Service matters. Delivering excellence in customer service builds loyalty to the store, and by extension, to the brand. We see that with benchmark brands like Apple and Starbucks, but nowhere is it more critical than in the automotive category. Having gotten that message in recent years, automakers have devoted a lot more time and money to training dealership staff to treat customers right both in sales and in service.
It seems to be working. In this year's J.D. Power and Associates 2013 U.S. Customer Service Index Study, released this week, the industry has improved for the third year in a row. And overall customer satisfaction with dealer service facilities is higher than with independent service stations, a gap that has expanded by six points from 2012.
Chris Sutton, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates, says a big boost has been an improvement in the quality of service advisors who are the real touchpoint between the customer and service bay. "Customers want the right greeting, and quick service. They want to pay and go."
The study parses service satisfaction in maintenance or repair work in the first three years of new-vehicle ownership, the majority of the vehicle warranty period. Data and brand rankings are on service quality, service initiation, service advisor, service facility, and vehicle pick-up, notes the firm. Not surprisingly, over three-quarters of service visits were for maintenance rather than repairs.
And although maintenance is obviously less of a potential horror show than repair, it sets the tone for customer expectation: if dealerships can't do even the less expensive and time-consuming work well, how will they handle more complex work? "There's potential for lots of customer frustration," says Sutton.
In the study, 96% of owners who said they were "delighted” with their service experience also said they “definitely will” return to the dealer service department while their vehicle is under warranty; 89% said they “definitely will” return post-warranty. Furthermore, while 38% of vehicle owners overall indicated that they “definitely will” purchase or lease their next vehicle from the same brand, 59% of those "delighted" owners say they'll remain loyal to the brand.
"Automakers have a big influence over this because the difference between vehicle quality decreased, so they see that one way they can differentiate themselves is through customer experience," says Sutton.
Among luxury brands Lexus ranks highest in satisfaction for the fifth consecutive year. Following are Cadillac, Jaguar, Acura, and Infiniti. Among mass market brands, GMC ranks highest, particularly in service initiation, service advisor, service facility and service quality, per the firm. Rounding out the five highest-performing brands in the mass market are MINI, Buick, Chevrolet, and Volkswagen. Scion, Nissan, Dodge, Mitsubishi and Chrysler, were most-improved.
"I think what the best brands do is great basic service, timing, explaining to customers what they need, and greeting them, but it's not enough," he says. "The surroundings have to be inviting with comfortable waiting areas, and giving staff the ability to spend lots of time with customers."