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Industry lifts its game for customer service

Private eye: Mazda’s appeal to private buyers is a cornerstone of its business in Australia, and owners’ satisfaction with the brand for aftersales service remains a benchmark in the industry.

Mazda still on top in latest JD Power CSI study but Hyundai, Kia and others on rise

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General News logo28 Nov 2017

MAZDA has reaffirmed its status as the automotive brand to beat in terms of aftersales service, but a host of other brands that have struggled in recent years are now knocking on its workshop doors as the industry lifts its game.

The results of the influential JD Power 2017 Australia Customer Service Index (CSI) study released this week show that Mazda has held its ground at the top of the table of mass-market brands – its 835 points on JD Power’s 1000-point scale marking a solitary one-point increase over last year – while Hyundai (831) has taken a 24-point leap to move from a below-average fifth position and now stand just four points behind the leading Japanese brand.

Fellow Korean brand Kia (829) has climbed 17 points to move up to third position – a result that comes amid a sales boom and an impressive showing in other independent customer service studies this year – and, just as strikingly, Mitsubishi (825) has made the biggest improvement across the leading brands, rising 25 points to move from a sub-par ninth last year to fourth spot in the latest survey.

Ford and Holden (both on 823) are the other prime movers, their customer service efforts that have ramped up as they have closed their Australian manufacturing operations clearly paying dividends with respective improvements of 22 and 20 points on JD Power’s scale.

This places both of them above the industry average (822) and at the same level in the study as the industry sales market leader Toyota.

While Toyota is the dominant force for new-vehicle sales in Australia, its CSI ranking has slipped from second to equal sixth with GMH and Ford in the space of a year. Its 823 points is down a point compared to 2016 and is the only negative result in the study, with most brands experiencing double-digit improvements in what is considered a significant barometer of how well they are treating their customers at the service department.

The consistently high-performing Subaru (824) was the only other brand above the ever-strengthening industry average, its modest eight-point increase pegging it back a couple of notches to fifth as other brands have leapt ahead in aftersales service, which has become a heavily scrutinised part of the industry as sales remain at record levels and customers are in ever-closer contact with dealers for vehicle servicing, repair, recalls and other issues.

Good customer service breeds brand loyalty and advocacy, while poor experiences at a dealership can have far-reaching consequences that extend well beyond an individual retailer.

Just five brands sit below the industry average in the latest CSI study – Honda (817, +11pt), Nissan (809, +17pt), Volkswagen (798, +9pt), Suzuki (797, +19pt) and Jeep (781, +17pt) – and although each has recorded an improvement over last year, none of the car companies concerned or their dealers will take comfort in standing as a lower-rung brand in the eyes of their customers.

The study measures new-vehicle buyer satisfaction with the vehicle service process by examining dealer performance across five areas (in order of weighting): service quality, vehicle pick-up, service adviser, service initiation and service facility.

This year’s study is based on responses from 4646 owners who purchased their new vehicle between August 2012 and September 2017, and took their vehicle in for servicing at an authorised dealership between August 2016 and September this year.

The study was fielded from August through to late September. Peugeot and Renault were included, but not ranked due to small or insufficient sample sizes.

Mazda’s top ranking marks the fifth time it has led the industry in the eight years that JD Power has conducted the CSI study in Australia, but Australia’s number-two brand for outright industry sales – which has built its business on a strong appeal to private buyers and small businesses – clearly cannot rest on its laurels as other car companies follow its lead.

The obvious ones to watch are Hyundai, which is the third-best-selling brand in Australia, and Kia, which is the fastest-growing top-10 brand this year with sales up 29.7 per cent to the end of October.

As well as improving in their CSI rankings, Hyundai and Kia finished first and second respectively in JD Power’s 2017 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) study released in September, which takes the analysis to the front end of the dealership – the showroom – and the vehicle purchasing process.

Significantly, Mazda managed only seventh, which was below the industry average and a fall from first position in last year’s inaugural SSI study.

Honda, which only two years ago was at the top of the field in the CSI study, has started the climb back after a shock downturn last year, but looks to have plenty of work ahead of it, while Volkswagen is still struggling to extract itself from the bottom end of the table after prioritising customer service in recent years.

JD Power says that service quality in particular is driving improvements in the customer experience, with this category up 48 points this year across the industry.

However, the level of communication with customers post-service has become a key point of difference between dealerships and brands, with only 48 per cent of respondents – those who said their vehicle was returned fixed right the first time – reporting that the dealership contacted them after service.

Of those whose vehicle was not fixed right the first time, 73 per cent per cent said the dealer failed to follow up with them.

This communication has a major impact on customer satisfaction, which increases markedly (+30pt above the industry average) when dealer representatives contact them to ensure that all work was carried out according to their expectations.

“With more than 50 automotive brands to choose from, customer loyalty has become even more crucial in this increasingly competitive industry,” said JD Power senior country manager (Australia) Loi Truong.

“It is vital to contact every customer after their visit to the service centre, regardless of the nature of their visit, and let them know that their feedback is valued.

“With most brands offering consistent and high levels of service quality, building on the relationship with each customer is becoming an even more crucial component of the vehicle ownership journey.”

Keeping customers informed of the status of their vehicle when in service also sees satisfaction levels push up a significant 30 points above the average.

Other major take-outs from this year’s study show that predictability of service costs has increased, with 70 per cent of customers paying what they expected – a clear reflection of the widespread move to capped-price servicing – and that satisfaction with online appointments is increasing.

On the latter, most customers still call their service dealer to schedule their service (79%), however customers who use the internet to schedule a service (11%) are found to be more satisfied overall than those who call their service dealer (826 vs 821pt respectively).

JD Power says that offering customers a loan car or another means of transport while their vehicle is being serviced is also increasingly important, with 31 per cent requiring this service, however satisfaction among this cohort is below average – a figure that points to the unavailability or inadequacy of such arrangements at a significant number of dealerships.

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