If one was to teleport into the mind of a service manager's head, what would lurk in the corners?

Thoughts on keeping and attracting more top quality technicians. That would be one. Another would be ruminations on improving parts and labor revenues while keeping CSI in the top box.

In the 1990s, the buzz term extraordinaire was customer retention. Every time you turned around it would be customer retention this, customer retention that. Nowadays the buzz is customer satisfaction scores and surveys.

Let's explore here and in future columns the many ways of improving Customer Satisfaction Indexes (CSI) through the dealership and more specifically through the service department.

CSI surveys are compiled at two key times:

  1. After the new car delivery

  2. After service work has been performed (based on time, frequency of visits, and/or warranty work performed)

In order to fully understand CSI one must fully understand what it means to be “completely satisfied.” Mike Rolland at Stadium Nissan in Calgary defines customer satisfaction this way:

“Having customers so satisfied, they will be loyal to our business, keep returning to spend their money on our products, and spread, by word of mouth, what a good business our dealership is.”

Why is it so important for a dealership to score high on CSI?

Manufacturers are offering attractive financial incentives to dealerships that “buy into” high CSIs.

One should look no further than Ford's Blue Oval program. Although some dealers oppose Blue Oval — on grounds that Ford is acting like a control freak — it's one program that has bite to keep CSI high.

Some dealerships notice they are in better favor with the manufacturer when their CSI is high. This could mean better allotment of high demand vehicles.

First right-of-refusal to manufacturer demonstrator vehicles, bonuses, prizes, trips and cruises can be awarded to those dealerships which are consistently higher than other stores in CSI.

How are satisfaction indexes compiled?

Typically the manufacturer will contact customers directly after they've taken delivery of their new vehicles. The customer is contacted by one or all of these methods:

  1. Mail-in surveys
  2. Telephone interview surveys
  3. Dealership surveys

We have all heard “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” or “people with an axe to grind are the first to complain.” Cliches? Yes, but truisms, too.

Generally, satisfied customers don't take the time to fill out CSI surveys. But the unsatisfied ones will fill out the surveys quicker than a fat guy on a Danish.

This is why dealerships should make sure every customer knows the importance of a survey and is encouraged to fill them out. This way the results the manufacturer receives are not all from militant customers.

Service department satisfaction surveys vary

Every manufacturer has different ideas as to who, when and why customers are surveyed.

Volvo, for example, will send out a survey to a customer for every warranty visit. Another manufacturer will send them out after the one-year in service date, regardless of any warranty or service concerns on that vehicle. Some manufacturers will survey up until the basic warranty has expired. Others will cease sending out surveys after 15 months “in service.”

This is why dealership employees should fully know who's going to be surveyed and when. They can make these people fully aware of the importance of CSI and, how anything other than a “completely satisfied” or “top box score” is a failing grade from the manufacturer.

Speaking of that, what the hell is wrong with a “very good”? I don't know if it's just me, but I think a “very good” or a “very satisfied” is damn good.

But on some of these surveys, if a customer is unwilling to climb a mountain and praise to all below the virtues of a dealership, then the store's scores are often considered sub-standard.

The other important thing all employees should know is what questions weigh the most heavily with a CSI or Service Satisfaction Survey. They are:

  1. Service work properly completed (fixed first repair) or (fixed right on first visit)?

  2. Was the work performed on time as promised?

  3. Was the warranty/repair work or recall explained thoroughly, and understood?

  4. Would you recommend others to this dealership?

  5. Were you notified of changes (extra work, completion time)?

  6. Were you offered “alternate” transportation?

These seem to be the most common and most important questions asked by manufacturers across the board.

Notice the last question — “Were you offered alternate transportation?” Even if you know someone's wife is pulling up right behind him, should you ask, “Do you need a ride or can we shuttle you somewhere?”


Next time, we'll explore the most common CSI traps and ways dealerships can achieve high CSI.

Dave Skrobot is president of Dealer Strategies. He is a fixed operations trainer who focuses on finding and improving profit centers and improving CSI results. He's at 403-660-2760.