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Dealers need to better connect with customers: study

Ace: This year’s top-performing brand in JD Power’s CSI study, Mazda was the only brand among the majors to score top marks for service facility.

Latest Australia CSI study shows dealers need to adapt to car buyers’ changing needs

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Market Insight logo6 Dec 2013

By TERRY MARTIN

AUSTRALIAN new-car dealerships need to adapt to the changing needs and requirements of vehicle buyers, who are increasingly looking for better connected and family-friendly facilities, according to the latest JD Power Australia Customer Service Index (CSI) study released this week.

In delivering its report card on the aftersales service performance of individual brands, with Mazda rated the best in the Australian marketplace this year, JD Power delves into a wide variety of areas of a dealership’s service operations and the impact these have on car owners.

As previously reported, the overall satisfaction levels of Australian car owners with their vehicle servicing experience have declined eight points this year to a new low of 783 on JD Power’s 1000-point scale.

Break this down further, and the results show that satisfaction among vehicle owners in households with children has fallen by 13 points to 767, while satisfaction among city dwellers has dropped by 12 points to 772 year-over-year.

Notably, 35 per cent of customers taking their car for service have children in their households.

“Prominent this year is not only the overall drop in satisfaction among customers taking their vehicle in for a service, but also how drivers with children are recording some of the lowest scores in the study,” said JD Power Asia Pacific director of project management Gordon Shields.

“It is becoming increasingly important for dealers and service centres to be sensitive of vehicle owners’ time constraints.

“Delivering on promised service times, providing quicker service options, as well as better amenities and facilities, will ensure customers are able to be more productive during their service visit and, in turn, further enhance the customer experience.”

Unsurprisingly, satisfaction is higher when a broad range of facilities and amenities are available for those owners (19 per cent) who remain at the dealership when their car is being serviced.

However, the study found only 14 per cent of service centres offered Wi-Fi, and only five per cent had a children’s playground – a big contrast to other markets such as China, JD Power says, which found 36 per cent offering play facilities and 88 per cent with internet access.

For those who need alternative transport when dropping off their vehicle for servicing, there was plenty of reason for owners to feel dissatisfied, with only 50 per cent offered a free ride and 34 per cent offered a free loan vehicle 11 per cent were offered no alternative.

With pick-up times, 19 per cent of owners did not receive a commitment from the dealer regarding the time their vehicle will be ready, while 12 per cent of owners said the time the dealer committed to was missed.

Among individual brands, Subaru (88 per cent) and Toyota and Nissan (both 86 per cent) ranked highest for having the vehicle ready when originally promised, while Holden (74 per cent) and Hyundai and Kia (both 79 per cent) were at the bottom end of the table.

Communication with customers is clearly vital, with the JD Power study finding a high degree of satisfaction among the 86 per cent customers who were informed when their vehicle had been serviced and was ready to go.

Brands to score well in this area were Suzuki (89 per cent) and Toyota and Mazda (both 86 per cent), while Hyundai (79 per cent) and Kia and Honda (both 80 per cent) were behind the main field.

The study also found that 28 per cent of owners indicated their vehicle was both washed and vacuumed during the service, compared with 27 per cent last year and 15 per cent in 2011.

The effect of returning the vehicle in this state was significant in terms of customer satisfaction, compared to the much lower levels of post-service satisfaction among the 72 per cent who received no such niceties.

Honda (42 per cent), Mazda (40 per cent) and Subaru (33 per cent) performed best in this regard, while Holden (16 per cent), Suzuki (18 per cent) and Honda (19 per cent) were at the other end of the scale.

JD Power notes that “washing and vacuuming a car can often be the only real physical evidence a customer has on the work performed on their vehicle, so not just being an added service, it can accentuate the quality of work carried out on their vehicle”.

Post-service contact and pre-service notification was also measured, with only 28 per cent of customers both notified and contacted – a figure that JD Power says is relatively low compared to other markets.

Furthermore, almost a third (32 per cent) of customers in the study were neither notified ahead of time nor contacted afterwards at all.

Nissan and Mazda (both 38 per cent) performed best in this area, while Suzuki and Hyundai (both 21 per cent) were at the bottom of the field.

With servicing options outside the vehicle brand dealer network increasingly available, the customer’s experience at the dealership is fundamental to repeat business.

This year’s CSI study found that among owners who were highly satisfied with their service experience, 85 per cent said they “definitely would” return to the same dealership for post-warranty service.

In contrast, only 10 per cent of highly dissatisfied owners said they definitely would return to the same dealership.

The study also found that offering capped-price servicing appears to increase the likelihood of securing repeat business.

Just over half (52 per cent) of owners who received fixed-price servicing said they would revisit the dealer for post-warranty work, compared with 45 per cent among those who did not receive the same capped pricing.

This year’s CSI study was based on responses from 4421 owners who purchased their new vehicle between August 2008 and September 2013 and took their vehicle for servicing between August 2012 and September 2013. The study was fielded in August and September 2013.

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