The much-despised customer satisfaction survey is finally getting a makeover. Automakers are simplifying the questionnaires they mail to car buyers. And factories are reconsidering the scoring systems that encouraged dealers to cheat.
It's about time; the system is broken. Dealers spend too much time coaching customers and offering free oil changes in exchange for a completed survey. Those dealers spend too much time gaming the system instead of improving the way they treat customers.
But the National Automobile Dealers Association may have a solution. The organization recommends that automakers tie rewards to two key questions:
1. How many customers would recommend the dealership unequivocally?
2. How many repeat customers does a dealership have?
The factories must decide for themselves whether to adopt that particular approach. But it is a good place to start. Few things cause more angst for dealers than customer satisfaction surveys.
After years of denial, the industry finally is tackling the problem. Ford Division, Hyundai, Land Rover and Jaguar have simplified the customer surveys. And Mazda, Land Rover and Jaguar have reduced or eliminated financial rewards tied to high survey scores.
Another reform: Some automakers have eliminated the controversial top-box scoring system. That system counts only the customers who gave a dealer the highest rating. Customers who report that their dealer was "good" - but not "excellent" - aren't counted. That drives dealers crazy.
Hyundai is eliminating its top-box scoring system, and Ford Division is thinking about it.
Automakers have the right to demand high standards. But customer satisfaction surveys must be reasonable.