August 4, 2004

Majority of customers not coached on dealer service satisfaction surveys

Westlake Village, California – The vast majority of dealer service customers who respond to customer satisfaction surveys are not coached by dealers on how to rate their experiences, and the small percentage who are tend to give their dealer significantly lower satisfaction scores, according to the recently released J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Customer Service Satisfaction Study.

The study, which surveyed more than 97,000 new-vehicle buyers on their satisfaction with the dealer service department during the first three years of ownership, asked whether anyone at the dealership attempted to influence the way they filled out a customer satisfaction survey. In only 6 percent of the cases did the customer indicate that they were “coached” in this way.

“Industry critics often speculate that it is a common practice among dealers to coach customers on satisfaction tracking surveys because they are under pressure to score well by the manufacturers,” said Joe Ivers, executive director of quality/customer satisfaction at J.D. Power and Associates. “In reality, only a very small percentage of dealers try to influence how their customers rate their service, and interestingly, when it does happen, it tends to result in significantly lower customer satisfaction ratings.”

Although the majority (60 percent) of those who said the dealer attempted to influence their survey responses stated it had no impact on their satisfaction, their actual overall satisfaction scores were substantially lower than those who said they were not coached. The average overall index score rating from respondents who said the dealer attempted to influence them is 795 index points out of a maximum 1,000 – 72 points lower than those who said they were not coached. Further, 20 percent of respondents claimed that coaching actually lowered their satisfaction levels, and their scores plummet to 660-207 points below the average score.

“This can have a devastating impact on CSI,” said Ivers. “A 72-point penalty is enough to drop a top-scoring franchise in CSI down to near the bottom of the rankings.”

The study also finds the percentage of respondents who claim the dealership personnel attempted to influence their response to satisfaction surveys doubles to 12 percent when service is not up to par, when the work was not completed right the first time, or when the vehicle was not ready when promised.

“Clearly some dealer personnel are attempting to mitigate a problem they know they have. But the attempt is usually transparent, and comes off as disingenuous,” said Ivers. “Auto companies and dealers recognize the obvious benefits of satisfying customers. Satisfied customers often bring repeat business and tell their acquaintances about the experience. While a few dealer personnel find creative ways to garner positive feedback, even when it’s undeserved, the reality is customer satisfaction is driven by truly satisfying customers, not trying to influence their satisfaction surveys.”

New-vehicle buyers will be pulsed again on the coaching issue in the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 Sales Satisfaction Study, which will be published this fall.

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