It’s conventional wisdom consumers hate to visit a car dealer, especially for service or repairs – but a new study suggests that’s far from true these days, in large part due to complimentary and prepaid maintenance programs. And digital tablets are playing a role in improving customer satisfaction, it turns out.
Two General Motors brands have topped the list in this year’s J.D. Power and Associates’ latest Customer Service Index, or CSI, toppling such traditional leaders as Lexus and Toyota. The study looks at how pleased owners of 1 to 5-year-old vehicles are with the service they’ve received at franchised dealerships.
The availability of maintenance programs – whether free or prepaid – played a key factor in how makers fared in the 2014 Power CSI. More than two-thirds of luxury car owners who responded to the survey, and nearly half of those driving a mass-market model, said they were covered by some sort of program that minimizes the cost of service and repairs.
“Maintenance packages—whether they’re complimentary or paid for by owners—create a long-term relationship between the customer and dealership, which, when coupled with satisfying service experiences during that period, can have a very positive impact on loyalty rates,” said Chris Sutton, senior director of the U.S. Automotive Retail Practice at J.D. Power.
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Such service plans appear to provide a win-win-win situation. Customers are happier. And they’re more likely to stay loyal to a brand. They’re also more likely to buy such things as batteries, brakes and tires, noted Sutton, “even after their plan expires, (so) dealers retain key revenue opportunities for service and repairs.”
The 2014 Customer Service Index shows that Detroit makers – and their dealers — are improving their game. Cadillac topped the CSI overall, with a score of 872 out of a possible 900 points. It came in ahead of Audi, Lexus, Infiniti and Lincoln, in the top five upscale brands, and ahead of the luxury segment average of 855 points.
On the mainstream side, top-ranked Buick scored 835 points, ahead of Volkswagen, GMC Mini, and Chevrolet, among top-five brands, and 34 points above sixth-ranked Toyota. The mass market segment had an average score of 797.
Overall, all four of General Motors’ brands were in the top five of their respective segments, a first for the maker. Ford and Chrysler showed more mixed results among the Detroit manufacturers, with some brands – notably Lincoln and Chrysler – running in the top five, while others fared below industry average. In the mass market segment, Dodge, Jeep and Ram were bottom-ranked, in that descending order.
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German and Japanese marques also had mixed results. Toyota scored above average for a mainstream maker but its Scion brand was near the bottom of the industry. It’s upscale Lexus brand was, meanwhile, ranked third.
The Customer Service Index shows that consumers can be quite pleased with a brand, even if it doesn’t fare quite as well in terms of initial quality and long-term reliability. On the other hand, some brands that report relatively few defects up front might not deliver a very good service experience. Porsche has been scoring well on another Power study, the Initial Quality Survey, but came in below industry average in terms of the new CSI.
On the whole, the new study shows motorists are growing more pleased with the service experience.
But another finding reveals that dealers can improve customer satisfaction by making it easier to schedule a service visit – especially with apps that allow the use of digital tablets. When a tablet was used, the industry-wide average score jumped to 838, up from 802 when a tablet was not used.
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