Chrysler dealership
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Customers without appointments have a better dealership service experience than those who plan ahead, according to a new survey.
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updated 7/27/2007 11:54:25 AM ET 2007-07-27T15:54:25

Customers who simply drop into a dealer for servicing a vehicle are generally more satisfied with their experience than those who make an appointment ahead of time, according to J.D. Power and Associates’ 2007 Customer Service Index (CSI). The annual study also found that owners are reporting fewer repairs, which means car quality on the whole is improving.

J.D. Power’s CSI gauges the satisfaction of customers who have brought their car into service departments during the first three years of ownership. Overall satisfaction is based on six factors: service initiation, service adviser, in-dealership experience, service delivery, service quality and user-friendly service.

Of the more than 84,000 respondents to the survey, over three-quarters report making an appointment with their dealership for repair or maintenance on their vehicle. But they’re not the ones who seem to be the happiest. Owners who drop in for vehicle service had satisfaction scores averaging 882 out of a possible 1,000 points, while those with scheduled appointments averaged 874 points.

“It may be a case where somebody who just dropped in — and for some of those people it may be an emergency situation where suddenly their car broke down — the dealer was able to take care of them and they are overjoyed,” said Tom Gauer, senior director of automotive retail research at J.D. Power.

But there’s a flip side to this. If the owners who come in off the street are getting the same treatment as those who made appointments in advance, the customers with appointments are going to report a less satisfying experience, hence skewing the numbers even further.

“When you go into the service drive of many dealers in the morning, which is when they’re busiest, often there’s no difference in the way people are handled in terms of whether they made an appointment or not,” Gauer said. “And so those that made an appointment that are stuck waiting in a line for 10 or 15 minutes to drop their car off wonder, ‘What was the point of making an appointment?’ It’s a frustration for those who do make an appointment that causes a little bit lower satisfaction on their part,” he said.

Some dealers do show higher levels of service to customers with appointments. Gauer cites a personal anecdote of a dealer he used to go to that would put an orange cone on the roof of cars whose owners made appointments and a white cone on top of cars whose owners didn’t make appointments. The cars with orange cones had three or four service advisers working on them, while those with white cones got only one adviser. “It’s something that varies at individual dealers,” Gauer said.

More customers visit dealerships for maintenance than repairs, which J.D. Power interprets as a sign of the automotive industry’s continuing improvements in product quality. The percentage of maintenance visits increased by four points to 62 percent from last year; 38 percent of visits were for repairs, according to J.D. Power data.

“Overall in the industry, the quality of vehicles continues to get better and better,” said Gauer. “The incidence of product problems continues to drop, and the incidence of people bringing vehicles in for just maintenance is on the increase.”

J.D. Power’s CSI also ranks specific brands by customer service satisfaction, and Jaguar came in at No. 1, with 925 points out of a possible 1,000. In 2006, Jaguar was 4th on the list, with a score of 908. It also topped J.D. Power’s 2006 Sales Satisfaction Index rankings, which looks at the ability of a brand’s dealerships to manage the sales process, from product presentation to negotiation, financing and delivery.

“Jaguar has typically been a fairly strong performer,” Gauer said. “I think in 2003 they were ranked 11th in CSI in the industry. They moved up to 8th in 2004, up to 6th in 2005. So it’s not a matter of a sudden remarkable performance. They have the tendency of doing a very good job of being focused on the customer and taking care of the customer’s individual needs.”

It’s a good thing, because Jaguars need more repairs than the average luxury vehicle. J.D. Power reports Jaguar’s incidence of repair to be at 48 percent, versus the luxury-vehicle average of 41 percent. Basically what this means is that of the survey respondents, 48 percent of Jaguar owners reported needing a repair in their most recent visit, versus 41 percent in the overall luxury segment. But with regard to service, “they end up scoring a full 37 points higher than the premium average on the overall repair index,” Gauer said.

The J.D. Power and Associates CSI Study is based on responses gathered between January and April 2007 from 84,495 owners and lessees of 2004 to 2006 model year vehicles.

© 2007 ForbesAutos.com

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