COSTA MESA, Calif. — Car shoppers are arming themselves with more vehicle information before going into a dealership, but it’s the pre-purchase interaction with the salesperson that leads to high sales satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index Study.

“While customers are preparing themselves online with the best information and negotiation tactics, they still prefer to interact with a salesperson or product specialist prior to buying a vehicle,” said Chris Sutton, vice president of the Automotive Retail Practice at J.D. Power. “Dealers can’t control a customer’s pre-purchase activities, but they should be prepared to positively influence areas that will affect a customer’s likelihood to buy as well as their level of satisfaction.

“An example is to post photos of actual inventory to their website or engage with shoppers via text messaging or phone calls. Be sure that online specials are up to date and easy to access from the dealer’s site,” Sutton added. “These simple things go a long way toward earning a sale and satisfying a customer.”

Following are some of the study’s key findings:

  • Demos are key:As vehicle technology becomes more complex, shoppers rely on dealership experts to demonstrate how to use the new technology. In this case, 41% of mass market buyers and 33% of luxury buyers want to completely learn about a vehicle’s features and controls during the delivery process. Additionally, 65% of shoppers who have a sales consultant show them how to use features on their personal smartphone say it was a “very effective” tool and subsequently are more confident using apps and websites for vehicle interaction and maintenance.
  • Follow through on the follow-up:After the purchase, 80% of mass market buyers and 87% of luxury buyers indicate they were contacted by the dealership. But only 32% of mass market buyers and 51% of luxury buyers receive a second follow-up explanation of vehicle features. That second follow-up improves satisfaction by as much as 100 points (on a 1,000-point scale) among both mass market and luxury buyers.
  • Do it right the first time:The majority of new vehicles don’t have problems, but when they do, the result is a negative effect on satisfaction. Dents, dings and scratches upon delivery can make satisfaction dip by 198 points.

The study — now in its 31st year and redesigned for 2017 — measures satisfaction with the sales experience among new-vehicle buyers and rejecters, who are those who shop a dealership and purchase elsewhere. Buyer satisfaction is based on six measures: dealer personnel (28%); delivery process (21%); working out the deal (18%); paperwork completion (16%); dealership facility (13%); and dealership website (4%). Rejecter satisfaction is based on five measures: salesperson (40%); fairness of price (15%); experience negotiating (15%); variety of inventory (15%); and dealership facility (14%).

The 2017 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) Study is based on responses from 28,989 buyers who purchased or leased their new vehicle in April or May 2017. To read the full results, click here.