Most of us would agree that it is in everyone's interest (the manufacturer, the dealer and the customer) for the customer to have a good buying experience, for the dealership facility to meet the needs of the customer and for the dealership to have consistency in the ways it does business.

But do we really need DaimlerChrysler or Ford or BMW or some other automobile manufacturer telling dealers how they should accomplish these lofty goals? Even if the manufacturer were wise enough to establish an effective program, what neutral party is going to decide if the dealership is holding up its end? Would that be the factory itself or J.D. Power and Associates? I said neutral party.

Let's step back and look for an accepted time-tested program that the dealership itself develops, implements and measures. Let's only consider a program that is internationally and universally accepted. A program where the dealership chooses its program auditor from a list of qualified firms. That sounds great you say, but how long will we have to wait for such a program to come along?

The answer is there is such a program already in existence today. Some of you may have heard of the ISO 9000 standards as they relate to manufacturing, but ISO 9000 standards are just as applicable to retail or service businesses like automobile dealerships or even CPA firms. The term “ISO” stands for International Organization for Standardization, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland. This non-governmental organization was founded in 1947 to advance standardization around the world.

In my daily talks with dealers I constantly hear them say “I can't find good people to run my (fill in the blank) department.” This shortage of quality managers is forcing not just dealerships, but businesses of all kinds, to attempt a move away from a people dependency toward a process dependency. Also, in a world of product “sameness” the treatment of customers and employees, tends to differentiate one dealership from another.

The ISO 9000 series of standards represents the essential requirements that every dealership needs to address in order to ensure the consistent and timely delivery of its cars, parts and services to its customers. By following the ISO standards and the dealerships' own policies, dealerships should be able to meet their customers' expectations all the time, every time, to keep them not just satisfied, but, more importantly, loyal. If a dealership cannot meet these expectations, customers will likely take their business elsewhere. The ISO 9000 series is able to provide quality management benefits to any dealership of any size without dictating how the dealership is to be run.

In considering some of the stated objectives of factory certification programs, let's use Ford Blue Oval as an example. The primary process components of Blue Oval are:

  • Sales process
  • Service process
  • Follow-up process
  • Concern resolution process
  • Employee feedback process

Each of these key processes could be designed, implemented and measured using dealership specific techniques following the ISO standards and monitored for compliance by employing an outside auditor selected by the dealership.

I am at a loss to explain why Ford and others want to “private label” a program, and then virtually require dealerships to accept the manufacturer's standards, methodologies and auditors when a proven avenue to accomplish customer satisfaction and process improvement is already in place. Manufacturers already require ISO 9000 registration of their own suppliers. Why would they not also look at ISO 9000 for their own retailers? Could it be that there are more objectives for these factory certification programs than the “stated” objectives disclose?

A major component of the ISO standards is that they describe what requirements need to be met, not how they are to be met. This allows for various dealerships to apply the same standards in a manner that reflects the reality of their individual business structures and philosophies. These uniform standards allow each dealership to meet the requirements by implementing the standards in a manner that suits its own unique needs, not standards that are unilaterally mandated by the manufacturer.

While ISO 9000 standards have now become accepted around the world as the benchmark for quality management systems, there are only a handful of Canadian dealerships that have met the ISO standards and even fewer in the United States.

After meeting with several multi-franchise dealers in Scottsdale, AZ, I met Mike Riehl, whose Roseville (MI) Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep dealership is one of those very few dealerships in the U.S. that's ISO 9000 registered. Other dealers should look at his vision and consider what he has done.

Manufacturers should forget about reinventing the wheel (or the dealership). ISO 9000 standards have been around since the 1980s. That's longer than many of today's auto executives. And what about the manufacturers themselves, what standards are they meeting in satisfying their customers — the dealers? That's a discussion for another time.

CPA Don Ray (800-323-6726/ is president of the George B. Jones Companies, an IS0 9000-certified national accounting and consulting group for auto dealers.