In terms of vehicle brands in the US, Lincoln continues to break records for customer satisfaction, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which reports that Lincoln dealer service is forging strong customer relationships and helping to reduce post-warranty defections.
With a customer satisfaction index (CSI) score of 915 (on a 1,000-point scale), Lincoln ranked highest in customer satisfaction thanks to exemplary dealer service, receiving a record-setting score for the second year running, according to the J.D. Power and Associates '2005 Customer Service Index Study'.
The study, now in its 25th year, measures customer satisfaction of vehicle owners who visited the dealer service department for maintenance or repair work during the first three years of ownership (which typically represents the majority of the vehicle warranty period). The study judges customer satisfaction by six measures: service initiation, service advisor, in-dealership experience, service delivery, service quality, and user-friendly service.
Lincoln out-performed other brands in the areas of service initiation and user-friendly service, with its customers being particularly pleased with the dealership's ability to get them in for an appointment within a reasonable amount of time, and with the fairness of fees. Lincoln was followed in the rankings by Cadillac, Saturn, and Lexus, in that order.
Recalls most satisfying
Industry-wide, the study also found that 51% of repair work involved a recall (up from 39% in 2004), partly reflecting a recent change in government regulations on the mandatory reporting of vehicle safety defects. Interestingly, J.D. Power and Associates reports that CSI scores are, on average, considerably higher for repairs that involve recalls, particularly in the area of service quality.
The suggested reason is that, unlike the less predictable day-to-day repair work, dealers can better plan for and communicate the work to customers. And, as a particular recall's task becomes familiar (due to the repetition with each successive customer's vehicle), the technicians become more efficient and consistent in fixing the problem.
According to Steve Witten, executive director of automotive retail research for J.D. Power and Associates, "When a vehicle is fixed quickly and correctly in one visit, customers tend to walk away with higher satisfaction. This typically occurs with recall work since the dealers are prepared to work on the specific problem. Manufacturers may consider applying lessons learned from recall campaigns to regular repair service."
Loyalty rises too
The study also found that brands receiving high ratings from customers for service satisfaction also benefit in terms of loyalty, both in the likelihood of customers returning to the dealer for in-warranty and post-warranty work, and in intentions to repurchase from the servicing dealer.
This aspect is, of course, of most importance when the vehicle's warranty period ends. Creating strong relationships with customers during the first few years of ownership significantly influences customer retention during the post-warranty period, according to the J.D. Power and Associates '2005 Service Usage and Retention Study' (SURS), which measures the same elements as the CSI study but after four to five years of ownership (when most warranties have expired).
Ages of relationship
"After one year of ownership, nearly one-third of customers turn to non-dealer facilities to service their vehicle," said Witten. "And this percentage increases to more than one-half by the time the vehicle is five years old. What we find in SURS is that many independent service providers maintain a competitive advantage over dealers primarily through the strong relationship and trust they have developed with their customers. While most independents have the advantage of being small operations that offer more personal service, manufacturers and dealers can develop programmes that foster personal relationships between service advisors and customers."
According to SURS, independent service providers typically outperform dealers in the key drivers of service satisfaction, including getting customers their appointment on the desired day; waiting on customers immediately; telling customers when their vehicle will be ready and consistently delivering on that promise; fixing the vehicle right the first time; and explaining the work performed and associated charges. Brands that performed well in service satisfaction among owners of four to five year-old vehicles included the luxury brands Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti and Lexus.