Americans drove significantly less in 2020. Despite that, they continue to take their vehicles to dealerships for service at nearly the same rate as usual and felt like they received better service.
According to the J.D. Power 2021 Customer Service Index Study, owners took their vehicles into the dealer for service just 6% less than the previous year. However, overall satisfaction with their experience improved with dealers scoring 847 points, up from 837 from the year-ago period.
It’s the sixth consecutive year dealers netted a higher score with Porsche taking the top spot in the Premium brand category with a score of 899. Mini captured the win in the mainstream group at 864, the company revealed.
No one type of brand dominated this year’s results with the top five covering foreign and domestic brands. Falling in behind Porsche in the premium group were Lexus (895), Infiniti (887), Cadillac (883) and Lincoln (872). In the mainstream group Buick (859), Mitsubishi (857), GMC (856) and Kia (855) followed Mini.
Study reveals strengths
“When one- to three-year-old vehicles required service in 2020, dealers captured an even greater share of service visits, which is the highest level in at least five years,” said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power., in a statement. “Dealerships made the most out of a disruptively bad situation.
The study measures satisfaction with service at a franchised dealer or independent service facility for maintenance or repair work among owners and lessees of one- to three-year-old vehicles. It also provides a numerical index ranking of the highest-performing automotive brands sold in the U.S.
This ranking is based on the combined scores of five different areas that make up the service experience, Power noted. The measures, in order of importance, include: service quality (29%); service facility (19%); service initiation (18%); service advisor (18%); and vehicle pick-up (16%). Dealers must perform well across all of these to score well.
“Completing work right the first time, as well as focusing on customers’ needs, play significant roles in satisfaction—and dealers are nailing these key performance indicators nearly 100% of the time,” Sutton said.
Dealers adapt to changing landscape
U.S. dealers learned to roll with the punches in 2020. The study revealed they handled pandemic-related related issues with aplomb. Contactless payments made a big impact on dealer scores, although not used often — 6% of premium and 1% of mass market owners paid this way — the scores for dealers who did spiked: 44 points for premium dealers and 69 points for mass market businesses.
Owners who took advantage of express services at dealerships reported satisfaction ratings 10 points higher than those who did not, Power revealed.
“By continuing to provide an exceptional service experience, dealers have an opportunity to seize an even greater share of the market,” Sutton said. “It’s notable, too, that while service was less frequent in 2020, customers responded very well to convenience services such as vehicle pick-up and drop-off at their home.”
Battery-electric vehicle hurdles
EVs posed a bigger challenge, according to the J.D. Power 2021 Electric Vehicle Experience (EVX) Ownership Study, with only 54% of battery-electric vehicle (BEV) owners indicating they had taken their vehicle in for service in the past 12 months. And when they did, they weren’t happy.
The study found their overall service satisfaction is 69 points lower than the average customer and 76 points lower for service quality.
“BEV owners present a unique challenge for dealers,” Sutton said. “Not only are their vehicles more difficult toservice than traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, but also the lower frequency of visits means dealers have fewer chances to make a positive impression on these customers.”
Part of the problem stems from the type of work performed on the vehicles when they do come in for service. A conventional vehicle generally requires twice as much maintenance work, i.e. oil changes, as it does full-on repairs.
However, the maintenance-to-repair ratio for BEV owners is nearly an even split. While more complex service repair work usually results in lower customer satisfaction than does maintenance work, the opposite is true for BEV owners. A large reason for this is that BEV owners are 2.5 times more likely to not experience their service completed right the first time.
“BEVs are in their early stages and dealers seem to be experiencing growing pains with servicing these vehicles,” Sutton said. “Automakers may want to invest in more dealer service training. Otherwise, they run the risk of losing return customers.”