AM Online

Sales service improves but as for aftersales...

Eighteen months ago, AM carried out a survey in conjunction with Auto Trader assessing customers’ views of the standard of service at dealers.

The results revealed big problems in dealers’ aftersales operations, while the sales department (new and used) was highly rated. So did dealers act on these findings? We repeated the survey to find out – 380 people responded.

The sales department is even more highly regarded than before, with 69% of customers rating the service they received as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, compared to 65% in the last AM/Auto Trader survey.

Of the 13.5% (51 people) who said that service was ‘poor’, the biggest issue noted by almost 61% was dealers not making agreed repairs to the car before delivery – clearly something that relates to failures in the used car operation.

More than half of these dissatisfied customers claimed the car they bought was over-priced, something they’d discovered after making the purchase, while 43% said the car was not delivered on time and 41% said the dealer had not made basic checks – such as oil, water, tyre pressure – before delivery.

So what turns poor customer service into outstanding service? Delivering the vehicle on time at the right price and with a smile, according to two-thirds of people. A further 64% appreciated sales staff trying their hardest to give them the best deal on the car, while 40% praised staff who go “the extra mile” to get the vehicle that the customer wanted.

Contacting customers after delivering the car means good service for 39%, while a positive relationship was sealed for 13.3% on being presented with champagne, flowers or wine when collecting the car. A big tick to the sales departments then.

In the April 2005 AM/Auto Trader survey (published in the May 6 issue), it was the performance of the aftersales operation that let dealers down – 42% said the service was good or excellent; 33.7% said it was poor.

It has not improved; in fact, relationships have slipped slightly. Fewer people rate the service received as good/excellent (36.7%), while the percentage rating it poor has risen by one percentage point to 34.7%. The main change is the satisfactory rating with 28% of people just about content with the standard of service, compared to 24% in April.

So what are the main causes for this dip in customer service? Just over one in five (21.58%) cited failure to spot genuine faults, a common complaint during independent mystery shopping surveys.

The biggest problem, however, is lack of communication. Failure to return phone calls, higher than expected servicing costs and long waiting times for repair work were each highlighted by around 20% of customers.

All could be solved by clarifying with the customer what work is to be carried out, how much it will cost and how long it will take. Any problems that are subsequently unearthed should result in a phone call to the customer to keep them informed. Certainly, no additional work should be carried out without their authority.

The upshot is that almost 66% of people would prefer to service their car at a local independent garage. That’s up from just over 50% – a worrying trend for franchised dealers.

In addition to missing out on this servicing and repair business, dealers are also being hit with a double-whammy on car sales: they are failing to hold onto enough customers at repurchase time.

Primarily due to poor service by the aftersales operation, just 58% of buyers said they will buy their next car from the same dealer, while just over 61% are happy to recommend their dealer to friends and family.

In this business environment of slim margins and low profits, that’s just not good enough.

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