Car brands struggle with customer service when it comes to recalls

Dealerships could do plenty to improve customer service, according to a new J.D. Power report.
Dealerships could do plenty to improve customer service, according to a new J.D. Power report.
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Fifty-one million cars were recalled in 2015, yet a frightening percentage of drivers simply ignored those warnings.

Now we may have a hint why: Dealerships struggle to provide quality customer service when it comes to recalls, according to the most recent J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Customer Service Index.

The report found customers who visit a franchise dealer for maintenance work because of a recall felt they did not receive the same level of attention as other customers who came to the dealership for non-recall issues and repairs.

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About 72,000 owners and lessees of 2011 to 2015 model year vehicles were surveyed between October and December 2015 for the study.

Recall dissatisfaction

J.D. Power’s survey found customer satisfaction with recall service dropped slightly from a score of 789 out of 1,000 in 2015 to 781 in 2016. Meanwhile, customer satisfaction with non-recall related services was much higher with a score of 809.

Customers who brought their vehicle in for recall work found it was less likely to be returned clean and with the same settings as when it was checked in. Customers were also less likely to be contacted by the dealer once the necessary service was completed.

With so many customers affected by recalls, the report urges repair facilities to take the drop in customer satisfaction seriously.

“While it may be tempting for dealers to focus more on repair or maintenance work, recall customers represent both an opportunity and a risk to the brand and dealer,” said Chris Sutton, vice president of U.S. automotive retail practice at J.D. Power, in a statement.

Sutton said providing customers with a strong pattern of “consistency” can go a long way in boosting an automaker’s reputation.

“A lack of consistency, particularly for recall work, can damage customers’ perceptions of the brand and negatively impact their likelihood to recommend and repurchase the brand,” said Sutton.

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Here are J.D. Power’s most dependable vehicle brands

Best brands

Audi received the highest dealer service grade for luxury brands with a score of 874. Other luxury vehicle brands with high customer satisfaction scores included Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Lincoln.

Meanwhile, MINI had the highest satisfaction of dealer service for mass market vehicles with a score of 858. Following MINI are Buick, GMC, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Nissan.

J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction report made several recommendations for how to improve dealer service:

Don’t keep the customer waiting. Customer satisfaction averages 835 when the wait time for a maintenance issue is less than one hour and 40 minutes. When the wait is longer, satisfaction averages about 756.

The survey found 17 percent of customers will wait under an hour or not at all for their vehicle to be serviced. To help address the concerns of these customers, J.D. Power recommends offering a loaner vehicle, shuttle service, or some kind of amenities in the waiting area.

Communicate more effectively with the customer. The report found only 2 percent of customers receive updates on their repairs via text messages or email. But the 37 percent of Gen X customers, 38 percent of Gen Y customers ad 22 percent of Boomers prefer getting updates through text or email.

The report says using a customer’s preferred method of communications offers a “tremendous opportunity” to increase satisfaction.

Fix it the first time. While the overwhelming majority (94 percent) of customers who bring their vehicle in for a service repair said the issue was fixed right the first time. But for the 6 percent who said service work was not completed correctly the first time, satisfaction drops to a score of 611, a difference of 207 points.