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Exclusive: Mercedes still tops for luxury service

Star service: Mercedes-Benz is still ahead of its luxury brand rivals when it comes to aftersales customer service in Australia, as measured by JD Power, but Audi has closed the gap considerably over the past 12 months.

Audi the big mover in CSI luxury brand study but Mercedes still top, BMW below par


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15 Dec 2015

MERCEDES-BENZ has maintained its position as the leading luxury car brand for aftersales service while Audi has made the biggest improvement across the industry in the JD Power 2015 Australia Customer Service Index (CSI) Study – Luxury Market released today.

BMW, meanwhile, continues to languish behind its two German luxury brand rivals and remains well below the industry average in the influential independent study, which sits alongside the bigger mass-market brand study as a major indication of how well Australia’s leading car companies are treating their customers at the service department.

This is particularly relevant as the top-selling luxury brands manage an influx of new customers on the back of all-new – and increasingly affordable – models, which have stimulated double-digit sales growth in recent years.

As GoAuto reported exclusively earlier this month, Honda took top honours in this year’s mass-market study, ahead of Mazda, Toyota and a fast-rising Kia, while Holden suffered the biggest downturn with a fall from fourth to 11th position on the table.

The luxury brands study uses the same methodology to measure new-vehicle buyer satisfaction with the service experience at authorised dealerships, although a slightly lower threshold for the minimum sample size (75 versus 100) is allowed.

Across the five key areas of dealership performance – service quality, vehicle pick-up, service adviser, service initiation and service facility – Mercedes-Benz was again the top performer, recording a total of 843 points on JD Power’s 1000-point scale, up 10 points from last year.

Yet Audi’s performance is not to be understated, moving from 791 points and below the industry average (803) last year to 829 points – a remarkable 38-point increase.

BMW, which declared to GoAuto last year that it was working to become the number-one brand in the CSI rankings, improved slightly on 2014, climbing 11 points for a total of 785, but this was still 32 points behind the industry average, which rose 14 points this year to 817.

In the study’s ‘Power Circle’ ratings, Mercedes collected five stars out of five for overall satisfaction and in each category, with Audi receiving four stars overall and four stars in all areas bar vehicle pick-up, in which it picked up five.

BMW recorded a similar result to last year and could do no better than two stars in each category and two stars overall.

As was the case last year, Land Rover, Lexus and Volvo were included in the study but not ranked due to small or insufficient sample size.

According to JD Power, the improved pre-inspection and fix rates at the dealership have helped drive up the luxury brand aftersales CSI this year, however customers have reported lower satisfaction with scheduling their service appointment online.

“It is encouraging to see the improvement in the luxury brand segment in Australia,” said JD Power director Gordon Shields. “However, it is clear that service centres are still struggling to make digital service channels really work for them.

“Not only should dealers make online scheduling easy and quick to use, they should also look at how other service companies use technology to help customers track the progress of the work, offer regular updates, as well as provide a costing online too.”

The results show that customers scheduling their service appointment online – via email or through the dealer or brand website, for example – recorded the lowest level of satisfaction (805 index points) compared to more traditional methods, including calling for an appointment (820).

This year’s study also found that 14 per cent of luxury brand customers requiring alternative transport during the service visit either do not receive any transport or are charged a fee. Satisfaction is highest amongst customers who receive a free ride from their dealer (852 index points) compared to those offered a loan car (843).

Interestingly, luxury brand customers who report their service costs to be all or partly covered under a service package report lower satisfaction (781 index points) than their counterparts who paid all (814) or some of the service charges themselves (832).

This indicates that service advisers may be giving preferential treatment to those customers paying more at the dealership, leading JD Power to warn that “service advisers should provide the same time and support to all customers” no matter how the service is paid for.

Pre-inspection of customer vehicles improved by eight per cent this year, with 62 per cent of customers reporting that the dealer performed an inspection when dropping off the vehicle.

This level of service reflects well on the dealership by identifying any problems and agreeing on work required with the customer up front, avoiding misunderstandings that could occur later on.

There was also a one per cent improvement in the number of service and repairs completed on the first time – to 95 per cent – while the number of cars washed and vacuumed after the service climbed to 60 per cent (+3%). The latter is almost double that of the mass-market average of 31 per cent.

The long-term benefits are obvious with findings such as nine out of 10 customers who are highly satisfied (with scores of 904 or higher) saying they are likely to stick with their dealer for ongoing work beyond the warranty period.

The overall 2015 Australian CSI study is based on surveys of 4971 vehicle owners.

The luxury study is based on evaluations from 453 vehicle owners who purchased their new vehicles between August 2010 and October 2015 and took their vehicle for service at an authorised centre between August 2014 and October this year.

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