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Exclusive: Honda back on top for customer service

Drawcard: Honda’s all-new HR-V has been a huge hit sales-wise and brought a surge of new owners back into the Japanese brand’s service departments, which are receiving the thumbs up from customers.

2015 JD Power study has Honda overtaking Mazda, Kia strong, while Holden tumbles


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1 Dec 2015

HONDA has made an emphatic return to the top of the Australian motor industry in terms of aftersales service among the leading brands in the marketplace, heading the field in the JD Power 2015 Australia Customer Service Index (CSI) Study released today.

The results, which provide a unique insight into just how well Australia’s leading car companies are treating their customers at the service department, have been eagerly anticipated at the highest levels of the industry as senior management attempt to improve customer satisfaction while at the same time increase sales volume – two crucial areas of business that are difficult to balance.

It is a sweet victory for Honda, which fell below the industry average last year but has returned to the number-one position – a spot it shared with Toyota in the 2012 CSI study – at a time when it is implementing an aggressive sales recovery strategy that will see it return to around 40,000 units for this calendar year.

On the flipside, GM Holden has fallen back to the bottom end of the field to be one of the worst performers among the high-volume mass-market brands after a strong, albeit short-lived, improvement last year, while Volkswagen remains near the back of the field despite concerted efforts to improve its CSI ranking, which are reflected in this year’s results.

In another reversal of fortune, Hyundai has dropped back below the industry average while Kia has shot up the field to fourth position behind Honda, Mazda and Toyota.

Jeep is also included in the results for the first time as its increasing sales translate to more owners coming in for vehicle servicing, although its last-place position on the table is cause for concern at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia.

The CSI study measures Australian new-vehicle buyer satisfaction with the aftersales service process (using a 1000-point scale) by examining dealer performance across five areas (in order of weighting): service quality, vehicle pick-up, service advisor, service initiation and service facility.

This year’s study is based on responses from 4518 owners who purchased their new vehicle between August 2010 and October 2015, and took their vehicle in for servicing at an authorised dealership between August 2014 and October this year. The study was fielded from late August to early October 2015.

As the industry average rose seven points to a new high-water mark of 797 – up a further seven points from last year – Honda (816) made the biggest single gain of any brand, its 29-point improvement displacing Mazda (813) at the top of the industry, despite the top-selling full-import brand improving seven points this year and remaining one of the benchmarks in the industry.

Toyota (807) also improved five points to remain in third position – its increased emphasis in this area, including running customer service study tours in Japan over the past 12 months, reflected here – while Kia (804) has moved from ninth place and well below the industry average to fourth with a 27-point improvement.

The fast-growing Korean brand’s industry-leading seven-year/unlimited-kilometre new-vehicle warranty across its entire range introduced in October last year – supported by roadside assistance and fixed-price servicing over the entire period – is clearly not only driving customers into showrooms, but a major factor in keeping them satisfied as they take their vehicles back for servicing.

Subaru (800) maintained its position above the industry average this year, but with a four-point decline is one of only three brands – the others being Holden and Suzuki – to have fallen year-on-year.

Hyundai Motor Co Australia’s senior management team has been eagerly anticipating this year’s CSI results after substantial investment in the aftermarket area – subsidising the first five services and fixing the servicing price for the life of the vehicle, for example – and given its strong showing in last year’s study, in which it moved from ninth to fifth on the table with a 23-point improvement.

This year, Hyundai (795) has improved four points, but this was not enough to keep it above both the industry average and its sister brand Kia.

Significantly, only two points separate Ford (792), Mitsubishi (792), Nissan (792) and Volkswagen (791) in the CSI rating, with all brands improving their score this year – and Mitsubishi in particular climbing 19 points – while remaining below average for the mass-market brands.

Just as these four top-10 brands also draw close in sales terms, Volkswagen climbed an impressive 26 points – from the bottom of the table – to sit ahead of Suzuki (762) and Holden (781) on the JD Power table.

The current diesel emissions-rigging scandal engulfing Volkswagen Group Australia could prove to be a setback for the German brand over the next 12 months, but its efforts in improving its customer satisfaction results – a key plank of the company’s business strategy in recent years – are paying dividends.

Notably, Ford Australia’s major investment in its aftermarket program – which earlier this year was extended to free loan cars during scheduled services – has brought only modest improvements to its CSI study performance.

Senior management at GM Holden in Port Melbourne look to have the most cause for concern, particularly as the company transitions to a national sales company and closes its Australian manufacturing operations in 2017.

Whereas other brands have struggled in the aftermarket area due to substantial sales growth, Holden’s sales have been contracting over the past five years and its performance in the JD Power CSI study has placed it well below the industry average over the same period – with the exception of last year’s 36-point improvement.

Was it a one-off? Or is this year’s 13-point downturn, the only double-digit decline recorded, merely a temporary setback? The company clearly needs to analyse its aftermarket operations and work on stabilising its performance – at a high level – as it strives to retain its customer base, and bring new buyers into the fold, with an impending fully imported model range.

Holden’s new chairman and managing director Mark Bernhard believes the lion brand can regain market leadership in Australia – in the long-term – but has highlighted that delivering quality product and making improvements in dealership facilities and customer service were a priority.

After a five-point rise last year, Suzuki has fallen seven points to remain some distance from other leading brands, although it now finds itself ahead of Jeep (757), which is ranked for the first time in the CSI study.

As with Peugeot, Jeep has been included in previous studies but not ranked due to small or insufficient sample size (generally a minimum of 100 samples).

Jeep’s emergence reflects the brand’s expansion in Australia in recent years, but shows the off-road brand as being well off the pace compared with other mass-market brands. It is also a full 40 points behind the industry average.

A spokesperson for JD Power Asia-Pacific said the small sample size from previous years meant it was unable to provide a robust comparison to comment on the brand’s performance this year.

High-profile cases of disgruntled Jeep owners battling FCA Australia over significant mechanical issues, which have brought federal politicians into the fray calling for a national ‘lemon’ law to protect consumers, may have figured in the brand’s low CSI ranking.

As GoAuto has reported, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has also been investigating customer complaints made to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia over vehicle faults, covering a two-year period between the start of 2013 and the end of 2014.

As a result of the investigation, FCA Australia said it had made changes to its processes and staffing in relation to handing customer enquiries and complaints.

The company said it had doubled the number of dealer support staff with the aim of improving response times to technical and customer service issues, created a dedicated Resolutions Team for resolving complex customer issues as well as internal customer service scoring systems.

It has also doubled the size of its parts warehouse – as well as making it a 24-hour weekday operation – and its parts inventory.

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