CONSUMER advocate and Jeep destroyer Ashton Wood says his battle with Fiat Chrysler Australia has sparked a change in the company's attitude towards customer complaints and helping scores of disgruntled new car purchasers back on the road.
It took three years including the global Facebook distribution of a video of Ashton destroying his own $40,000 vehicle in October 2014 which had more than two million views, and three FCA chief executive officers, before change eventually came.
It was in the form of current FCA CEO Steve Zanlunghi when he arrived in Australia from the US reaching out to the Buderim-based IT consultant to gain an understanding of why a customer would destroy their own vehicle.
"It was my very clear objective once arriving in Australia to meet you and importantly, understand what would drive a customer to destroy his vehicle," Mr Zanlunghi recently wrote to him.
"I've been a fan of the Jeep brand far longer than my tenure with the company so you can appreciate how the destruction of a vehicle was exceptionally concerning to me.
"As such, it was important for our aftersales director and I to have open, honest and transparent dialogue with you about your experiences, the experiences of the customers who have reached out to you for help and to also give you some insight into the strides Jeep Australia has made in improving our business to better serve our customers.
"The case study you presented during our leadership meeting on what customers could go through when they're not handled properly at a service level was a solid dose of perspective as we continue to improve our customer experience. While we had already been proactively working on improving our parts, service and customer care businesses, your situation was insightful not just for me, but the entire Jeep leadership team."
The change of attitude has been so complete, Ashton said, that since the end of October FCA has agreed to more than $800,000 worth of refunds and replacement vehicles for Jeep owners.
"It's now a case of customer care calling within a day or two to say 'how can we help'," Mr Wood said.
"One single mum's vehicle had been with a dealership for 51 days.
"Within 48 hours of me pointing out her situation FCA had called her, organised a courtesy vehicle and offering her monetary compensation for every day her car had been in the workshop."
Mr Wood said he first met Mr Zanlunghi in a coffee shop in Melbourne last year and had a fruitful discussion.
"I said fixing it was going to cost them some money," he said.
"He asked time to get their customer service teams and parts inventory set up to deal with the issues and we agreed on the end of February.
"I've been very surprised, and very impressed, with how they've responded."
In a letter to Mr Wood, Mr Zanlunghi said it had been insights from the advocate, coupled with in-depth market research including current customers which has lead to the launch of the Jeep There & Back Guarantee last Friday.
This guarantee includes five-year warranty, five-year capped price servicing and lifetime roadside assistance for customers when serviced at a Jeep dealer.
"I've said it to the media and I'll reiterate that this is absolutely not a promotional offer or a short term campaign," Mr Zanlunghi wrote.
"The Jeep There & Back Guarantee will form a fundamental component of our Jeep strategy going forward and its importance has been instilled in each member of our organisation and right through our dealer network. Jeep Australia backs its customers."
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