COSTA MESA, Calif. — Auto service customers tend to be more satisfied when service departments use customers' preferred methods of communication, such as text messaging, according to the J.D. Power 2019 Customer Service Index (CSI) Study.
However, car dealerships, which were the focus of the customer survey, are not keeping up with customer trends.
Satisfaction is 75 points higher (on a 1,000-point scale) among customers who have an all-digital experience compared with one that is all analog, according to J.D. Power. These customers prefer to schedule service via the internet and communicate with the dealer through text messages, rather than doing those tasks via phone. Satisfaction increases further when a service advisor uses a tablet during the service visit.
"Service customers want the convenience that technology offers them," said Chris Sutton, vice president, U.S. automotive retail practice at J.D. Power. "For example, 34 percent of customers indicate they prefer to communicate via text message — but this only occurs 9 percent of the time.
"There's no reason why this isn't a more widely adopted practice across the industry. Dealers have easy access to these tools, so they don't have to reinvent the wheel. Technology not only improves efficiency, but also the more satisfied a customer is with their overall service experience, the more likely they are to return to the dealership for service and to recommend the dealership to friends and family members. Customers now expect technology to enable more efficient interaction with businesses — and that includes dealers."
The study measured satisfaction with service at a franchised car dealership or independent service facility for maintenance or repair work among owners and lessees of 1- to 3-year-old vehicles.
Among the study's findings were:
• All generations of survey respondents preferred internet scheduling. Customers are slowly shifting their preferred method of scheduling service toward internet scheduling and away from scheduling via phone, according to J.D. Power. In 2015, the industry average preference for these two methods was 20 percent and 64 percent, respectively. This year, preferences shifted to 28 percent and 59 percent, respectively. While Gen Y customers have shifted their preference toward internet scheduling at a faster rate than have boomers, every generation (with the exception of pre-boomers) has increased its preference for internet scheduling and decreased its preference for phone scheduling during the past five years of the study.
• In-store engagement remains important. The percentage of customers who feel their service advisor provides helpful advice is 70 points higher when the advisor was focused on them and their needs during the visit. This, along with informing customers about work performed on the vehicle; knowing the vehicle's service history; keeping them informed of the vehicle's status; letting them know when the vehicle will be ready before service begins; and performing a vehicle walk-around, boosts a customer's view of the service advisor's perceived helpfulness, the study said.
• A large percentage of owners are also promoters. A large number of owners are promoters of their vehicle, although the percentage decreases slightly as vehicles age, the study said. Customers are asked their likelihood of recommending their vehicle model on a 0-10 scale and are grouped into either the detractor (0-6), passive (7-8) or promoter (9-10) categories. More than three-fourths (77 percent) of owners are promoters in year one of vehicle ownership; 75 percent are promoters in year two; and 73 percent are promoters in year three.
• Satisfaction gap closing between independents and dealers. Overall satisfaction with services performed by independent facilities improved 22 points since 2017, compared with a 17-point improvement by franchised dealers. Similarly, satisfaction with service quality at independent facilities has improved 23 points since 2017, compared with a 17-point improvement by franchised dealers.
"This is an important area of opportunity for dealers," Mr. Sutton said. "Seemingly simple things like completing service right the first time; returning settings to how they were when the customer brought the vehicle in for service; and washing the customer's vehicle — all three of which are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) — can affect their perception of service quality.
"While completing repairs right the first time is done 94 percent of the time, the other two KPIs are only being completed 81 percent and 45 percent of the time, respectively. These basics are really building blocks to cementing the customer's relationship with their dealer."
The study also ranked vehicle brands for customers service satisfaction using a numerical index ranking based on the combined scores of five measures that comprise the vehicle owner service experience: service quality,service initiation, service advisor, service facility and vehicle pick-up.
Porsche ranked highest in satisfaction with dealer service among luxury brands for the first time in the study's 38-year history. Lexus ranked second, followed by Cadillac, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz.
Buick ranked highest in satisfaction with dealer service among mass market brands for a third consecutive year. MINI ranked second followed by Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, GMC and Toyota.
The 2019 U.S. CSI Study is based on responses from 57,286 owners and lessees of 2016 to 2018 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded from October through December 2018.