A National Automobile Dealers Association task force on customer satisfaction reports says manufacturers should standardize surveys because the current hodgepodge is unfair and inaccurate.
Dealers want shorter survey forms that are more comprehensible and easier to compare among franchises.
The NADA study confirmed a widely held belief: Many dealers consider the Consumer Satisfaction Index an unfair tool, although some believe there are benefits to CSI.
NADA has begun developing a standardized survey and will conduct a sample study to assess the market for it, said Bill Dodge, incoming NADA president and owner of several dealerships in Portland, Maine.
'NADA has a standardized survey in the works, so we are headed in the direction of getting a standard survey for the industry,' said Dodge. 'But it won't happen right away.
'We will try to influence the manufacturers with the task force's study,' he added. 'For example, General Motors is revising its customer satisfaction survey form, and we will try to influence the revision.'
The NADA task force accuses manufacturers of using CSI to foster competition between dealers for high scores, then using the scores to gain a competitive edge.
Dealers argue that giving gifts or free oil changes to customers to improve CSI so automakers can have a competitive edge undermines the intent of the program.
The NADA study also says automakers reward dealers with prizes for high CSI. The rewards include memberships in special 'elite dealer clubs' sponsored by the manufacturers, free trips and other monetary considerations.
The report acknowledges that manufacturers use CSI ratings to determine dealer incentives on vehicles, how much bonus money a dealership receives at the end of the year, and whether a dealer will be awarded a new franchise or retain a current franchise.
A USEFUL TOOL
When CSI was initiated in the mid-1980s, automakers touted it as a management tool for dealers to improve their sales and service operations.
Seventy-two percent of dealers responding to the NADA study still rate CSI as useful, but they say it should be used only as a management tool to improve performance.
Dealers receive a monthly consumer satisfaction report from manufacturers. It details how their operations measure up against other dealerships in customer satisfaction and, generally, how the dealership's sales and service procedures are rated by customers.
CSI reports have become much more elaborate over the years. Dealerships are rated on nearly every aspect of selling and servicing a new car. Some automakers even break down the reports by salesman and technician, according to the NADA study.
As a result, 47 percent of dealers questioned by NADA call the manufacturers' customer satisfaction surveys unfair, and more than half say the rating systems are inaccurate.
Nearly all the dealers surveyed asked for a standardized CSI report.
'I don't think manufacturers will agree on a common CSI report,' said Dodge. 'That is fine, but there must be more fairness and commonality in the reporting because right now the automakers are all over the place.'
Dodge was chairman of the NADA task force, which was assigned by Jim Lust, current NADA president, to study dealer attitudes toward CSI and practices by manufacturers.
'CSI is not an exact science,' said Dodge.
'I don't know if a score of 91 is any better than an 89, but some people seem to think so.'
He said CSI is a management tool for dealers that should not be used to pit one against another.
Although dealers concede that CSI is helpful in providing information to measure departmental performance, they harbor some concerns.
Dealers say the forms should be shortened and standardized. They also want manufacturers to return to the 'management tool' philosophy and not use the dealership customer satisfaction performance as the sole determining factor in whether a franchise is retained or awarded.
DEALERS SLAP CSI
Why dealers object to makers' CSI surveys:
A single rating determines how dealers are evaluated.
The overall rating system can be influenced heavily by one or a few responses.
Each manufacturer has a different survey and a different way of evaluating results.
Vehicle quality questions are not segregated from sales and service questions.
Manufacturers focus on numbers - not reality.