Join Date: Mar 2001
Top 10 Car Companies w/ the Best Dealerships - Luxury & Non-Luxury
Top 10 Car Companies w/ the Best Dealerships - Luxury & Non-Luxury
In a service bay at Rasmussen Mini, a Portland, Ore., dealership, technician Brandon Vlaew’s legs dangle sideways out of a 2005 Mini Cooper as he wrestles with its dashboard assembly. “This is something that the customer probably wouldn’t want to see,” he says, holding the dash top out at an awkward angle, wires hanging. In all, it’ll be about a two-hour job by the time everything’s back together — and free of charge to the customer — all for the sake of a dash rattle, Vlaew says. “But they’ll notice their rattle is gone.”
Actually, before even confirming that the rattle has been eradicated, the customer will probably notice that the car is sparkling clean outside and spot-detailed inside — part of the normal service experience at this Mini dealership.
“Even though that rattle is covered by the factory, we spend thousands of dollars a month covering things that aren’t covered by warranty” just to keep the customer happy, says Bob Wells, service manager at Rasmussen Mini.
When parent company BMW launched Mini in 2002, it shared facilities with existing BMW dealerships. But since then, Mini made a push for its own dedicated locations. Spokesman Andrew Cutler says that customer satisfaction really started hitting its stride after the brand’s dealership experience synchronized with the message that Mini was sending out in its advertising and its products.
“We really catered all aspects of the dealership experience to our target customers,” says Cutler. “And they’re a different kind of customer in that they’re very hands-on and technically tuned-in and want to know about their car.” He says that the brand now uses a single sales person through the entire sales process, and requires exclusive Mini service writers and service bays even when some of the facilities are still shared with BMW dealerships.
Some aspects of Mini’s dealership experience are luxury grade, despite the affordable price of the car. Stylish waiting rooms often have big-screen TVs with xBox gaming consoles, and loaners are now company-subsidized.
The new attention shows in J.D. Power & Associate’s annual satisfaction surveys. For 2006, Mini garnered J.D. Power Customer Service Index (CSI) scores that are the envy of many luxury brands, with a huge jump up to 10th place overall, even placing it ahead of BMW.
Our other dealership ranking includes only luxury brands, as opposed to this one, which includes all brands. Click here to read about the Top 10 Luxury Brands with the Best Dealerships.
Mini isn’t the only non-luxury brand to have honed in on the dealership experience as a key selling point. GM’s Saturn has long differentiated itself at the dealership, and for years Saturn has been ranked alongside top luxury brands for satisfaction with the dealership experience, thanks to the brand’s no-haggle pricing policy, personalized customer service and top-notch facilities.
Other non-luxury brands with top satisfaction scores include Buick, with a robust dealership network that has fewer models to handle than in the past and an older demographic that’s typically less critical; and Mercury, which largely shares its dealer network with Lincoln, a luxury nameplate.
Mini and Saturn stand out because they set up their dealerships to meet or exceed customer expectations, says Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision’s automotive division. Customer service at the dealership level hasn’t always been the priority that it is today, he says, and it’s much harder to enforce new standards on a dealership body that’s already established.
But even for the top ranked companies on this list, don't assume every dealership has consistently good service. While dealerships are the “face” of the brand to car shoppers and each manufacturer does have corporate standards that all of its dealers must uphold, the vast majority of car dealerships in the U.S. are independently owned and operated.
“The dealer’s main job is to move metal, not build brand equity,” Edwards says. And that creates an inherent conflict because “the manufacturer is trying to build a lifetime relationship, but the dealership might just be looking to make its next sales target,” he says.
J.D. Power’s Tom Gauer says that dealers as a whole are getting better at respecting customers' time, but that this is still a major point of contention that separates the best from the worst. Dealerships with the highest sales satisfaction have gone to a single-contact system all the way through the sales process, which helps keep the customer from feeling passed off or ignored. This tactic has long been used at luxury dealers, but non-luxury ones are increasingly adopting it. At the same time, service departments have grown more convenient from a customer perspective and punctual. “Quick lubes really caught on because the customer knows the time frame,” Gauer says.
Over the past 10 years, Saturn's consumer-friendly strategy has raised standards for non-luxury dealer service and spurred other brands to improve, Strategic Vision's Edwards says. That means fewer sleazy sales tactics, less bickering about the price, more respect for your time and a more straightforward showroom experience. Provided the dealership respects the customer’s knowledge, a greater sense of trust follows as well, Edwards says.
When looking at satisfaction with the dealer experience on a brand-by-brand basis, some brands do stand well above the others in J.D. Power’s annual studies — and as we’ve revealed, they’re not all luxury brands. The firm’s annual Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) looks at the ability of a brand’s dealerships to manage the sales process, from product presentation to negotiation, financing and delivery; the annual Customer Service Index (CSI) gauges the satisfaction of customers who have brought their car in to the service department during the first three years of ownership. The most recent surveys came out last November. The 2006 CSI is based on experiences with 2003-2005 model year vehicles, while the 2006 SSI is based on those who registered new vehicles in May 2006.
Other firms that look specifically at dealer-experience satisfaction include Strategic Vision, which polls buyers three to four months after their purchase as part of its annual New Vehicle Experience Study; and AutoPacific, which asks about it around the same period of ownership as part of its annual Owner Satisfaction Survey.
With approval from J.D. Power, we’ve ranked the top 10 car companies — luxury and non-luxury — with the best dealership experience by combining their SSI and CSI scores (which are both out of a possible 1,000 points, so the combined total is out of a possible 2,000 points). We start with number 10, Mini, and have included results from the other research firms to compare, contrast or draw insight.
Top 10 Car Companies with the Best Dealerships
Sales Satisfaction Index: 873 (13th)
Customer Service Index: 890 (10th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,763
Mini ranks as most improved for this year, jumping from a lackluster performance in J.D. Power's prior satisfaction surveys into the top 10. For 2005, Mini ranked around the middle of the pack in the SSI rankings and near the bottom in the CSI. Mini also rose up in AutoPacific's annual survey — to first place in Satisfaction with the Overall Dealer Experience. According to Mini spokesman Andrew Cutler, the improvements were brought through changes on the dealership level, including a new sales approach where the customer deals with the same person through the entire purchase process, and a service experience that's faster and more engaging.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 883 (8th)
Customer Service Index: 890 (11th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,773
Volvo fell slightly in post-sale customer service for 2006, according to J.D. Power, and this is confirmed with an 11th-place finish in Strategic Vision's overall measure of satisfaction with the dealer experience as well as a 10th-place ranking in AutoPacific's assessment. That said, the brand continues to be regarded highly for the sales experience, with a stable, well-established network of dealerships and service that has arguably become better under Ford's Premier Automotive Group umbrella, despite the pressures of rising sales and an expanding model line.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 889 (4th)
Customer Service Index: 887 (15th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,776
The racy German sports-car maker has long stood out for intimate post-sale service, and although the brand ranks 15th in J.D. Power's CSI, it ranks first in "experience with the service department," according to Strategic Vision. Despite rising sales and less exclusivity for the brand due to popular models like the Boxster and Cayenne, Porsche is still doing well to maintain satisfaction with the sales experience. "Porsche has made an effort to give a more uniform look to its dealerships and also offer more uniform customer treatment," says J.D. Power's Gauer. He adds that the brand continues to improve in the sales area faster than the industry as a whole.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 881 (9th)
Customer Service Index: 905 (6th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,786
How does this non-luxury brand that sells restyled versions of Ford vehicles do so well in satisfaction with the dealer experience? Just visit a dealership and the answer is obvious: Mercury often shares facilities, service bays and even salesmen with Lincoln. "That's one of the reasons to buy a Mercury over a Ford," says John Clinard, a Ford Motor Company spokesman, who agreed that, in effect, you're getting Lincoln service at a Ford price. Riding the coattails of a premium brand isn't so bad after all.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 887 (6th)
Customer Service Index: 904 (7th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,791
Saturn isn't a luxury brand, but it routinely ranks with them in terms of customer satisfaction at the dealership. "Dealerships are the foundation that the brand was built on," says Saturn spokesman Randy Fox. The GM brand ranks sixth and seventh, respectively, for sales and service in J.D. Power's findings. It's also the top-ranked non-luxury brand in the overall dealer experience, according to Strategic Vision. "No haggle pricing has kept Saturn at the top, and a lot of it is due to the customer treatment, as 'No Hassle, No Haggle' takes over the entire operation from sales through service," says J.D. Power's Tom Gauer. Customers can exchange their vehicle for any reason within 30 days or 1,500 miles, and the brand has also just added a new Test Drive at Home program.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 884 (7th)
Customer Service Index: 911 (2nd)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,795
This General Motors mainstay has an especially aged demographic, a very traditional approach to luxury in its cars and, in general, a conservative dealership feel. But its appeal is well honed, and it shows in the figures: Buick ranks a commendable seventh in the SSI, and the brand shines in post-sale service, with a second-place finish in the CSI, above all brands except Lexus. The satisfaction also shows in the number of repeat customers, as the brand has boasted enviable owner loyalty ratings.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 889 (3rd)
Customer Service Index: 906 (5th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,795
Ford Motor Company's American luxury brand has quite consistently placed high in customer satisfaction with the dealership experience over the past several years. Lincoln even held first place in J.D. Power's Customer Service Index for 2005, and while it fell slightly in that post-sale category for 2006, it did even better with regard to the sales process (SSI). After a brief period of trying in vein to be a European-flavored luxury make, Lincoln has over the past several years refocused on its core buyers in middle America, who seek a very traditional yet stylish kind of luxury vehicle
Sales Satisfaction Index: 887 (5th)
Customer Service Index: 912 (1st)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,799
Lexus has seen top ranks in both sales and service since it shook up the business of how luxury cars are sold and serviced when it launched in 1989. Lexus' dealership facilities — and the perks that come with them — are still widely known as the best in the business, while the brand's service department is known to go the extra mile for customers. But Lexus has its weaknesses. AutoPacific's Peterson says that the brand faces a real test with regard to dealership service over the next several years as it continues to expand its model lineup, especially with the upcoming "F" high-performance cars. "When you add a performance line and reach for younger, affluent buyers, they are typically more critical," says Peterson.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 891 (2nd)
Customer Service Index: 909 (3rd)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,800
Cadillac has a very strong showing in both the sales and after-sales aspects, with a second-place ranking in the SSI and a third-place ranking in the CSI. The other surveys also rank Caddy near the top: third in overall dealer experience by AutoPacific and sixth in overall dealership experience by Strategic Vision. "Cadillac has done a consistently good job over the years in the dealership experience area," says AutoPacific President George Peterson. The Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza says that Cadillac posts a consistently strong showing in the sales area because its sales force takes the time to assess customers and match them to the products that best meet their needs and tastes. "The sales force is just better trained than that of many other luxury brands," Pedraza says.
Sales Satisfaction Index: 912 (1st)
Customer Service Index: 908 (4th)
Total (CSI+SSI): 1,820
Jaguar may be just starting to reinvigorate a conservative, slow-selling model lineup and appeal to younger buyers, but as it stands the brand's dealer experience is tops. Jaguar placed first overall in J.D. Power's combined surveys, with a strong first-place ranking of 912 on the SSI, 21 points above its closest competitor, Cadillac, as well as a closely ranked fourth place on the CSI. "Jaguar has traditionally scored very strong in the dealership facility itself, including the sales process and delivery," says J.D. Power's Gauer. These ratings are backed up by Strategic Vision results, in which rank Jaguar second overall with an especially strong score in the sales process.