Dealership employees are more satisfied with their computer system providers than they were three years ago, but the vendors fall short of goals that the NADA's Information Technology Committee established.

The committee's new research shows that overall dealership satisfaction with dealership system providers (DSP) has improved from 66% satisfaction in 1998 to 71% in 2001.

“However, it falls short of the 90% satisfaction goal that NADA hopes all DSP vendors will achieve,” says Wes Lutz, chairman of the NADA IT Committee and owner of Extreme Dodge in Jackson, MI.

The research also showed that while overall dealership satisfaction increased, satisfaction among dealer principals and general managers dropped from 79% in 1998 to 63% in 2001.

“The answer depends on who you ask and who knows what it costs,” says Mr. Lutz. “Those are the people who focus on the cost versus functionality.”

Dan Knowles, chief marketing officer at Reynolds & Reynolds Co., says, “That largely speaks to the value perception. Also, there's so much technology available today and there's confusion that frustrates them.”

The automotive market research firm Friedman-Swift Assoc. in Cincinnati, OH did the study. It identified that three main factors influence satisfaction with DSP vendors. Those are:

  • System integration, especially the ability to customize software to meet a dealership's needs.

  • Customer service, including getting problems resolved on the first call.

  • Training, especially the effectiveness of technical training to help dealership staff use the system.

“We encourage vendors to pay close attention to these three areas,” says committee member Mark Rush, the survey's project manager. “Efforts made here will help DSPs better meet dealership needs in the future.”

Another issue revealed by the survey: dealers would prefer DSP contracts to be shorter than the five-year plan currently in place at 45% of the dealerships polled. Almost 30% of the respondents say they'd rather have one- to three-year contracts. Twenty-one percent favor three-to-five-year deals.

Another issue is training. About a third of the respondents say the DSP vendors offer effective training. More than half rated the training as “somewhat” effective.

Almost 90% of respondents prefer in-house training. Some 62% say CD-ROM tutorials are most convenient and cost-effective. More than 50% prefer web-based and off-site classroom training.

Dealership satisfaction varies by vendor, ranging from 86% satisfaction for Jarvis Computer Software to 58% for Dubuque Data Services, each of which serves only 1% of the respondents.

Reynolds & Reynolds checked in with 69% satisfaction. It serves 36% of the respondents, as does ADP, which scored a 65% satisfaction rating. EDS scored 63% and Universal Computer Services scored 62%.

Reynolds' mark improved 19% from the last survey. “We're very encouraged by it,” says Mr. Knowles.

Mr. Lutz explains that the larger providers took steps after the 1998 survey results were released to improve their scores. Still, they fall way short of the 90% goal.

“The factory expects us to get 90% satisfaction,” says Mr. Lutz in defense of the NADA's lofty goal for DSP providers. “I don't think I've ever had a dealer complain that a DSP was bad, it's just that they don't know what's there.”

Mr. Knowles says, “Ninety percent is a tough objective, but it's do-able. I understand NADA's rationale behind it.”

“One of the huge shortcomings is the communications with the dealers,” Mr. Lutz continues. “We don't have the skill sets in our stores to take advantage of everything in these products. We'd rather have a basic tool that gets 100% usage in the dealership than a complex tool that only 10% of our people can use.”

Mr. Lutz also explains that turnover in the dealership probably leads to much of the under-use of IT in dealerships.

“That's not really a DSP problem,” he says. “We're partly responsible for that.”