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Dealer Service Satisfaction Tops Independent Shops

Vehicle owners who visit dealer facilities for service are considerably more satisfied with their experience at dealerships than with service from independent facilities, according to the J.D. Power & Associates 2012 U.S. Customer Service Index (CSI) Study released in March.

Among customers of dealer facilities, overall satisfaction with the service experience averaged 38 points higher on a 1,000-point scale, compared with non-dealer facilities (787 vs. 749, respectively). In addition, 79 percent of all service visits among owners of vehicles one to three years old are performed at dealer facilities — up from 74 percent in 2011 and 72 percent in 2010.

Overall satisfaction with dealer service improved by 19 points in 2012, compared with 2011, with gains in all five study measures. Among the 33 rank-eligible brands, 28 improved in service satisfaction from 2011, with eight brands improving by at least 20 points. Contributing to the overall improvement was a shift in the proportion of maintenance and repair work performed at dealer service centers. In 2012, 72 percent of vehicle owners indicated that their latest dealer service visit was for maintenance rather than repair — an increase from 63 percent in 2011. Customer satisfaction with maintenance visits was typically higher than satisfaction with repair visits, because visits for routine maintenance tend to be less expensive and less time-consuming.

“Steady improvements in vehicle quality, longer intervals between recommended service visits and a higher mix of maintenance service events have had a positive effect on overall dealer service satisfaction,” explained Chris Sutton, a senior director at J.D. Power. “Moreover, manufacturers and their dealers have instituted broad-based customer service improvement initiatives to increase satisfaction with both the purchase experience and after-sales service, with the understanding that a substandard service occasion can and will impact their ability to make a future vehicle sale or gain repeat service business.”

The study examined satisfaction among vehicle owners who visited a service department for maintenance or repair work. 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. Five measures are examined to determine overall customer satisfaction with dealer service (listed in order of importance): service quality, service initiation, service advisor, service facility and vehicle pick-up.

Lexus ranked highest in customer satisfaction with dealer service among luxury brands and received an award for a fourth consecutive year. Lexus achieved an overall CSI score of 861 and performed particularly well in service initiation, service facility and service quality.  Among mass-market brands, Mini ranked highest for a second consecutive year with a score of 809. Mini performs particularly well in service quality, service advisor, service facility and vehicle pick-up. Also among the Top 5 brands in the mass-market segment were Buick (805), GMC (803), Chevrolet (801) and Hyundai (791).

J.D. Power predicts that, because of depressed auto sales during the recession, dealer service volumes will continue to decline through 2013 before rebounding. The challenge for automakers will be to maintain high levels of satisfaction once service volumes do rebound, the study concludes.

The 2012 U.S. CSI Study is based on responses from more than 84,000 owners and lessees of 2007-’11 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded between October and December 2011.