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J.D. Power: Dealerships Continue To Outperform Independent Repair Shops In Customer Satisfaction

Recent investments made by automakers and dealers in improving the customer service experience are paying off in terms of more highly-satisfied and loyal service customers, reports J.D. Power & Associates. The firm’s 2013 U.S. Customer Service Index (CSI) Study found that overall customer satisfaction with service at a dealer facility has increased to 797 on a 1,000-point scale — a double-digit improvement from the 787 recorded in 2012 and up 29 points over 2011.

Notbaly, overall satisfaction with dealer service facilities averaged 44 index points higher than satisfaction with independent service facilities — a gap that expanded by 6 points from 2012.

“Manufacturers have made large investments in their 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,” explained Chris Sutton, senior director at J.D. Power. “Dealerships are placing more emphasis on the service advisor’s role, which is essential to effectively handling service customers. Having a skilled, trained advisor is vital for a positive customer experience.”

The study examined satisfaction among vehicle owners who visit a service department for maintenance or repair work. The CSI rankings were 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 were examined to determine overall satisfaction with dealer service (listed in order of importance): service quality; service initiation; service advisor; service facility; and vehicle pick-up.

The study found that owners visited a dealer service department an average of 2.6 times per year, most frequently for vehicle maintenance. The shift in the proportion of maintenance work to repair work was one of the contributing factors to the increase in overall satisfaction. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of vehicle owners indicated that their most recent dealer service visit was for maintenance, such as an oil change or tire rotation — an increase from 72 percent in 2012 and 63 percent in 2011.

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

“The service mix continues to shift to maintenance and away from repairs, which is a testament to the improvement in vehicle quality and dependability,” Sutton said. “Owner satisfaction is generally higher for maintenance than for repairs for several reasons, primarily because maintenance tends to be less expensive and time-consuming and can be scheduled and completed at the owner’s convenience.”

When excluding complimentary service, service customers spent less out-of-pocket per visit at their dealership, compared with 2012 ($118 vs. $125, respectively). However, this amount remained higher than the average spent per visit at an independent service station ($44).

Owners of premium vehicles spent an average of $198 per dealer visit, compared with $31 when they visited an independent service station, while owners of non-premium vehicles spent an average of $108 per dealer visit and $45 per visit to an independent service station.

The study found a direct correlation between service satisfaction and loyalty. Overall, 79 percent of vehicle owners indicated that they “definitely will” return to their dealership for maintenance and repairs covered under their vehicle’s warranty, and 64 percent indicated that they “definitely will” return to the dealership for service work after their vehicle’s warranty expires.

Loyalty increased significantly among vehicle owners who were “delighted” (satisfaction scores of 901 and higher) with their service experience, as 96 percent indicated that they “definitely will” return to the dealer service department while their vehicle is under warranty, and 89 percent indicated that they “definitely will” return post-warranty. Further, 38 percent of vehicle owners overall indicated that they “definitely will” purchase or lease their next vehicle from the same brand, and increased to 59 percent among owners who were “delighted.”

“The service experience has a profound impact on vehicle owners, not just where they take their vehicle the next time they need maintenance or repairs, but also on their next vehicle purchase,” Sutton said. “Dealers know this, and most are taking the appropriate steps to ensure their customers have the best experience possible on both the sales and service sides of the store.”

Overall satisfaction with dealer service improved by 10 points in 2013, compared with 2012, with gains in all five study measures. Among the 30 rank-eligible brands, 28 improved in service satisfaction from 2011, with eight brands improving by at least 20 points.

Additionally, overall satisfaction improved across all five study measures, with the largest year-over-year gains in service facility and vehicle pick-up, which also included vehicle owner perception of the fairness of the charges.

“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,” Sutton sad. “When new-vehicle sales dropped in 2008, dealers increased their focus on service, and that attention on the service customer continues today.”

Lexus ranked highest in satisfaction with dealer service among luxury brands for a fifth consecutive year. Lexus achieved an overall CSI score of 862 and performed particularly well in service initiation, service facility and service quality. Rounding out the five highest-performing nameplates in the luxury segment were Cadillac (858), Jaguar (856), Acura (852) and Infiniti (848).

Three of the 11 luxury brands improved their index score by 20 or more points, compared with 2012, with Land Rover achieving the greatest year-over-year improvement (+29 points). Infiniti improved by 24 points and Lincoln by 23. Click here to see all of the luxury brand CSI rankings, courtesy of J.D. Power.

Among mass-market brands, GMC ranked highest with a score of 819. GMC performed particularly well in service initiation, service advisor, service facility and service quality. Rounding out the five highest-performing brands in the mass-market segment were Mini (810), Buick (809), Chevrolet (806) and Volkswagen (804).

Five of the 19 mass-market brands improved their index score by at least 20 points, compared with 2012, with Scion improving 24 index points, Nissan and Dodge each improving by 23 points, Mitsubishi improving by 22 points and Chrysler by 20. Click here to see all of the mass-market brand CSI rankings, courtesy of J.D. Power.

The 2013 U.S. CSI Study was 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.

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