WHEN IT COMES TO providing great customer service, Chase Automotive Finance wants to be considered the Rolls Royce of the industry.

To this end, the division of Chase Manhattan Corp. has introduced new technology to help its employees do their jobs, has broken down the walls between staff and management to improve internal communications, and has created a positive, comfortable working environment with the philosophy that happy employees will make for happy customers.

"We have created an environment where people enjoy working together, which in turn has improved our customer relations and our ability for growth," said Joseph M. Scharfenberger, president of the division.

"As part of it, we have provided the proper tools to get the job done."

Over the last four years, the finance company has seen its portfolio grow from $2.88 billion in 1990 to $5.3 billion at yearend 1993.

The company has also seen an increase nationwide in its ratio of new loans to total cars sold grow from 3.5% in 1990 to 5% in 1993.

The division, based in New Hyde Park, N.Y., currently has a presence in 50 states working with a network of 3,000 dealers.

The firm also offers loan origination through a 24-hour, toll-free phone number, as well as through Chase's branch network.

Chase has installed a local area network that connects all of its loan, lease, and collection systems to its customer information file so that while the representatives are on the phone, the information is literally at their fingertips.

"Rather than have the reps log on and off different systems to get the information, we have made it a simple process that fuses all of the data bases, making them easily and quickly accessible," said Mr. Scharfenberger.

"The system provides a complete picture of the customer's relationship with Chase from auto loans to checking accounts."

To accomplish this, Chase purchased software from Easel Corp. of Burlington, Mass., that enables customer representatives to read information from the bank's International Business Machines Corp. 3090 mainframe at their 486-based personal computer workstations.

Another area in which technology is being used to meet customer needs and increase efficiency is loan applications.

By having applications faxed directly into the system from dealers, Chase employees can get to work on the approval process right away, as opposed to having to reenter the customer information.

"The conventional way was to have a dealer fax in an application and have a representative enter it into the system," said Mr. Scharfenberger.

"Today we are able to have the fax enter the system electronically so that the process can start right away."

By using an imaging system with hardware from New Yorkbased Sigma Imaging Systems, Inc. and software from Phoenix-based Image Consulting Group, Chase's auto finance division has reduced paper in: its operation by 60%.

The system is used to receive loan applications from dealers and increase the turnaround time for processing loan applications.

"Anytime you can remove paper and give people a tool to make their job easier and with less hassle, you have improved their working environment," said Mr. Scharfenberger.

Chase has become very sensitive to the needs of its customer and dealer base, said Drew Kennedy, an assistant treasurer at Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp. in Norwalk, Conn., which competes with Chase's auto finance division.

"Their approach has been right on when it comes to customer service and working with dealers," he said.

"Chase is constantly in front of the dealers letting them know that they are out there and ready and willing to offer service as well as care about what they are doing.

"Their activities have made us take a second look at our own operations," he added.

"We felt that in order to differentiate ourselves from the competitors we would have to make our employees perform in a way that would separate themselves from the pack," said Mr. Scharfenberger.

"We put a major management emphasis on employee satisfaction.

"Employee satisfaction is a prerequisite for customer satisfaction, which is a major driver of increased market share and profits," he said.

"It is simple, but so often the rhetoric around quality service and customer service gets ahead of employee satisfaction."

He said that kind of thinking is backwards. He says that if companies don't spend the time to make their employees satisfied and instill a fundamental sense of what the business is trying to do, results will never reach the customer.

For example, in 1988 while experiencing an air-conditioning problem, the division decided to institute a dress-down day.

"It was so popular that we decided to make it every Friday," said Mr. Scharfenberger.

"It was another way for managers and staff to become one.

"We have taken the philosophy and have created an environment here and an employee here that may behave differently to the consumer than at other companies," Mr. Scharfenberger continued.

"We have created a situation where the day-to-day operation reinforces the Chase corporate vision."

Chase's auto finance division has been able to implement this new vision by being aware that any change in the culture of the business has to start at the very top of the operation.

"We believe the entire culture of the organization is a result of senior management's-actions," said Mr. Scharfenberger.

"Once the behavior is demonstrated on a continual basis and people understand what we are trying to do, then managers understand what we are trying to do and it trickles down to the people that touch the customers.

"The more the employees are comfortable about what they are doing, the more they are going to feel good about where they work," Mr. Scharfenberger said.

"And they have a higher degree of satisfying customers."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.