The latest Synovate survey has found that South African motorists’ satisfaction with the sales process is at an all-time high of 90,1 per cent. Vehicle servicing satisfaction is at 80,4 per cent.

The latest Synovate survey has found that South African motorists’ satisfaction with the sales process is at an all-time high of 90,1 per cent. Vehicle servicing satisfaction is at 80,4 per cent.


Each year, Synovate, formerly known as Proactive Insight, conducts an Sales and Service customer satisfaction survey. According to the company, motorist’s satisfaction with the sales process has increased by 8.4 percentage points over the past seven years.


"Over the past number of years, the motor industry has given customer satisfaction centre stage," said Synovate managing director Albert McLean. "Service delivery has increased over the years, but so have customer expectations. Customers are no longer willing to compromise on the basic issues, so these have to be monitored on a continuous basis."


Proof in point is that 46,3 per cent of dealers score above 90 per cent when it comes to customer satisfaction during the sales process and 46,8 per cent of dealers perform between 81 and 90 per cent.


In terms of the vehicle service process, the majority (55,3 per cent) of the service dealers scored in the 71 to 80 per cent bracket. From a brand perspective, 29 per cent of the manufacturers recorded a service score of over 80 per cent - a 21 per cent increase from 2001.


"Customer satisfaction is the platform for ensuring loyalty and is therefore a primary requirement for referrals, customer retention and advocacy. Other factors such as brand and product certainly do play a role, but everything can be destroyed by a bad experience," said McLean. "These results give the manufacturers and their dealer networks a clear indication of their service delivery relative to customer expectations."


The demographic profile of new vehicle buyers has also changed considerably over the past three years. Black car buyers have increased from 7,4 per cent in 2001 to 11,3 per cent, while white car buyers decreased from 77,8 to 71,8 per cent in 2003. The remainder consists of 12,8 per cent Indian and 4,1 per cent Coloured car buyers.


It was also revealed that 86,9 per cent of vehicle buyers own a cell phone and 47,7 per cent have access to the Internet. Religion is very important for 5,3 per cent of vehicle owners, while 30,9 per cent of the respondents saw themselves as progressive thinking, compared with 9,3 per cent who see themselves as being more conservative.


‘Real service delivery issues more important’


Last year, Synovate researched customer expectations, conducting interviews with 4 600 vehicle owners of all brands.


When it comes to sales, expectations have increased for all aspects relating to the sales experience, with the exception of the appearance of the facility. "Real service delivery issues are therefore more important than what the facility looks like," said McLean.


"Customers' highest expectations are placed on the handover of a new vehicle, where customers will not compromise on any aspect. Availability is also key - instant gratification is becoming the norm. If the vehicle is not available immediately, customers expect salespeople to continually inform them about the progress of their order."


According to McLean, salespeople are still the primary influencers of customer satisfaction. People tend to see the buying of a car not just a process - it is about developing a relationship of confidence, trust and assurance. "Salespeople therefore cannot simply apply a standard formula, customers are demanding a personalised treatment that meets their individual needs."


Customers expect sales people to know everything about their products. They have particular needs and a salesperson's role is to sell the advantages of the vehicle according to what the customer wants to hear. The salesperson therefore plays a crucial role in co-ordinating all of the activities that influence customer satisfaction, the report said.


‘Pricing = Value for money’


"Pricing is increasing in importance, but it is more a value for money perception than anything else," said McLean. "The cost of the vehicle itself has an influence on value for money perceptions, but the manner in which the salesperson handles the customer has a far greater impact."


Although customers have some of the lowest expectations on the Financing and Insurance of their vehicles these expectations have jumped, the study found. The financing process must therefore be recognised as a key part of the transaction, as customers are expecting exceptional performance all round.


"The demand for contact from the dealership after the sale has been concluded has increased dramatically in importance. This contact demonstrates an extension of the relationship and is also a perfect opportunity for the salesperson to rectify any problems or to address any complaints," said McLean.


Servicing- no room for compromise


"Good service is no longer good enough, as customers demand excellence," said McLean. "Automotive customers are becoming very well educated in terms of what to expect, so all aspects of the service are important to the customer."


As was the case with the sales experience, customers value the handover of the vehicle after the service as critical. The work on their vehicle must be completed right the first time. If not, customers will rate all other aspects lower by approximately 20 per cent.


"It is obvious that dealers must make the time to hand over the vehicle with a full explanation of all the standard work that was done, the additional work completed and what aspects may require attention in the future," said McLean. "Following the service, customers are expecting contact from the dealership. This expectation has grown from 88,3 per cent in 1996 to 94,2 per cent in 2003."


Quality of service staff is what the entire experience revolves. At the outset of the transaction, the telephone and reception staff create the first impression of the dealership, so answering the phone correctly, politely and treating customers with enthusiasm, all contribute to the overall experience. If the customer has a problem with the vehicle after the service, he or she expects the dealership to sort it out quickly, efficiently and with a positive attitude.


Pricing and invoicing is also key to the overall experience. As with sales, perceptions of value for money are closely tied to the general experience. A bad experience will give the customer a very poor perception of value, so explaining the invoice and the work that was done, are critical to a good experience, the report said.


During the servicing process, dealers need to focus as much on the customer as they do on the vehicle itself. Getting the technical side of the service right is as important as getting the relationship aspects right.


"Dealers also need to ensure that the vehicle is ready at the promised time. If there is to be any delay whatsoever, they need to communicate this to the customer. The dealer can get everything else right and then destroy customer perceptions if the vehicle is not ready on time," McLean concluded.