Do online reviews trump CSI surveys?
Jamie LaReau is an Automotive News staff reporter.
Because a growing number of dealers say they rely on independent online consumer feedback to run their businesses, it could make sense for automakers to use a similar online-ratings type system for their own customer satisfaction index programs.
For now, many automakers are reluctant to change their factory CSI programs. But growing consumer and dealer acceptance could change some minds.
Dealer Billy Vaughn, for example, relies heavily on customer online reviews when making his own, nonautomotive purchases.
"You go to Best Buy; they have their reviews online about all their products," says Vaughn, vice president of Kahlig Auto Group, which has nine stores in San Antonio. "To me, those are the most compelling."
Vaughn isn't alone.
In a recent unscientific online survey conducted by Automotive News, 45 percent of the 131 respondents said online reviews from their own Web site or such third-party sites as Google, Yelp and DealerRater are more important to their businesses than the scores they get on factory-run CSI surveys.
That's why some dealers want the CSI process reformed or replaced. Indeed, the respondents were almost evenly split over whether manufacturers should stop tracking CSI scores. Many dealers also believe customer loyalty is a truer measure of customer satisfaction than CSI scores.
"There's almost no correlation between the factory CSI reports and customer loyalty," says Brian Benstock, general manager of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in New York. "We have had difficulty with the factory CSI scores."
Benstock says his dealerships have one of the highest loyalty rankings in the country. They sell about 11,000 new and used retail vehicles annually.
Many dealers also say the CSI questionnaires are too long. They say three to five questions would suffice, rather than the current 25 to 30 questions.
"You have to be cautious that you're not oversurveying customers because enough is enough," Vaughn says. "They start to say, 'Is this about my satisfaction or your marketing?'"
Gripes about the current CSI surveys and calls for reform are not just academic arguments. Real money is involved.
More than 80 percent of respondents to the Automotive News survey said their CSI score is a factor in receiving rewards from the manufacturer.
But American Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group and General Motors are not looking to tweak the questionnaire or scoring process. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. did not respond to a request for comment.
Ford, Chrysler and American Honda say they do not tie CSI scores to dealer rewards. GM says that whether a dealership achieves its CSI objective is a factor used to determine if it is awarded its quarterly cash bonus, a spokesman wrote in an e-mail response.
He added that GM would consider tweaking its CSI program as technology evolves. For now, he wrote, online rating sites lack "the rigor needed to produce comprehensive, statistically valid analyses."
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