Not that dealers buy directly into Five Star, but participation can cost them tens of thousands of dollars a year. And unlike other incentive programs, DaimlerChrysler has chosen to concentrate rewards for qualifiers on the business — not on the individual employees or managers. Big-ticket motivators are noticeably absent for both employees and dealers. The thinking is that if those rewards help to make the business more successful, the individuals responsible will share in that success.

On the surface, it might appear DaimlerChrysler has it all backward. Can they really expect performance from people in the field when they aren't offering much in the form of individual rewards? Why would dealers invest thousands of dollars in a company-sponsored incentive program? It all comes back to the gold star.

How It Works

DaimlerChrysler sets high expectations as the price of entry: no less than 100 percent compliance with 350 demanding standards, which are all intended to enhance customers' experiences. Defining and documenting customer processes plays a large part in qualifying each Five Star dealer. Whether it's the sequence of events necessary to sell a new car or to service an old one, processes are written down for all employees to follow.

“Five Star recognizes that the dealership team understands the processes that work best for their customers and operation,” says Bob Williams, director of retail strategies. “Because of this, the program promotes consistent performance of the defined processes that a dealership has put in place, customer and employee feedback to identify process areas needing review and refinement, and continuous improvement of these processes.”

Details, right down to neatness and cleanliness, are inspected and documented by Five Star Zone Managers. Reviews are conducted quarterly and annually. As of fall 2000, only 2,376 of 4,380 dealers had made the Five Star grade.

All customers also receive a “report card” from DaimlerChrysler, on which they rate their experience with the dealership in areas such as efficiency and courtesy. Scores are compiled monthly and at the end of every quarter. All survey results are then sent to dealers, who get to see their overall scores as well as how they rate in relation to others in their zone. In addition to the overall score, each department is broken out and analyzed.

Valuable Feedback

Allen King, general manager of Glenn Thomas Dodge in Long Beach, Calif., values the information in these reports. He keeps them all within easy reach in a three-ring binder on the credenza behind his desk and reads each one. “They make us reach out to the customer more and try to improve things,” King says.

Dealership managers, customer contact staff, and technicians also must achieve individual Five Star certification by attending training courses specifically related to their job function. Training curricula include product information, vehicle diagnostics, and repair procedures. By Allen King's estimate, his 80-employee store spends $25,000 annually in nonreimbursed customer training expenses.

The same with Ken Woistman, vice president and general manager of Monarch Dodge in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., who says he wouldn't invest that kind of money unless it paid a substantial dividend. “Initially, I had some trepidation about spending the money,” he says. “But after seeing the results of that training, I consider it money well-spent.”

“Initially, I had some trepidation about spending the money. But after seeing the results, I consider it money well-spent.”
— Ken Woistman, VP and general manager, Monarch Dodge, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.



In fact, dealerships can be almost cult-like in their support of the Five Star program. “They may not have believed in it at first, but if you ask any Five Star dealer what they think of the program, every one will tell you they're fully behind it,” says King.

Dealer and Employee Perks

At certified dealerships, Five Star personnel get a $750 break on new car purchases through a special program, and at non-Five Star dealerships the discount is $350. Ken Woistman estimates that 5 percent of his employees take advantage of the purchase program each year.

Last fall, employees at every Five Star dealership received a personal letter of thanks from John MacDonald, senior vice president of sales and service, and a choice of six gifts: a Five Star director's chair, a Viper or PT Cruiser die-cast replica, a Five Star travel kit, a Five Star Leatherman tool, or a Five Star wind shirt.

Certified dealers are also encouraged to plan events at which they give their employees other gifts. For these, DaimlerChrysler provides a “Banquet in a Box,” with all the food and condiments they'll need to throw a morale-building get-together.

What's in it for the dealers? For one, omnipresent signage, supplied by DaimlerChrysler, reminding consumers they're in a Five Star dealership — from the huge neon sign on the sidewalk to the arrow pointing to the rest rooms. DaimlerChrysler also allotted a considerable portion of its overall advertising budget exclusively to Five Star, to let consumers know about what it takes to become a Five Star dealer. Then there's Get a Quote, DaimlerChrysler's Internet-based, consumer-referral program, which connects customers directly to Five Star dealers.

Through other incentive programs, key managers and owners qualify for the familiar trips to exotic locations based on sales of new cars and parts. Attendees from Five Star dealerships do not have to pay the registration fees other dealers pay. They also qualify for upgraded accommodations.

It's All About Pride

Five Star's success has generated both imitation and controversy. “Many manufacturers have been studying and imitating our process — the highest form of flattery,” says Williams. Ford, for one, is in the midst of launching its Blue Oval program, but several Ford dealers have recently initiated a lawsuit to prevent its implementation.

Why has Five Star been so successful? Because, Daimler Chrysler says, it supports the dealers and personnel who have realized the Five Star goal. And somehow the company has managed to motivate everyone from analysis-weary executives to behind-the-scenes technicians to the salespeople on the floor. Perhaps most important of all, the car maker has made the achievement of Five Star a matter of pride.

Ken Woistman has seen it at Monarch Dodge. “Our employees are proud because they believe they're the best of the best,” he says. “I have no doubt Five Star has made us better at what we do.”




Harry Munns is a freelance writer based in Southern California. His first novel, Someday Comes, is available at his Web site, www.somedaycomes.com.

On the Web

Visit the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep Five Star site at www.fivestar.com.