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The best brands for sales satisfaction

Bright note: Holden buyers in the brand’s post-manufacturing era are reporting high levels of satisfaction with the purchasing process, which is a good sign as the company struggles on the sales scoreboard.

Mazda, Holden, BMW on top of 2018 JD Power SSI study but industry needs to lift game


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1 Feb 2019

THREE major automotive brands – Mazda, Holden and BMW – have made significant improvements in their customer service performance to lead the latest JD Power Australia Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI), but the industry in general needs to lift its game in order to meet the needs of today’s new-car buyers.
The 2018 SSI study released this week shows that Mazda and Holden placed equal first among the mass-market brands, the Japanese car-maker returning to the top in the third annual report after falling to seventh place in the 2017 survey, and GMH moving from third place to stand alongside Mazda as an industry benchmark.
This is welcome news for the struggling lion brand, which is battling to retain customers – and bring new owners into the fold – after closing its Australian manufacturing operations 15 months ago and suffering a 32.7 per cent sales downturn last year.
BMW, too, which has generally not fared well in JD Power’s customer service surveys – be they for satisfaction in the showroom or in its separate study of the service department – is now standing tall after JD Power also released the SSI results for the luxury market this week, placing the Bavarian brand above both Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
The influential SSI study provides an independent picture of how the major car companies and their retail networks in Australia are performing in the eyes of consumers, analysing purchasing experiences at new-car showrooms and calculating customer satisfaction using a 1000-point scale based on six key factors: salesperson, the deal, paperwork completion, delivery process, dealer facility and dealership website.
In the mass-market section, Mazda and Holden scored 822 points and scored highly across all six categories, while Toyota (815) was third and, a rung down, Nissan and Ford (804/802) placed fourth and fifth respectively.
There were no other high-volume mainstream brands at or above the industry average of 802 points, with Volkswagen next best on 801 and around the similar mark to Honda (795) as surprisingly low marks came in for four other major players: Kia and Subaru (both on 791), Mitsubishi (787) and, perhaps most notably, the 2017 SSI winner Hyundai (784).
BMW’s 861 points in the luxury brand survey placed it well ahead of Audi on 836, while Mercedes-Benz – the standout performer in the 2017 study – was further back on 814 and below the market average (835).
Land Rover and Lexus were included in the study but not ranked due to small or insufficient sample sizes, as were Isuzu Ute, Jeep and Suzuki among the mass-market brands.
Importantly, the 2018 SSI study shows that almost one in five new-vehicle buyers found that the sales consultant only partially understood their needs when buying a new vehicle.
A hefty 17 per cent of survey respondents also reported that they were not asked by the sales consultant about their preferences when buying a new vehicle, while the same proportion of first-time buyers experienced the same. 
JD Power director and country manager (Australia) Bruce Chellingworth warned against dealerships pushing for quick returns, particularly when the treatment of a prospective buyer is paramount to not only the sale at hand but long-term loyalty and advocacy of the brand.
“Given the slowdown in (industry) sales, it is essential that sales consultants spend the required time with each shopper to identify the best model and variant for their requirements,” Mr Chellingworth said.
“Simply ‘pushing metal’ won’t help the dealership gain positive referral, ensure customer loyalty or promote the brand. In an increasingly competitive market, it is imperative that dealers understand and build trust with their customers.”
The latest study found that sales consultants were still prone to pressuring customers to buy, with younger shoppers (aged 39 or younger) and first-time new-car buyers experiencing higher levels of pressure from the dealer to purchase a new vehicle – at 35 and 24 per cent respectively.
Furthermore, test drives are typically considered too short, with more than four in five customers choosing to take the car for a drive but 19 per cent reporting that they were given only 10 minutes or less on the road. Around 50 per cent also said they spent 20 minutes or less in the vehicle.  
Unsurprisingly, the 12 per cent of customers who received a decent amount of time in the car – with a test drive lasting at least half an hour – were much more satisfied than those allowed 10 minutes or less. 
The other key finding highlighted by JD Power in this year’s survey was that delivery of the new vehicle is often not celebrated with the customer, with only 56 per cent of respondents saying they recalled any special ceremony taking place during handover.
As the researchers indicated, “providing acknowledgement via a special ceremony not only enhances sales satisfaction scores compared with instances when no ceremony takes place (827 points vs 779 respectively) but also increases the proportion of customers who ‘definitely will’ recommend the selling dealership to friends and family (70% vs 54%)”.
The 2018 study was based on responses from 3075 buyers who purchased or leased their new vehicle between March 2017 through January 2019. It was fielded from March 2018 through January 2019.

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