Mickey Mouse and General Motors dealership trainingIt has long been clear that General Motors (GM) CEO Dan Akerson and his lieutenants would have to get creative to win back customers.

Decades of shoddy cars had driven away many longtime GM loyalists. And just as GM's cars were finally starting to get better, GM's 2009 bankruptcy -- and its controversial government bailout -- turned even more buyers away.

But now GM's North American chief, Mark Reuss, has a plan to make people happy to return to its showrooms. And believe it or not, that plan involves getting a lot of help from -- of all places -- Walt Disney (DIS).

Recapturing the Magic

Reuss wants Chevrolet customers to love the company and the Chevy brand in the same way that loyal Disney fans return again and again to Disney World.

To do that, Reuss has put more than 20,000 GM employees and dealers through special customer service training run by Disney, according to a Bloomberg report.

Reuss has pushed GM's dealers to make their showrooms more attractive and welcoming, and told dealers and employees to think of their customers as "guests" -- the same term Disney uses for the people who visit its amusement parks.

Dealers have been skeptical of the training, but many have found it helpful. A number of dealers have already implemented changes suggested by the Disney trainers, some of which are tiny details like making sure every staff members wears a nametag.

It sounds crazy for GM to worry about nametags while it loses market share around the world to ruthless competitors like Toyota (TM) and Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK). It raises the question: Is sending its dealers to the Mouse House really the best way to reward taxpayers for GM's bailout?

The Method Behind the Mouse-ness

Reuss isn't a dumb guy -- far from it. More than most people at GM, he knows deep down that his company, like any automaker, will live and die by the quality of its products.

This is important. An automaker that makes good cars and trucks can sell them without big discounts. It makes more money, and has more money to spend on developing the next generation of products, to ensure that those cars and trucks are good, too. That's the formula for success in the auto business. Just ask Ford (F), which has followed it to big profits in the last few years -- without any help from Uncle Sam or Disney.

Reuss knows that GM needs to follow in Ford's footsteps. In fact, that's already happening with a slew of new cars and trucks on the way (13 new Chevys are due in 2013 alone).

Those new products should go a long way toward giving GM what it needs to compete -- not just with Ford, but with the import brands that have been eating its lunch for years. But great new cars don't help if nobody shows up to test-drive them.

That's where the Disney thing comes in.

GM's customer retention -- the rate at which its current customers come back to buy new GM products -- is around 52%. That's about average for an automaker. But Toyota's is 58%. Clearly there's room for GM to improve.

Reuss figures that every percentage point of improvement is worth $700 million in revenue to GM. Acquiring new customers is the job of GM's marketing department. But getting them to come back, over and over -- that's Disney's specialty.

GM would like it to be their specialty, too. And that's why they've opened their doors and minds to the experts from the Happiest Place on Earth.


At the time of publication, Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owned shares of General Motors and Ford. Follow him on Twitter at @jrosevear. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Ford, General Motors, and Walt Disney.




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37 Comments

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agtnew7

When will the American public quit blaming each other for laws set by legislators and lawyers. Bankruptcy laws are for money grubbing corporations, ceos and the like. They laugh while we pick on each other. We blame workers ( who have nothing in the daily works of the finances). When corporations fold and people lose the pensions and benefits, examine who keeps theirs. Check out the benefits or our Congressmen and women that you the taxpayer fund. What makes us any less deserving than the leadership ? Ceo's and the like leave with golden parachutes. WAKE UP

January 01 2013 at 11:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dkuna

I will never buy anything that was touched by the UAW.

December 06 2012 at 8:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
marine1942

Will never buy anything made by Government Motors.

October 29 2012 at 4:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dredselw

Stop blaming everyone but the real reason for jobs leaving the country! The American consumer who wants everything cheap but demands higher wages have caused the exodus. The manufactures went off shore to deliver the goods cheap and stay competitive. What would you do if faced with the prospect of going out of business or making the necessary move?

October 26 2012 at 5:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
safricker

John Rosevear, you are a communist idiot ! This is customer handling training for GM and dealer employees. This is no different than Kraft employee training or Macy's training.!! Why don't you want an American Company to succeed? Americans need to realize part of the global success is having a strong American economy and supporting our own country...not buying off shore company products. Why don't you take your anti American views and move off shore !

October 26 2012 at 8:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
thelovofcarol

Lets see, GM supposedly save by obama for the US economy. Saved? really for who? 70% of all new gm cars are sold in china. They "claim" all these sales numbers here in the US but if you look close its the US government and rentals making up the bulk of there "new" sales. GM now has 14 plants in china and moved there development center there. Face it people YOUR money was used for a private company to move product IN china. Me personally I refuse to stab myself in the back. I will never buy a GM.

October 26 2012 at 8:49 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
justgoawaymad

Lets see, GM supposedly save by obama for the US economy. Saved? really for who? 70% of all new gm cars are sold in china. They "claim" all these sales numbers here in the US but if you look close its the US government and rentals making up the bulk of there "new" sales. GM now has 14 plants in china and moved there development center there. Face it people YOUR money was used for a private company to move product IN china. Me personally I refuse to stab myself in the back. I will never buy a GM.

October 26 2012 at 8:46 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to justgoawaymad's comment
jpanozzo1

I am not an apologist for GM or China, but does it make a difference where they sell the cars...would you rather GM not sell cars in China? That is the largest auto market in the world and getting bigger. Don't you usually sell product where the customers are? And more sales anywhere will help GM pay back the government loan.

October 26 2012 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jpanozzo1's comment
coochiescooter

That loan will never get paid off, it's designed that way to keep the UAW owners of Government Motors.

October 26 2012 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
desstanton

My favorite gm truck was a 1994 chevy silverado 2 door sport side. The trucks since then have been boring on the interiors very monochromatic. I now drive a Lincoln Mark LT have have both power and luxury inside and out. A beautiful camel interior with Chocolate piping on the seats contrasting colors on dash and wood grain.
I am waiting to trade for a Silverado again but they have to work on the interiors. The exterior is very nice but I sit inside the cab. Get on it GM

October 26 2012 at 7:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
michael.griggs

well, here's a story line for ya gm. in the beginning, the creator know not everybody was going to be a stand up sorta person. the big guy can do math. the numbers said there were going to be liars, cheats, thieves. so what do i do with them? perplexing question. the answer.............. of course, i'll make them used camel salespersons. perfect. well, in some places on this blue ball, there aren't camels used to transport the populas. used cars. but, there aren't enough used cars, now what? make new cars. that will allow for the placement of so many more liars, cheats and thieves. what a wonderful story, or is it?

October 26 2012 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
yuccapucka

I've been buying Fords for years through a trusted dealership that has never let me down. This's what counts. Next to Fords, GM cars are on my shopping list. I wish 'em well. Don't foget to mention Micky Mouse's girlfriend, Mitzi Mouse. Having a picture of Tinker Bell in the car showroom spreading pixy dust would help too. A new Tinker Bell video is in the stores now. It's wonderful how many good middle class jobs our car industry creates for American families.

October 25 2012 at 11:26 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to yuccapucka's comment
cpo1514

Tinker Bell... wasnt he on the cover of Time Magazine????

October 26 2012 at 9:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply