Can Mickey Mouse ideas make car shopping fun? Or at least less painful?

Car hoods lined up

Buying a Chevrolet could become a real Mickey Mouse experience.

At least the automaker hopes so.

Thousands of Chevy dealers are headed for Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California for two-and-a-half-day seminars on how to bring some Disney magic to their showrooms.

"We want to improve customer service and retention," explained Colleen Haesler, Chevrolet's director of sales operations, speaking about the new Chevy-Disney relationship.

Not very long ago, we hammered General Motors for its lukewarm response to the plight of Saab owners after the Swedish automaker, once a division of GM, declared bankruptcy.

GM stepping up and making guarantees to those customers, we said, could have gone a long way toward retaining at least some of those owners as GM customers when they trade in their Saabs.

It certainly would have had a more positive effect than the wait-and-see approach GM adopted.

It's obvious to us that in the area of customer relations, GM could use a little attitude adjustment, and we think the Chevy-Disney program is an innovative beginning.



Disney does just about everything right.

Multiple trips to Walt Disney World during my 25 years living in Florida proved to me that it is possible to deliver a great customer experience day after day, week after week, year after year.

It's the reason people return to Disney parks again and again.

Whether Disney can transfer some of the mind-set that has made it so successful to a bunch of car dealers remains to be seen, but Disney appears to be the ideal organization to try.

Like Chevrolet, Disney is an iconic American brand. It seems like a natural fit.

The Disney Institute does training programs for a host of corporations, each tailored to the specific company.

Despite GM's long relationship with Disney -- it has sponsored an attraction at Walt Disney World's Epcot for decades -- Disney wasn't a shoe-in to help, according to Haesler.

Disney Institute had to beat out some other training organizations and speakers to get the nod.

Once the decision was made, Chevy management worked closely with Disney developing the seminar content. Haesler, in fact, called it a partnership.

Pleased with the current product lineup and with the progress made on a companywide renovation of all its dealerships, Chevy management believed it was time to address customer expectations and satisfaction.

The new Chevrolet rallying cry, Haesler says, is to do the basics brilliantly, and the customer experience was the next basic on that list.

It's not enough that visitors to Chevy stores are excited about the products and comfortable in their surroundings, Chevy management wants customers enthusiastic about the brand.

Motivating its dealers to somehow instill that enthusiasm in customers is the seminar's goal.

The dealers appear to be embracing the opportunity.

Even though attending the seminar is voluntary, with dealers footing the bill themselves, Haesler expects 99% participation.

Reforming 100 years of habits and attitudes seems like a lot to expect from a 60-hour seminar.

Changing a corporate environment is something like trying to turn an aircraft carrier; it takes time.

On the other hand, how much influence would the Disney program have to have to achieve some measured improvement in customer care?

Not much, we think, and any improvement would be a big step in the right direction.

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