Both surveys ask one question that Chipman believes homes in on the essence of repeat business: On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, how likely is it that customers will recommend the dealership to other people? "If a person will recommend you, that's the best indicator that they will be loyal," he said. The service survey also asks customers to rate their experience on a scale from one to 10.
"I'm much more interested in their actual comments about their experience — what they liked or didn't like," which comes out in the space for comments, Chipman told Automotive News. "A score on a scale of one to 10 is all relative. Some people, for instance, never give a 10 on principle alone."
The surveys are emailed within 24 to 48 hours of a sales or service interaction. Last year, Birchwood emailed about 85,000 surveys to service customers and about 12,500 to car-buying customers. The response rate for service surveys was 45 percent. For car buyers, it was 51 percent.
Chipman theorizes that the response rate is good because the surveys are sent out quickly and are short. "Shorter is better," he said. "We've found that people don't like to take time to answer so many questions."
Birchwood has 18 rooftops — 15 in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan and one in North Dakota. The dealerships sell BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford and GMC, as well as Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Mini, Nissan, Ram, Toyota and Volvo.
There is a downside to sending out the surveys so quickly, however: They usually arrive before automakers' CSI surveys. That can decrease the response rate for CSI surveys because customers figure they've already answered one survey.
"It's both good and bad because customers are less likely to answer two surveys, which could help my manufacturer's score," Chipman said. "But I'm willing to risk that because I'd rather resolve problems faster and have customers who are happy."
Birchwood started using the short-form surveys in 2006 after Chipman read The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld, an expert on customer loyalty. Reichheld argues that there's just one question business owners need to ask customers: How likely is it that they would recommend the company to friends and colleagues?
Reichheld developed a metric called the Net Promoter System, in which the scores of survey "detractors" (those who provide a rating of six or less) are subtracted from the scores of "promoters" (those who give scores of nine or 10). The scores of "neutrals" (sevens and eights) are tossed out. In 2017, Birchwood's NPS score was 85 for sales and 75 for service — impressive marks by industry standards.