DETROIT—Remember the good old days when family physicians made house calls? Chrysler Corp. has taken that venerable practice and reapplied it—to the automotive service business.
Under Chrysler's Mobile Service pilot program, the manufacturer's new-car dealers send a service technician and a van filled with equipment and tools to perform light warranty repairs, maintenance and diagnosis on vehicles wherever it is convenient for customers.
The automaker began its service-department-on-wheels pilot last September, with 16 dealers in Milwaukee, Southern California and Columbus, Ohio, according to Robert Klesko, manager of customer satisfaction marketing. The pilot phase is scheduled to end Feb. 28, but Chrysler plans to expand the program if it's successful.
Services offered under the pilot program include installation of radios or other ordered accessories, body panel adjustments, instrument panel repairs, tune-ups and electrical testing.
Technicians will not perform tasks that include handling fluids or lifting vehicles.
Start-up moved quickly
The program was born during a meeting last April when Thomas Pappert, Chrysler vice president of sales and service, and a group of dealers weighed the pros and cons of taking dealership service departments on the road, Mr. Klesko said. Within weeks, a feasibility study was done and the Mobile Service vans were ordered.
``We gathered the dealers in those markets to find out who were the real disciples of mobile service,'' Mr. Klesko said. ``Most said they'd been thinking about it or it was love at first sight.''
He said Chrysler stressed to participating dealers that the program is a customer satisfaction tool, not a profit center.
Consumer reactions have been positive. Of the first 91 consumers using mobile service, 92 percent gave it a top score on a five-point scale, he said.
Chrysler put few stipulations on its test dealers. Mr. Klesko said the automaker wants dealers to shape the program to fit their needs. For instance, dealers determine technician compensation and how many hours the Mobile Service operates. Dealers set their own non-warranty repair prices. Some may charge for mileage; some may not.
``We gave them very few rules, and said, `You tell us,' '' Mr. Klesko said.
Customers love it
Dennis Boyle, service manager at Barwick Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge-Jeep-Eagle in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., said most of the work performed so far by his technician—who makes about four or five house calls a day—involves warranty work and minor recalls.
Mr. Boyle said he tries to schedule the day's service calls in the same general direction and within 10 miles of the dealership.
``They (customers) love it. How could they not like it? We're making house calls,'' he said.
While each dealer decided which technician would participate in the program, Chrysler suggested that dealers choose a 20-year veteran with good people skills, who likes his or her job, but wanted a change of pace. But Chrysler has found that dealers also have young technicians who are succeeding in the program.
Chrysler outfits vans
One requirement was that each dealer had to buy or lease a Dodge B2500 Maxi Van. Dealer invoice on the 1997 Maxi Van is about $17,265, including a $615 freight charge, according to calculations by Automotive News, a sister publication of TIRE BUSINESS.
Chrysler spent $13,000 on each van to outfit it with shelves, a full set of Snap-On hand tools, and a driveability diagnostic tool.
Each van also has a portable computer. If a consumer's vehicle is having intermittent problems, the technician can attach the computer to the vehicle and leave it for several days, if necessary. When malfunctions occur, the consumer can activate the computer, which will record data from the vehicle's on-board diagnostics system.
Most techs have a cellular phone to keep in touch with the dealership, Mr. Klesko said.
The van also has a time clock technicians must punch when they arrive at and leave a destination and when they start and finish a job. Punching a time clock is required with all warranty work. Mr. Klesko said the time clock will give valuable information about how much time techs spend commuting, performing repairs and interacting with customers.