WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Dealers wanting to boost vehicles sales should focus on the experience their service department delivers to customers, concluded a joint analysis conducted by J.D. Power and DealerRater.

The two firms used the release of their new finding to announce an alliance that will bring together J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction research and DealerRater’s consumer ratings and reviews to deliver a monthly analysis called PowerRater Consumer Pulse.

For March, the two firms examined the connection between vehicle sales and the service experience. And according to data collected by DealerRater, 40% of car buyers indicated that the service department’s reputation was significantly important in choosing the dealer from which to buy, making service reviews critically important to the sales efforts of the dealership.

“Clearly, there is a strong incentive for dealers to maximize customer satisfaction as it leads to a greater likelihood that customers will post a positive review, helping to support the reputation of the dealer’s service department,” said Chris Sutton, vice president, U.S. automotive retail practice at J.D. Power.

According to J.D. Power, highly satisfied customers (overall satisfaction scores between 901-1,000 on a 1,000-point scale) are more likely to write a review about their experience, compared with those who are merely satisfied or indifferent (scores of 750-900). Among the 37 percent of highly satisfied customers, 4.3 percent indicate that they posted an online review of their experience. In contrast, less than 3 percent of service customers who are either merely satisfied or indifferent posted an online review.

And among highly satisfied customers who posted an online review of their last service experience, 91 percent of the reviews were positive. Among customers who were merely satisfied or were indifferent about their service experience and posted a review, only 71 percent of the comments were positive.

“Considering how competitive the market is, and the tight profit margins that dealers are fighting, strengthening online reputation to maximize sales opportunities is becoming a critical business objective for new-vehicle dealers,” said Gary Tucker, chief executive officer of DealerRater.

J.D. Power also identified five processes with the highest potential impact on customer satisfaction with dealer service. They include:

  1. Service advisor who focuses on customer’s needs (+73 points)
  2. Providing the customer with helpful advice (+55 points)
  3. Getting the vehicle fixed right the first time (+53 points)
  4. Access to the service advisor within two minutes of arrival (+45 points)
  5. Ensuring the vehicle is ready when originally promised (+41 points)

On average, dealers fix vehicles right the first time 93% of the time, and service advisors focus on customers’ needs 92% of the time. Where dealers need to focus, however, is in improving timely access to advisors and setting realistic expectations for when vehicles will be ready, which are met only 73 percent and 77 percent of the time, respectively.