Cadillac Enlists Ritz-Carlton to Help It Improve Customer Service

Cadillac was once the top-selling luxury brand of automobiles in the country. Now it's looking to regain some of that lost luster by enlisting the aid of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, one of the world's premiere hotel brands, to train dealers on how to treat customers better.

During a meeting earlier this month, GM brought in trainers from the Ritz-Carlton, part of Marriott International (MAR), to show dealers how to reconnect with customers, Bloomberg News reported. The brand, not unlike its sister nameplate, Buick, has long struggled with the perception that Cadillacs are only bought by older consumers and GM is searching for a solution to help broaden the brand's appeal.

"It's truthfully a new beginning for us," Kurt McNeil, Cadillac U.S. vice president of sales and service, told Bloomberg. "We know we've got a lot of work to do on the product side, the marketing side and the customer service side. We think we do pretty well, but we know we have to do better."

Improving Cadillac's image won't be easy. Last year's sales were the worst since 1953, although sales through last month were up 32% for the year. More daunting is a 2009 survey by the Luxury Institute that ranked Cadillac eighth among 12 luxury nameplates by consumers who make at least $150,000 a year. And only a third of respondents said that it was worth paying a premium for a Cadillac, compared to 57% for BMW and 63% for Mercedes, Bloomberg reported.

GM may take some solace in knowing it's not alone. Ford Motor (F) is also fighting an uphill battle to revive its moribund Lincoln brand. Ford has already decided to shelve mid-level brand Mercury in order to free up resources to better develop and market Lincoln products. Despite the introduction of several new models, including the MKS sedan and MKT crossover, Lincoln is best known for a product it soon won't produce anymore, the behemoth Town Car sedan.

As with Mercury, Lincoln has not contributed much to Ford's overall sales. Sales of Ford brand vehicles rose 33.8% to 704,721 through May. Lincoln sales rose 11.5% during the same period, but the brand sold fewer than 38,000 cars. By comparison Cadillac sales surged 32% during the first five months of the year, selling nearly 53,000 vehicles through May, while Toyota Motor's (TM) Lexus division sold 90,098 cars and trucks, an increase of 24% from year-ago reported sales.