It’s early days, but it seems Jeep’s commitment to customer service and the backing of its products in Australia through the new ‘There And Back‘ guarantee, is working out.
“This was never meant to be a silver bullet,” FCA CEO Steve Zanlunghi told CarAdvice at the launch of the revised Grand Cherokee. “It was meant to lay the foundations for the brand in Australia, and it has been positive for us. It’s already visibly changed the sentiment of the brand.”
Grand Cherokee sales peaked in 2014, a year which was a watershed time for the brand locally. The Australian market has changed a lot since then, with more large 4WD competitors than ever before, and plenty of quality options.
Jeep’s service woes in the time since 2014 haven’t helped the situation, either. “We’ve had very good feedback, in the sense that it ha come direct from customers,” said Guillaume Drelon, head of brand for Jeep Australia.
“In fact, we’ve had feedback that it was a key factor in the decision for customers to buy a Jeep.”
Drelon is new to the brand in Australia, but is keenly aware that management of the service expectations of customers is the area where Jeep had fallen. “We want to fix the really bad management of our customers in the first instance,” Drelon said.
“And that is the aim of the campaign – Jeep definitely backs itself and we don’t let our customers down. It is not only a five-year warranty. We give you the peace of mind of the five-year capped-price servicing and lifetime roadside assists as well.”
That’s the big difference (according to FCA Australia), as a consumer, between the Jeep warranty model and some of the other extra long warranties that aren’t actually manufacturer-backed.
“It is factory-backed, with the car, so it is not a promotion, an end of year deal, anything like that,” Drelon said.
Zanlunghi chimes in: “This is a cornerstone for where we would be rebuilding our brand strategy off. People have written in to us and said they weren’t considering a Jeep until they saw the guarantee. That means it’s doing the job that we were hoping for, prior to launching the new guarantee.”
Both Zanlunghi and Drelon are keen to emphasise the heritage, history and appeal of the Jeep brand in Australia, forged largely but off-road enthusiasts. It’s also a large factor in why owners were disappointed with the service experience, having purchased a vehicle they had an emotional attachment to.
“People said the Jeep brand is iconic to them, but they wanted us to back ourselves,” Zanlunghi said.
As you’d expect, there was a long process involved in getting the program off the ground in Australia, the only country to offer a five-year warranty on a Jeep product, but one that Zanlunghi was adamant had to happen to restore confidence.
“We did a full-blown service department consultant program, and 65 per cent of the network has gone through that already,” he told CarAdvice. “Crucially, we increased parts capacity at our warehouse, and we have direct-line shipping out of that warehouse in Melbourne to the dealer overnight.
“I would think the dealers would also see the benefit of this program, not just the customers – it’s not the dealer’s fault if we can’t help them help customers.”
Zanlunghi reiterated that ‘There And Back’ is a fundamental strategy, not just a flash in the pan.
Drelon also knows that a vital part of brand management in 2017 is keeping social media in check, and once ‘There And Back’ launched, Jeep Australia went into overdrive to engage with customers across all platforms.
“Much of the negative sentiment now comes from social media,” he said. “Either you are able to manage that, or you choose not to. We knew that we would have a lot of questions with the new campaign, and that is expected and normal. We put a very strong focus into addressing every single question.
“We wanted to understand what the issue was, what we could do, and then go about fixing it.”
As for climbing back to the sales success of 2014, Drelon is positive but circumspect. “I think the number of competitors has grown since 2014, which was our peak year,” Drelon said.
“We definitely have the potential to get back to some pretty good numbers, but back in exactly the same position is hard to claim because the market is so much more competitive now.
“We can restore a lot of those sales, though, because we are able to tackle the mainstream with Laredo, as well as the SRT at one end and the Trailhawk at the other. While the SRT is the halo model, we also need to tackle that mainstream part of the market too.”