Decisions on which car to buy next are increasingly being made based on after-sales experiences at dealerships. Image Credit: Corbis

Dubai: For car dealerships in the UAE, the message is clear – get the after-sales services in top order. Any slipups and chances are they might lose a potential purchase later on. At a time when new car sales are down in double-digit terms, dealerships just cannot afford that.

This year’s J.D. Power Customer Service Index proves this is the case - the study finds that 67 per cent of mass market customers who were satisfied with the after-sales “definitely will” buy a new vehicle in the future from the dealership that serviced their vehicle. (An average satisfaction score would be 878 on a 1,000-point scale, based on the J.D. Power study.)

And only 23 per cent who said they were disappointed with what they were getting would buy again from the same dealership.

General Motors’ dealerships and that of Nissan scored the most in terms of user satisfaction in the study. In the premium category, the Cadillac dealer had the highest score, with Porsche and Land Rover a close second and third.

It is no exaggeration that buyers are being won and lost in what brands and their dealerships manage to do in the service bays. “It is true that because owners are keeping their vehicles longer, there is a battle brewing for the post-warranty service and repair customer,” said Brian Walters, Managing Director, Skelmore Automotive Consulting, which represents the J.D. Power in the UAE. “Dealers who do not offer a satisfying after-sales experience are at risk of not just losing their after-sales customers to aftermarket providers, but losing their customers to other brands when it comes time to buy a new vehicle.”

Cutting service charges will only get dealerships so far. “There is anecdotal information that suggests that some are offering complementary or specially priced extended service agreements,” said Walters. “However, offering an improved service and repair experience through more customer-focused processes, better trained and equipped service advisors, and improved service quality is a more sustainable way of winning the hearts and minds of customers.”

First impressions matter in getting through to the hearts and minds of potential buyers. Local dealerships have been recording a significant drop in showroom traffic, which comes with the territory when new car sales are down. UAE car owners are making do with their existing vehicles for longer.

As for first impressions, owners who reported a “delightful” experience said they were greeted immediately by a service advisor 87 per cent of the time and that the service advisor was completely focused on his/her needs 97 per cent of the time.

This feel-good sentiment shows up when it counts the most - more than half of vehicle owners said they “definitely will” recommend the dealership. “Dealerships that can manage their service reputation and equip their service advisors with appropriate skills and technology, stand a better chance of retaining their existing customers,” said Walters.

The J.D Power rankings explained
This year’s J.D. Power 2019 Customer Service Index was based on responses from 3,877 UAE car owners who purchased a new vehicle between December 2013 and May 2019 and took their vehicle to an authorised dealership service centre between December 2017 and May 2019. The poll was conducted between December 2018 through May last.
  • The key findings from the 2019 report include:
  • * One-third of all car owners say their overall service experience was better than expected. Satisfaction among these owners — across both mass market and luxury segments — is 58 points higher than the average of 793.
  • * Service advisors play a key role in influencing after-sales experience. Among 88 per cent of owners who said their service advisors reviewed the work done on their vehicle with them, satisfaction is 61 points higher than those who did not have a similar experience.
  • * More than three-fourths of owners say they received their vehicles washed and vacuumed. Satisfaction among them is 60 points higher than those whose vehicle was neither washed nor vacuumed.
  • * Satisfaction is 21 points higher for owners who mentioned that their service advisor used a tablet during their service visit when interacting with them.