Tata Motors kicks off Project Drona

Tata Motors wants to bridge the gap between its sales and service quality and those of its rivals, even as it aims to be future-ready from a skillsets point of view. A report by Brian de Souza.

By Brian de Souza calendar 08 Jan 2015 Views icon12249 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Tata Motors is working hard to improve the customer experience at its dealerships.

Tata Motors is working hard to improve the customer experience at its dealerships.

Tata Motors wants to bridge the gap between its sales and service quality and those of its rivals, even as it aims to be future-ready from a skillsets point of view. A report by Brian de Souza.  

Tata Motors, which recently launched the Zest sedan as part of its Horizonext programme, has been working quietly to improve all aspects of the business. One key aspect is the customer experience, fully aware that an area of concern has been the quality of service.

To improve this aspect, the company has launched Project Drona as a part of which it roped in a training organisation and given 26 of their trainers hands-on exposure to handle Tata's products and services, said Gajendra S Chandel, senior VP and chief human resources officer, Tata Motors, in an exclusive interview to Autocar Professional.

These 26 trainers, adds Chandel, will form the first line of training and this has begun for the sales and service frontline people. “Our training is not for new products,” Chandel clarifies but is more holistic in nature, aimed at servicing vehicles in the least time and to give the customer a good experience.

Tata Motors actually began this training in its commercial vehicles division, and in a phased manner has extended it to all its 200-odd dealers. It has also begun training passenger car dealers and has moved into the second phase which aims at servicing vehicles in the least time and giving the buyer a superior experience.

Chandel says that speed is of the essence. “Many OEMs can give a vehicle back to a customer in 2-3 hours and we at Tata want to achieve both speed and completeness which is quality,” he emphasises.

Handling the customer is a key part of Horizonext initiative unveiled last year. It has several pillars that include technology, manufacturing, purchase experience and quality of service.

As part of Horizonext, eight vehicles were upgraded and enhanced. The long-term aim of this programme is to overhaul the company’s passenger car division that is going through a lean phase.

With Project Drona, Tata Motors is keen to ensure that even as the company expands its dealer reach, it is keen to provide the best customer-facing experience. As Chandel puts it, he admits that the company has not done adequate training in the past, especially as far as the passenger car segment goes. The best evidence for this, he says candidly, is that this has affected customer retention which is lower, once a customer exhausts the free services he is entitled and the warranty ends.

As far as the CV segment goes, Chandel says the company is working to enhance the reach of its annual maintenance contracts or AMCs. The thrust is to get such contracts from even independent customer service centres, he says, and though he offers no metrics – increased service revenues being one of them – clearly providing top-class service can help retain customers in an industry where word-of-mouth is a particularly powerful  impetus to a purchase. Tied to this is the fact, as Chandel says, “when they come to us, they are less likely to use spurious parts.”

Better serviced cars help the company take on the market leaders. To put things in perspective, Maruti has the benefits of a wider network and spares availability and Hyundai's prompt service has come in for praise from car owners.

Chandel says he is pleased with the feedback that Project Drona is giving. He alludes to Tata Motors’ ratings in the JD Power survey for customer service where it has gone up in rankings, based on vehicle parc, to the third slot from the sixth.

While Project Drona seeks to create a new beginning in sales and service, within the company, Tata Motors has embarked on upgrading its skills training centres. Not only that, says Chandel, but the company wants to enhance the cultural attitude of its staff on the shopfloor towards quality and productivity. This segues into what he describes as the three key pillars:  safety, quality and productivity. “It is only after this that we can bring in the technological inputs,” explains Chandel.

And while the skills training centres have thus far been on a smaller scale and targeted at numbers taken under National Council of Vocational Training or NCVT, Tata Motors wants to expand this ambitiously. Chandel says, “At our Pune facility, we want to target 10,000 across all our plants over a year. We have now done so far 1,000.’ In addition, while these centres focused on apprentices, it is now being extended to trainees, permanent workers and even temporary workers. All of these get a week’s training at the centre before going to the shopfloor.

Another area that the company is working on is more futuristic. Given that the vehicle of today has an increasing electronic content, it presents new challenges on the shopfloor for assembly and manufacturing. Along with the Engineering Research Centre, the company has tried to identify the kind of electronics that could be in a future-generation vehicle, say by 2016-17, and has begun to train its supervisory-level workers to handle this. From mid-2015, this training will be extended to the workers as well so that from a technology perspective, the company is absolutely future ready.

Coming back to Project Drona, Chandel says Drona marks a clear break from the past. In a more aggressive scenario and shorter product lifecycles, Tata Motors is keen to be on top of the game.

“I want our trainers on day one itself to deliver quality and productivity at the rated capacity of the line. If they slow the process, then there is a flaw in our kind of training,” says Chandel categorically.

Chandel sums it up thus: “Our training has deepened and widened and this is the need of the hour. The customer wants a flawless product, wants it as of yesterday and the customer wants it competitive in price and cost.”


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