Drivers Happier With Dealership Services Departments

Jaguar dealearshipVehicle customers say they like their dealerships' service departments more this year than last. And that may be a silver lining for dealers--most of whom are seeing less revenue from new-vehicle sales, warranty and routine service. According to J.D. Power and Associates Customer Service Index, a yearly study in its 28th year, satisfaction with dealer service has improved 6 points (on a 1,000-point scale) so far this year, after being flat since 2005.

The study measures satisfaction among vehicle owners who visit the dealer service department for maintenance or repair work in the first three years of ownership, the period covered by most warranty programs.

Per the firm, the proportion of customers bringing their vehicles to the dealer for repair work has declined to 35%--a historic low this year--because vehicle quality has improved in recent years for all brands. Currently, about 65% of service visits are for maintenance; and customer satisfaction with repair work is up 9 points since 2007.



David Sargent, VP/Automotive Research at J.D. Power, says dealers realize service is important because it will keep customers coming back for routine vehicle work versus defecting to, say, Jiffy Lube, and will also bring them back when they are in the market for a new car.

"Loyalty is key because [dealers] are losing a lot of their customers to the independent sector for routine stuff like oil, tires and shocks," he says. "When a vehicle gets out of warranty after two or three years of ownership, owners they don't feel they need to go to the dealership for maintenance service--so if the dealer hasn't given them outstanding service, it is very hard for them to hold on to customers."

He says the survey--based on responses from 87,302 owners and lessees of 2005 to 2007 model-year vehicles in the first four months this year--asks customers where they will go next for service and, ultimately, for their next vehicle. "They strongly say that the more satisfied they are with service, the much more likely they are to stay loyal to dealership for service and sales."

The top brand in dealer service, for the second year, was Jaguar, followed by Cadillac and Buick. Sargent says the brands with big gains in dealer service versus last year were Cadillac, Lincoln, Acura, Honda, Mercedes, Chrysler and Ford, as well as VW, Suzuki and Land Rover.

The study suggests that the things that make customers happy in auto service are probably the same as in medical intervention: communication, clear, cogent explanation before and after to explain the procedure and charges and why the charges and work were fair and appropriate. Per Sargent, 78% of customers who rate the fairness of charges as "outstanding" said they would return to the dealership for routine maintenance after their vehicle warranty expires, while only 49% of customers who report fairness as "average" say the same.

Also, as in the world of medical work, when the patient is returned to the owner cleaner than it was received by the practitioner, satisfaction scores average 48 points higher than scores provided by customers whose vehicles showed no difference in cleanliness. By contrast, satisfaction plummets 202 points, on average, if vehicles are returned dirtier than when they were received.

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