General Motors engineers head to Disney World to learn about customer relations but first they go to dealerships to get a closer look at the retail front.

GM says Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC engineers are learning on dealership sales floors and in service bays what customers like and dislike about the cars and trucks the engineers helped create.

So far, the automaker has dispatched 90 engineers nationwide to meet with dealership sales managers and service technicians. More such field trips are in the works.

“The engineers who have experienced this program have initiated or enhanced product improvements already under way,” says Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president-global product development, purchasing and supply chain. “They are acting as change agents.”

It is part of an amped up customer-centric program at GM. In this case, engineers look for opportunities to improve satisfaction through making better vehicles. 

They go to GM as well as competitor dealerships in major markets from Connecticut to California. At each dealership, the engineers shadow sales and service personnel and meet with customers.

“This program has taught me how important our dealers are to our customers,” says Michael Bailey, Corvette chassis systems engineer. “It gives me new perspective on what I do every day, like things I need to put more focus on that can help our dealers and improve the customer experience.”

After the dealer visits, the engineers go to Disney World in Orlando, FL, for a behind- the-scenes look at how the world’s No.1 resort destination creates customer experiences and earns high satisfaction ratings. GM has sent dealers to Disney World workshops for the same reasons.

Program participants have shared about 2,000 observations so far. Actionable findings go to product development, manufacturing, marketing and elsewhere.

Suggestions so far have included: 

  • Handling service information and creating better communication between design, service engineering and brand quality to simplify dealer service and maintenance procedures.
  • Balancing product simplification and customer choice while reducing the number of service parts.
  • Designing vehicle infotainment systems with alternate interfaces that still provide the connectivity and flexibility in Chevrolet MyLink, Buick/GMC IntelliLink and Cadillac CUE systems

“As a whole, the program enables our engineers to really understand what our customers want and what goes into selling a car,” says John Calabrese, GM vice president-global vehicle engineering.