Alfa ranked No. 1 among premium brands in the latest J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index just two years after placing second to last.
Dominique, who assumed the lead role in 2021, said Alfa has been focused on satisfaction metrics for almost two years, “working with our dealers to put in place the best practices to deliver high satisfaction.”
The mission now is to retain this lofty status.
“Once you achieve high performance the need is to not allow complacency to set in,” Dominique told Automotive News via email. “This is a continuous journey, and our team and our dealers will continue to push ourselves to build upon this success with even greater efforts to deliver customer satisfaction in the future.”
The struggles that Alfa Romeo and other Stellantis brands have had with customer satisfaction are well-documented. But their ratings have shifted starkly as the automaker works to make the buying process more palatable to shoppers across all 14 of its global brands.
The addition of tablets to the process have allowed salespeople to run through checklists with consumers, making sure they explain technology features at delivery and complete other tasks.
Jeff Kommor, the company’s head of U.S. sales, said dealers also are doing a final sales inspection before handing off vehicles on top of the usual pre-delivery examinations. These extra checkups were implemented last year.
Greg Travaline, who owns South Miami Alfa Romeo-Fiat and Dadeland Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram, said the final inspection “checks everything from battery health to tire pressure — all the details on the car to make sure the car is right before we ultimately deliver to the customer.”
Kommor said this final look also ensures there’s no recalls or service bulletins that require attention.
Travaline said Stellantis has been “laser-focused” on customer experience and has instilled this into the dealer network.
Dominique has “made it very clear from the beginning, when he came on and took over control, that’s going to be his primary focus,” Travaline said. “He wants to build the reputation of the brand and to make it a true premium brand.”
Alfa climbed above the industry average last year after ranking second-worst in 2020. It then leapfrogged the competition by jumping nine places to the top spot this year. The brand’s 25-point improvement was the biggest in the premium segment.
Alfa’s success has been mirrored by other Stellantis brands. Dodge ranked second among mass-market brands, up two spots from 2021, while Jeep and Ram ranked sixth and seventh. Chrysler finished 11th, with its 28-point climb from 2021 representing the greatest mass-market improvement.
Kommor said Stellantis has introduced operating guidelines in the last month that will serve as a “road map of how to take care of a customer and make sure that we deliver the perfect car, and then we’ll work closely with [dealers] to do that.”
Stellantis brands saw gains while the industry as a whole faltered amid tight inventory and surging prices. J.D. Power said customer satisfaction with the vehicle purchase experience declined in 2022 for the first time in more than 10 years.
Being more customer-centric is a foundational mission for Stellantis. While the automaker’s long-term strategic plan details its rollout of dozens of electric vehicles and its mission to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2038, it also declares that Stellantis wants to lead the industry in customer experience.
“I don’t think you do this without having your retailers engaged in the customer experience,” said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power. “Within our study, there’s a number of [key performance indicators] that if you execute those, [they] drive a really good customer experience, they lead to much stronger intended loyalty, and Alfa and the other brands have done a really good job of focusing on them, executing them [and] improving them to the point where on some of these, Alfa’s best in class on a handful of them.”
Randy Dye, chairman of the Stellantis National Dealer Council, has noticed a shift since Fiat Chrysler Automobiles merged with PSA Group in 2021 to form Stellantis.
“Maybe one of the most significant changes is a real culture of customer satisfaction,” Dye said. “The difference is that maybe in previous ownerships, it was an agenda item. With Stellantis, it’s a culture. It’s no longer an item on a checklist. It’s what we live and breathe and do every day.”