Parts and Staffing Issues Challenge Dealer Service Departments

Jessica Shea Choksey | Mar 09, 2022

According to the J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Customer Service Index (CSI) Study, car dealership service departments must contend with two primary pandemic-related challenges: auto parts supply chain delays and widespread staffing shortages, including automotive technicians. As a result, car owners now must wait almost a full day longer to get in for a service appointment compared to last year. The study reveals that luxury-brand vehicle owners must wait 4.5 days, on average, while owners of mainstream-brand vehicles have a wait time of 4.3 days. Longer wait times require customers to be more patient and forgiving of dealership service staff and processes.

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"Dealer service departments are in a pivotal position to improve customer satisfaction and provide greater customer convenience, even though many challenges—including the parts supply chain disruption and the availability of new-vehicle loaners—are out of their control," said Chris Sutton, vice president of automotive retail at J.D. Power.

Now in its 42nd year, the redesigned CSI Study measures customer satisfaction with service at franchised dealer or aftermarket service facilities for maintenance or repair work among owners and lessees of one- to three-year-old vehicles. J.D. Power measures satisfaction across five factors (in order of importance): Service quality (32%); Service advisor (19%); Vehicle pick-up (19%); Service facility (15%); and Service initiation (15%). In 2022, overall customer service satisfaction is 848 (on a 1,000-point scale).

Although service departments have no immediate solution to resolving current supply chain delays and complications in logistics, they can reduce customer frustration by providing information and transparency of the repair/maintenance process. Keeping customers informed can help quell the anxiety and stress associated with vehicle repair and maintenance.

"Proactive communication with customers is one solution for dealerships to mitigate a disruptively tough situation. Simply implementing text or email alerts can greatly improve customer satisfaction," said Sutton. Additionally, letting customers know what is happening at each step along the way, including why it is taking longer to book an appointment or providing any updates in parts delays, can help improve satisfaction." The study finds that 42 percent of respondents preferred text message reminders of upcoming service appointments and real-time repair updates.

In the same vein, the study finds customers are gravitating toward technology, as a whole, to communicate with their dealerships and manage their service experience. This includes making appointments online (27%), utilizing a mobile app (7%), and paying online (17%).

"Dealers who meet customers on their preferred communication channels are gaining an advantage," Sutton said. "Service departments need to jump on the technology train now or risk being left behind."

For the first time in the study's history, J.D. Power measured customer satisfaction of having a vehicle serviced remotely versus an in-person dealership experience. Remote service could either mean the car is picked up by a valet and transported to the service department, or the dealership sends a technician to the vehicle's location to make an onsite evaluation. The customer satisfaction score for remote services is 866 compared to 847 for those who brought their car into the dealership for service.

Building Customer Trust - Find the best car deals!

In addition to customer satisfaction, this year's study measures the trust level between car owners and dealer service departments. Based on a rating scale of 1 to 7 points, the customer statement, "I trust the dealership to perform complex repairs on my vehicle," had an average rating of 6.16. However, the second-most important attribute, "[The dealership] takes responsibility when a mistake is made and resolves it effectively," had the lowest average rating of 5.91.

Also helping to build trust is the effort to provide a photo or video of the recommended repair work to help the customer better understand the vehicle's issue and the steps needed to fix the problem. When vehicle owners see this type of visual validation, their confidence in the service department's proficiency and expertise increases, making it three times more likely to move forward with the recommended work.

The BEV Service Experience - Find the best car deals!

The CSI Study shows that battery electric vehicle (BEV) owners are less satisfied with service than people who own a traditional gas or diesel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle for a second consecutive year. BEV customer service satisfaction is 68 points lower than among owners of gas- or diesel-powered vehicles (852).

One reason for lower customer satisfaction in BEV service is the vehicle owners' lack of knowledge and understanding of battery systems and electric powertrains. Less understanding can yield higher repair anxiety. As BEVs become more popular and the automotive industry transitions to electrification in the years ahead, automakers may want to utilize their service hubs not just to repair and maintain vehicles but also to educate owners about their BEVs.

"BEV service is the next frontier for dealerships," Sutton said. "The automotive industry has to get ready now and get the service experience right with BEV owners, or they risk losing them to aftermarket service providers. This includes fully understanding BEV customer pain points like range anxiety, unique maintenance requirements, and support for related services such as availability of charging stations."

Top-Rated Makes and Models for Customer Service - Find the best car deals!

According to the 2022 U.S. CSI StudyLexus ranks highest for customer satisfaction with dealer service among premium brands. Lexus earns a score of 897—two points lower than last year. Following Lexus in the premium brand rankings are Cadillac (880), Porsche (879), Acura (871), and BMW (866).

With a score of 873 (nine points higher than last year), Mini ranks highest among mass-market brands for the second year in a row. Following Mini in the mass-market space are Buick (872), Mazda (856), Mitsubishi (854), and GMC (853).

J.D. Power is the source of information for this article. It was accurate on March 9, 2022, but it may have changed since that date.

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