A two-year drubbing in a customer satisfaction poll has contributed to a concerted effort by Seat to improve satisfaction levels and capitalise on record sales growth and the halo effect of the newest Leon.
The Auto Express Driver Power Survey this month saw Seat come bottom. Its dealers were voted the mistrusted out of 32 brands by 50,000 readers and visitors to autoexpress.co.uk. It is the second year running that Seat has come last.
One respondent said of their experience: “The servicing department is rude and slow to fix problems, causing return visits.” And another said their dealer was “rude and incompetent, unwilling to help”.
Seat insists it has been aware of the need to redress public perception for some time and is taking steps to improve it.
“We’ve let our dealers down,” said Matt Benns, head of customer quality and network development.
“Survey results such as this do not lead us to point the finger at retailers because they’re at fault.
“We haven’t engaged with them enough. Seat is going to do everything it can over the next few years to improve our standing in a dialogue with dealers. We’ve been remiss in this respect and the market success we’re enjoying has not been accompanied with the right amount of dialogue with dealers.”
Sales figures for the brand – almost in spite of the apparent customer service levels – have been improving since 2008.
Total sales for 2013 were a record 45,312 and this year Seat has a market share 2.16% - it’s best ever. The Leon was a winner in the 2014 Auto Express New Car Awards.
It has 121 dealers and counts among its retailers AM100 groups such as Arnold Clark Automobiles, Listers Group, Vertu Motors, Stoneacre, JCT600 and Marshall Motor Group.
To change public perception, Seat has organised three retailer investor meetings around the UK in Harrogate, Stratford upon Avon and Stockcross in the first week of September. These were organised ahead of the Driver Power results.
The Seat management team expects to come away from each forum with “strong feedback” on what the brand and its retailers need to do to improve customer experience, and ensure customers understand what the brand “stands for”.
While the anecdotal feedback available from the Driver Power survey pointed to poor face-to-face communication between dealers and customers, Benns said a considerable amount of emphasis should be put on the physical presentation of the brand in showrooms.
“Soon, we’ll begin rolling out a new look and feel for our sites across the country. Over the next couple of years, the programme will ensure all of our sites benefit from Seat’s latest brand identity, making them more inviting and welcoming places to be, in keeping with our design-driven, modern values.”
Questioned why showroom signage and furniture would make a difference to customer satisfaction, Benns said: “It demonstrates the brand values, the importance of presentation and of a premium retail experience. Lack of cleanliness was also highlighted as an issue which points to the same thing.”
These elements in turn impact on staff satisfaction: “If employees work in the right environment, that’s pleasant to be in and gives them pride in what they are doing, the positivity will be shared with customers.”
Benns also defends Seat’s position, citing customer satisfaction measures it has in place already. Visitors to seat.co.uk can give each of its retailers a star rating on sales and aftersales, on whether they would recommend it to friend. The all-network average score is “between 3.5 and four stars out of five”.
In the latest National Franchised Dealer Association Dealer Attitude Survey, dealers scored Seat 5.5 out of 10 on how likely they were to recommend it as a business partner.