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Dealership Service Departments Improve Customer Satisfaction, Reports J.D. Power

March 14, 2013

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — 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, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 U.S. Customer Service Index (CSI) Study.

Overall customer satisfaction with service at a dealer facility has increased to 797, up significantly from 787 in 2012. Additionally, more than three-fourths (77%) of customer visits to dealer service departments are for vehicle maintenance, up from 72 percent in 2012.

The study also found that three of the 11 luxury brands and five of the 19 mass market brands have improved in overall satisfaction by at least 20 points.

The report finds that overall customer satisfaction with service at a dealer facility has increased to 797 (on a 1,000-point scale), a significant improvement from 787 in 2012 and up by 29 points since 2011. Additionally, overall satisfaction with dealer service facilities averages 44 index points higher than satisfaction with independent service facilities, a gap that has expanded by six 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," said Chris Sutton, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates. "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 examines satisfaction among vehicle owners who visit 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 satisfaction with dealer service (listed in order of importance): service quality, service initiation, service advisor, service facility, and vehicle pick-up.

The study finds that owners visit 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 is one of the contributing factors to the increase in overall satisfaction. More than three-fourths (77%) of vehicle owners indicate 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 averages 806, compared with 768 among those who took their vehicle in for repair work. Among owners who visited an independent service station, overall satisfaction averages 754 for maintenance work and 750 for repairs. Satisfaction with both maintenance and repair work conducted at dealer and non-dealer service stations is 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," said Sutton. "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 spend less out-of-pocket per visit at their dealership, compared with 2012 ($118 vs. $125, respectively); however, this amount remains higher than the average spent per visit at an independent service station ($44). Owners of premium vehicles spend an average of $198 per dealer visit, compared with $31 when they visit an independent service station, while owners of non-premium vehicles spend an average of $108 per dealer visit and $45 per visit to an independent service station. 

The study finds a direct correlation between service satisfaction and loyalty. Overall, 79 percent of vehicle owners indicate they "definitely will" return to their dealership for maintenance and repairs covered under their vehicle's warranty, and 64 percent indicate they "definitely will" return to the dealership for service work after their vehicle's warranty expires. 

However, loyalty increases dramatically among vehicle owners who are "delighted" (satisfaction scores of 901 and higher) with their service experience, as 96 percent indicate they "definitely will" return to the dealer service department while their vehicle is under warranty, and 89 percent indicate they "definitely will" return post-warranty. Further, 38 percent of vehicle owners overall indicate that they "definitely will" purchase or lease their next vehicle from the same brand, and increases to 59 percent among owners who are "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," said Sutton. "Dealers know this, and most are taking the appropriate steps to ensure their customers have the best

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

Three of the 11 luxury brands improve their index score by 20 or more points, compared with 2012, with Land Rover achieving the greatest year-over-year improvement (+29 points). Infiniti improves by 24 points and Lincoln by 23.

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

Five of the 19 mass market brands improve 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 improves by 22 points and Chrysler by 20.

The 2013 U.S. CSI Study is 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. J.D.

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