Customer Satisfaction Up at U.S. Dealer Service Departments

Lexus ranked highest in satisfaction among luxury brands for the fifth consecutive year – 19 points above segment average and the highest score in the study.

Overall customer satisfaction with service at authorized dealerships increased when compared to 2012 as automaker efforts to bolster loyalty among service customers, including decreasing prices for common maintenance items, are showing results.

More than three-fourths (77%) of vehicle owners indicate that their most recent dealer service visit was for maintenance, such as an oil change or tire rotation, an increase from 72% in 2012 and 63% in 2011.

The CSI rankings are based on dealer service performance during the first three years of new-vehicle ownership, which typically represents the majority of the vehicle warranty period. After the warranty expires, dealerships traditionally have little chance of getting maintenance work as more than two thirds of customers then resort to independent repair shops and mass merchandiser tire, transmission, brake and muffler chains.

Five of the 19 mass market brands improved index scores by at least 20 points, compared with 2012.

The new J.D. Power study finds that owners visit a dealer service department an average of 2.6 times per year, most frequently for vehicle maintenance. This shift in the proportion of maintenance work to repair work is one of the contributing factors to the increase in overall satisfaction since warranty work by definition means something broke that shouldn’t have.

Overall satisfaction among owners who took their vehicle to a dealership for maintenance work averages 806, compared with 768 among those who took their vehicle in for repair work. Among owners who visited an independent service station, overall satisfaction averages 754 for maintenance work and 750 for repairs. Satisfaction with both maintenance and repair work conducted at dealer and non-dealer service stations is slightly higher among owners of premium vehicles than among owners of non-premium vehicles.

When excluding complimentary service, service customers spend less out-of-pocket per visit at their dealership, compared with 2012 at $118 compared to $125. However, this amount remains higher than the average of $44 spent per visit at an independent service station. Owners of premium vehicles spend an average of $198 per dealer visit, compared with $31 when they visit an independent service station, while owners of non-premium vehicles spend an average of $108 per dealer visit and $45 per visit to an independent service station.

Five measures are used to determine overall satisfaction with dealer service, listed in order of weighting: service quality, service initiation, service advisor, service facility, and vehicle pick-up. Three of 11 luxury brands and five of the 19 mass market brands have improved in overall satisfaction by what Powers consider significant. “Manufacturers have made large investments in retail programs, and dealers have made significant investments in key customer touch-points—people, improved processes and customer waiting areas—which are having a profoundly positive impact on their customers,” said Chris Sutton of J.D. Power.

“While there are a lot of things dealers can’t control, such as the product and the incentive levels on the sales side, one thing they can control is the service they provide,” said Sutton. “When new-vehicle sales dropped in 2008, dealers increased their focus on service, and that attention on the service customer continues today.”

The 2013 U.S. CSI Study is based on responses from more than 91,000 owners and lessees of 2008 to 2012 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded between October and December 2012.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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