J.D. Power: Service satisfaction level at light vehicle dealerships is up in 2008

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Customer satisfaction with dealer service has increased slightly among vehicle owners compared with 2007, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Service Usage and Retention Study (SURS).


The increase is due, in part, "to a continuing increase in the proportion of maintenance-related service visits versus repair-related visits."


The study, now in its 12th year, measures customer satisfaction of vehicle owners who visit a dealer service department for maintenance or repair work during the fourth or fifth years of ownership, which typically represents the period after the manufacturer's vehicle warranty expires.


Overall customer satisfaction is based on the following six factors, in order of importance:


1. service initiation,


2. service advisor,


3. service quality,


4. user-friendly service,


5. service delivery, and


6. in-service experience.


Overall satisfaction with dealer service among original owners of four- and five-year-old vehicles averages 866 on a 1,000-point scale -- up three points since 2007. Among the 34 dealer brands included in the study since 2007, nearly seven in 10 (68%) have improved since the previous year.


Contributing to this increase in overall satisfaction is a shift in the proportions of repair and maintenance service visits since 2007. In 2008, 58% of customers report visiting the dealer for maintenance work, compared to 54% last year. Conversely, 42% report visiting for repairs, compared to 46% last year. Satisfaction is higher when customers visit the dealer for maintenance work.


"Improvements in automotive product quality have resulted in the reduced need for repairs over time, which ultimately helps improve customer satisfaction with service, since customers are able to avoid unexpected and potentially inconvenient service visits," says Tom Gauer, senior director of automotive retail research at J.D. Power and Associates.


"In addition, dealers have also improved their efforts to provide knowledgeable and courteous staff and a comfortable service experience."


The study finds that developing personal relationships with customers has a strong positive impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Customers who report experiencing a personal connection to their service advisor are five times more likely to report their service experience exceeded their expectations, compared with customers who don't report experiencing a personal connection (41% vs. 8%, respectively).


In addition, 75% of customers who say that their expectations were exceeded indicate they "definitely will" return to their servicing dealer for future customer-paid work, compared with only 42% of customers who say their expectations were merely met.


"In these difficult market conditions, with many dealerships struggling to meet their sales goals, keeping busy with service work is what may separate those facilities that are profitable from those that are not," says Gauer.


Results from other service providers, including independent tire dealerships


The study also finds that, although customer satisfaction with what J.D. Power refers to as "non-dealer service providers" is slightly higher than satisfaction levels with dealer service, dealer service facilities perform considerably better than do non-dealer facilities in the "in-service experience" factor, which encompasses how well the facility allows the customer to spend their time during service, as well as the cleanliness, comfort and amenities of the customer waiting area.


Among non-dealer service facilities, independent garages tend to provide higher levels of satisfaction than other types of service facilities in this group, including gas station service facilities, specialty service facilities and retail service facilities. The strong performance of independent garages can be attributed in large part to the personal connections their customers report having with the service staff, as well as the quality of service provided.


"Dealerships have an inherent advantage when it comes to creating a satisfying in-service experience, since they are typically equipped with well appointed waiting areas for their customers," says Gauer. "An opportunity exists for non-dealer service facilities to enhance the comforts and amenities they offer for their customers as they wait during service visits."


According tot he study, Acura, Cadillac, Jaguar, Lexus and Saturn dealers perform particularly well among dealer service customers. Brands that perform particularly well among non-dealer service facilities include "Goodyear Tire" and Valvoline Instant Oil Change.


The 2008 SURS is based on responses from 12,863 owners of 2003 and 2004 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded from March to April, 2008.

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