J.D. Power: Dealership Service Improving Rapidly, Buoying Brands

March 13, 2013
2012 Lexus IS 250 - Driven, November 2011

2012 Lexus IS 250 - Driven, November 2011

New-car dealerships are doing much better—even compared to last year—in satisfying customers who return to the shop for service.

That's one of the findings from J.D. Power's latest Consumer Service Index (CSI) Study, released today. The latest 2013 CSI finds that thanks to automaker and dealer investments, dealerships are pleasing customers with improved facilities and processes.

Lexus has been a longtime top performer among luxury brands—especially with respect to its experience at the dealership—and it continues that for 2013. For the fifth consecutive year it's the highest-rated brand in the CSI, with service initiation, service facility, and service quality all strong points.

Cadillac, Jaguar, Acura, and Infiniti round out the top five brands for dealership service.

Customers are also making more visits back to the dealership for maintenance than they used to, with owners coming back to the service department an average of 2.6 times per year. Maintenance is more often a reason for visiting, rather than repairs, which with the improved dependability of newer vehicles also helps buoy positive experiences—mainly because those maintenance visits can be scheduled at a time that's convenient.

Owners may pay more for dealership service, but they're more satisfied

Cost was also an issue, though. Even excluding complementary service and warranty repairs, customers paid less this year than last year—although the current dealership average of $118 per visit is well above the average total for a visit to an independent shop of $44.

Power also found, though, that overall satisfaction with dealership service is higher than with independent mechanics.

Power determines CSI rankings based on customer experiences from the first three years of vehicle ownership—with vehicle service assessed by looking at five categories: service quality, service initiation, service advisor, service facility, and vehicle pick-up.

2014 GMC Sierra 1500

2014 GMC Sierra 1500

Mass-market brands, once again, score considerably lower—below even the lowest-ranked luxury brand (Land Rover). GMC topped the list of mainstream brands for those satisfied with the dealership experience, while Buick, Chevrolet and Volkswagen followed. Dodge, Ram, and Jeep were the last-place finishers.

On the luxury side, Mercedes-Benz scored surprisingly low—below Lincoln, and above only Volvo and Land Rover.

However, J.D. Power points out that five of the 19 mass-market brands as well as three of the 11 luxury brands have posted major improvements in satisfaction (more than 20 points on the survey's scale) versus last year.

The payoff: greater loyalty

Automaker investments in dealerships are paying off. J.D. Power finds that service satisfaction in particular leads to loyalty, with 96 percent of those who are 'delighted' saying that they'll return to the service department. It also contributes to their loyalty to the brand.

The study is based on responses taken from October to December 2012, from more than 91,000 people who own or lease a 2008 to 2012 vehicle.

"The service experience has a profound impact on vehicle owners, not just where they take their vehicle the next time they need maintenance or repairs, but also on their next vehicle purchase," said Chris Sutton, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates. "Dealers know this, and most are taking the appropriate steps to ensure their customers have the best experience possible on both the sales and service sides of the store."

Power offers three tips for those getting their vehicles serviced at the dealership:

  • When possible, schedule your dealer service appointment in advance.
  • If your vehicle has to remain at the dealership for maintenance or repairs, ask the service advisor for a loaner vehicle.
  • Following maintenance or repair work on your vehicle, ask for a vehicle inspection report, and review it with your service advisor.
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