It is hard to believe that before the 1980s, car dealerships and auto manufacturers had no reliable way of knowing how customers felt about their products and services.
As a business practice, customer feedback was practically non-existent. If a customer purchased more than one vehicle, or was a regular service customer, dealerships assumed that they were loyal, happy customers.
Prior to the 1980s, dealerships received letters and testimonials from customers (and still do), but such feedback was not very reliable, consistent or comprehensive.
This lack of accurate feedback changed in 1981, when J.D. Power and Associates released its first Automotive Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). This CSI study ushered in a new era that redefined relationships between customers and dealerships, dealerships and manufacturers and manufacturers and consumers.
The earliest J.D. Power study measured satisfaction among customers who had owned their cars for one year. The survey eventually expanded to include service initiation, in-dealership experience, service delivery, service adviser and user-friendly service.
With the first wave of automotive consumer surveys published in the 1980s, some dealerships and manufacturers were delighted; others were displeased. It depended on how their products and services ranked. This opened up opportunities for both the dealer and the manufacturer to take a hard look at what they do.
Throughout the late 1980s and ‘90s, customer service surveys became a mini industry. Dozens of companies sprang up, measuring products and services in multiple fields, including the automotive industry.
The growing popularity of CSI surveys for the automobile industry was partly responsible for the steady improvement in overall vehicle quality, safety and service that has driven the automotive sector for the past four decades.
It did not take dealerships and manufacturers long to realize that positive CSI scores coincided with greater customer retention and referrals and, as a result, improved business results.
Today, new car dealerships examine all aspects of their operations, with the hope of better understanding their customers, employees and competition.
When a customer brings a car in for service, she may receive a phone call or survey from the dealership and/or the manufacturer to find out if the customer experience was met or exceeded.
Customer input is required with new vehicle purchases, too. Manufacturers will send a customer a questionnaire soliciting her opinion on many aspects of the dealership experience, as well as the quality, performance and safety of the vehicle.
Dealers and manufacturers use the results of CSI surveys to make improvements to their dealerships, products and services. Feedback provides the dealer with areas of opportunity for improvement, and this is how we learn.
Customer satisfaction surveys are not completely accurate all the time. Many variables can affect the reliability of the information that is collected — inherent bias, personality, bad timing, exaggeration, and the occasional unwillingness to report a perfect score despite having an excellent dealership experience.
No single survey can yield absolute results, but it can provide dealers with a better understanding of how well they are performing within the context of a dealer network, and in relation to the competition.
Whether it is sales, leasing, service, collision or warranty repairs, new car dealers take customer satisfaction surveys seriously. They want to improve their ratings because, first, it reflects well on the dealership and the efforts of the employees and, secondly, it reflects on the brand as the customer feels taken care of from all levels.
From an industry perspective, it is important to respond to CSI surveys when you receive them. Dealerships value your thoughts and opinions, and they can make constructive changes to their operations, based on your responses.
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Susan Gubasta is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is president/CEO of Mississauga Toyota. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.
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