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NADA says CSI system is flawed

The chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), Alan Starling, said the system that automakers have been using since the 1970s to measure customer satisfaction "is broken and needs to be fixed." He called on manufacturers to work with their dealers to improve Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) systems.

In an address to the Detroit Automotive Press Association, Starling said that a recent NADA-hosted dealer forum on CSI reached the following conclusions:

- CSI systems don't work as intended; - They have lost credibility with dealers; and - They undermine dealership operations.

The NADA chairman said consumers have "survey fatigue," and CSI surveys are contributing to it with "long and cumbersome" questionnaires that are often not returned or carefully filled out. "Who has the time or patience to fill out a wordy eight-page survey? Not many people," Starling said. "Of those who do fill them out, how many will consider each question thoughtfully? Even fewer. Who's going to be the most motivated to fill out the surveys? Probably the least satisfied customers."

"For these reasons alone, the results of CSI aren't a very good reflection of dealer performance," Starling added. "But poorly worded questions make bad surveys even worse." He noted that questions are often not specific or targeted enough. As an example, they typically make no distinction between satisfaction with the vehicle, which dealers can't control, and satisfaction with the dealership experience, which they directly control.

Starling cited a lack of attention to the surveys by manufacturers, who usually "farm them out," as one primary reason for their lack of effectiveness. "This hands-off approach is no way to gauge something as important as customer satisfaction," he said. "Not surprisingly, CSI has steadily lost credibility with dealers through the years."

Starling noted that CSI systems are treated by manufacturers as a key gauge for determining dealer evaluation and incentive programs, impacting the way dealers conduct their businesses. "Dealers end up spending too much time worrying about CSI scores and too little time focusing on what CSI is supposed to promote — customer service," he said.

The shortcomings of CSI "can be fixed," he added, and urged each manufacturer to "take a fresh look at its entire CSI process with an eye toward making changes that reflect the current marketplace." NADA has opened a dialogue with manufacturers in that effort.

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