Team Knocks on 3 Million Doors to Tackle Airbag Recall

In mid-2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a Coordinated Remedy Program to address the recalls of certain vehicles containing Takata airbag inflatorsAt that time there were about 23 million inflators affecting 19 million vehicles from 12 different vehicle manufacturers. 

The original Takata airbag recall had been issued by American Honda in 2008 due to a ruptured driver-side frontal airbag inflator. At that time, it was thought to be due to a specific manufacturing issue related to one Takata plantSince then the recall has expanded to include 19 manufacturers and 67 million inflators in more than 60 MILLION vehicles, involving almost 1 in 5 vehicles on the road in the United States!  The recall was expanded due to additional reports of ruptured airbags causing injuries or even deaths to passengers of vehicles containing specific Takata airbag inflators. As of December 2020, the airbags have been linked to 18 deaths and 400 serious injuries throughout the United States.  

Exhaustive research determined that Takata airbag inflators manufactured with an ammonium nitrate-base propellant were the cause of the rupturesNHTSA deemed these defects a clear safety risk to vehicle driversIt was also determined that areas with high heat and humidity were at a much higher risk for airbag rupture and were the highest priorityThese areas included the southern United States, excluding Arizona and New Mexico as well as Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. It was also determined that the older a vehicle was, the more at risk it was for an airbag rupture.  

Early Recall Efforts

In late 2015, a Monitor was appointed to work closely with manufacturers to ensure that as many of these vehicles as possible could be located and repairedAt that time many of the manufacturers impacted had already begun the recall process with their normal cadences that complied with standard recall legislative and statutory requirements. 

ln most cases, vehicle recalls resulted in less than 80% completions; in situations like this where most of the vehicles are 2001 to 2009 model years, completion rates below 60% could be expected. For the Takata airbag recall, NHTSA created Priority Groups with specific timelines to have 100% of each Groupvehicles identified as repaired, or otherwise accounted for (Salvaged or Exported, with documentation). 

To accomplish these unprecedented targets would require each manufacturer to greatly extend and enhance their traditional recall process. Various pilots and experiments were launched, including utilizing different address and data sources to ensure the accuracy of customer information. This is very important with vehicles of this age because each year ownership of this population turns over at a rate of 20% to 30%. Research also indicates that customers owning vehicles of this age rarely visit a new vehicle dealership to have service work completed.

To tackle these issues, new creative marketing materials with simplified marketing messages were produced showing photos of customers injured by rupturing inflators, and materials were printed in languages other than English and Spanish in certain markets.  

An omnichannel approach was also piloted utilizing postcards, certified mail, emails, phone calls, and even social media. A “feet on the street” approach was also trialed in a few markets to a very limited audience. 

The OEMs regularly got together under the direction of the Monitor to share best practices as to what was producing the best results.

A New Approach to Recalls

In late 2016, MarketSource partnered with one of the impacted OEMs to test whether a different approach using quality field-based canvassing resources would improve results. The OEM needed MarketSource to knock on doors corresponding to data that indicated VIN owners of the “alpha vehicles.” These resources needed to work an unconventional schedule of Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, and in many cases needed to be bilingual English/Spanish or fluent in additional languages such as Vietnamese or Korean. They also needed to have the proper skills and background to quickly engage with people to encourage them to get the recall completed, especially in light of the various previous attempts that had been made to engage the vehicle owners. Although this was not a traditional “sales” position, we quickly determined that it very much was, in fact, a “sales” role. MarketSource was able to ramp up the team for our partner in under 60 days. Training was completed and the team went “live” in the field in less than 70 days.   

Six months later, the same OEM partner asked us if MarketSource could provide nearly 500 additional resources to expand the mission across the entire United States. The MarketSource GIS team conducted heat mapping to indicate areas where, based on VIN information, owners lived in areas with large populations of non-English speakers, including Japanese, Chinese, Yiddish, and Hmong. The effort required approximately 35% bilingual English/Spanish staff, as well as staff that were approximately 12% bilingual English plus various other languages. Even with the specific language requirements, MarketSource hired, onboarded, and trained resources within 93 days. 

The MarketSource recall program continued to evolve. Resources supporting Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands were added a short time later and they conducted periodic “blitzes” to locate customers and facilitate repairs in other impacted islands in the Caribbean.

The program expanded to include a mobile repair component. This was critical, as research from both the Monitor and MarketSource indicated that, when questioned as to why the repair had not been completed, vehicle owners frequently mentioned some form of inconvenience such as, “I don’t have time,”  “I need the vehicle for work,” or it was “too inconvenient to go to a dealership.” Even though dealerships were offering loaner cars, free towing, and other services, customers indicated a preference for mobile repair more than 75% of the time. This program was so successful that our OEM honored us with an award of Premier Partner of the Year for our assistance with the mission! 

The MarketSource Tech Stack was the Foundation for a Successful Initiative

MarketSource has a particularly robust tech stack, which played a major role in how rapidly and efficiently we were able to meet our OEM partner’s requests and carry out the different facets of the recall program. We built upon our current technology by installing a custom Salesforce instance for our resources and integrated other elements into that platform, designed to fulfill the specific requirements of the project and ensure continuous improvement. 

Our strong tech stack, our ability to quickly customize it for unique purposes, and the successful results we achieved, prompted other OEMs to contact MarketSource for assistance with their own field-based canvassing. Since 2017 we have provided turnkey, fully managed solutions to six other OEMs. We’ve increased the productivity of our canvassers while also ensuring that our OEM partners receive the specific detailed information required by NHTSA to illustrate their field canvassing results.  

Results: It’s More Than a Job, It’s Saving Lives

As of May 2021, MarketSource teams have conducted in excess of 3 million “door knocks,” resulting in more than 290,000 vehicles now categorized as Closed Repaired or Destroyed, Exported or Unable to Repair with proper documentation. We have also completed just under 200,000 mobile repairs for several of our partners.  

Just as important to our MarketSource leadership and our dedicated team of canvassers is the feedback and true thankfulness that many of these customers extend to us after their repair is completed. They remind us that what we do is more than a job, but a shared effort that is potentially saving lives every day. One customer told us that he was in an accident with his vehicle a few weeks after we completed a mobile repair. His granddaughter was in the front seat and both airbags deployed. This is one example of many, and perfectly illustrates for us the meaning of our work. 

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MarketSource excels at accelerating sales by providing bespoke services for the automotive and many other industry partners. Let us know how we can help.
Author: Lisa Walsh

Author: Lisa Walsh

Lisa is Executive Director of Automotive Solutions at MarketSource. She brings 35+ years of automotive experience to her role. Lisa has owned her own dealership, served as a dealership finance director and general manager, and was a business development manager at GM. In spearheading results for dealership fixed and variable operations as well as OEM accessory and fleet sales, her clients consistently achieve greater account growth, market share, customer retention, customer satisfaction, and more.

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