Dealership CSI Scores Are a Customer Irritant

By Chris Haak


img_2317Although I already wrote about the furor that has been growing over dealership CSI scores a year and a half ago, this week I was reminded by just how annoying they can be to customers.  I’m sure they are just as annoying and frustrating to the dealers as well, but the insane process of setting unreasonable expectations on dealership employees does nothing but encourage pestering customers at best, and encourage gaming the system at worst.

This week, I took one of our vehicles to a local dealership for a recall.  As I handed the service writer my keys, I noticed a large sign under the cashier’s area that said something to the effect of, “Our goal is for you to be Completely Satisfied.   If you receive a survey from General Motors, please tell them that you are Completely Satisfied with the service that you have received.  If for any reason you are not Completely Satisfied, please let us know right away.”

When I got my car back, the repair wasn’t a complete success, meaning I’d have to return to the dealership for a follow-up visit.  That also meant that I wasn’t “completely satisfied.”  However, I also don’t want to cause harm to a local business, knowing that good CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) scores are obviously very important to them (a fact that was subsequently reinforced numerous times in the past few days).

Yesterday, I received a voicemail from someone at the dealership who said that he wanted to see how my service experience was, and whether I was completely satisfied with it.  He asked that if I was not completely satisfied to please call him to let him know about the experience and how he might rectify it.  If I was completely satisfied, I needed to do nothing but respond to a possible survey from GM.”

Then last night I opened my mail, and received the following letter:

Dear Christopher:

We at [Dealer Name] would like to thank you for selecting us as your Cadillac repair facility.

You may receive a Service Satisfaction Survey or a phone call from Cadillac about your service experience here at [Dealer Name].  We would like you to give us the best rating possible.

At [Dealer Name], it is our goal to maintain service excellence and a high level of customer satisfaction.  Our hope is that you will see your service experience as excellent and return.  If you are Completely Satisfied with your service, please return the survey to Cadillac.

If for any reason you cannot answer Completely Satisfied with our service or if you have any questions, please feel free to call me before returning the survey.  We will do whatever we can to earn you Completely Satisfied response.

Thank you again for choosing [Dealer Name] to service your car.


Service Director

I honestly don’t fault the dealership for begging and pleading for good excellent ratings from their customers, since GM (and other manufacturers) have put so much emphasis on ridiculously-high ratings.  It really is pretty pathetic for a Cadillac dealer to have to beg for good scores throughout the entire service experience.

Of course, I’ll probably say that I was Completely Satisfied.  For one, I’m too busy or too lazy to call the guy back who asked if I was completely satisfied (though I suppose that would have been faster than spending an hour writing about it).  For another, I know how important the scores are to the livelihood of the staff at a dealership that is probably seeing much lower sales than it did a year ago.  Finally, I don’t feel right about trying to extort something like a free oil change out of them just for a better score (though I wouldn’t be surprised if less-scrupulous customers would try something like that).  After all, I’ve heard way too many stories from the other side of the table where customers really went out of their way to rip off dealers at trade-in time or with things like warranty repairs.

The bottom line:  dealership CSI scores remain a broken system, and expecting perfection is not reasonable.  That unreasonable expectation leads to dealers trying very hard to influence scores, which clouds the actual results of the survey and prevents the dealership from knowing whether there really are true issues that need to be addressed.

COPYRIGHT Techshake – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Techshake's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. An interesting dilemma, as I’ve had to switch numerous dealers due to unsatisfactory service. Once I returned a fairly scathing review for one of them and the next day, first thing in the morning, was 2-3 calls from the dealership asking me what went wrong. They had screwed up my warranty work and left me second guessing the dealer over something I had my suspicions over. It wasn’t until I got home that my fears were confirmed when the car threw a CEL. Brought to another rather abysmal dealership and they corrected this little mishap. All I can say is, dealership experiences I’ve had are usually downright terrible and it seems the only way I can get back at them is to give them a negative review.

  2. These nearly coerced satisfaction ratings are meaningless. Even if a “satisfied” rating is obtained, when it comes time to use the repair facility or purchase a new car – repeat business is the best indicator. No matter what people say pay attention to what they do with their dollars.

  3. @ last anon.

    That last sentence always spoke loudest to me whenever I read comments or hear people talking about cars. I’m still in wonder though how an effective system could be setup. Perhaps an entire overhaul of the system as we know it might be the best way as I think the link between corporate to consumers is far too long and as a result, it becomes convoluted in the process. Of course, that’s just wishful thinking as it’s likely to cost far too much time and resources, especially during this time period.

  4. I don’t understand why people even go to the dealers for maintenance anymore… the labor rates are so astronomical, the only reasons I’ve gone to the dealer are for warranty work. Everything else I get done by my local non-dealer mechanic, either a national chain (I use Firestone) or the local “mom & pop” independant stores. I hope others join me and make the dealers realize that overcharging and exhibiting poor service procedures and disgraceful attitudes will get them out of business quick.

  5. I feel for the Dealers, people are just flat out rude. Why take it out on the Dealership staff? The Vehicle manufacturer should be ones held accountable. It is not fair for the dealers to beg for COMPLETELY SATISFIED SCORES for manufactures screw ups.
    i know for a fact that if your Doctor screws up no one bitches about that!

  6. unfortunatly some ppl like compassstl have no true understanding of how it works and if they are so unhappy with the dealers/company please feel free to make your own vehicle as im sure you have the engineering/mechanical ability,as for the dealerships holding there employees hostage with the csi it is very bogus but it is what it is what some ppl have to understand is when you get ad cause of a problem that is out of the hands of the dealership emplotee(service writer) and you give them bad scores because you have no understanding of the issue at hand or just had a bad day what you are really doing is taking money from that person and there family with no real reguard.The dealerships processes have been in place like this for a while and the employees much like the rest of us are trying to make a living and in most cases really care for there customers and do what they can but as stated above some customers will rob the dealerships blind cause thats the kind of people ther are and then take money from the dealership employees as well as it doesnt affect them and they got something for free,I just ask that anyone that does business with dealerships think this over before rolling the bus over the dealership employees that are trying to help you out.

  7. compassstl you are out of touch. dealers are not more exp. on maintenance. My dearler and several other around the area are all very comp. with the aftermarket shops. My dealer only charges $19.95 for an oil change as an example the local Firestone charges $24.95. Not omly that if you have a problem with your vehilce and its just out of warranty the car campany will ask for maint. record to consider factory goodwill. If you take your vehilce they will not even consider helping you out. I have found in most cases the dealer is the same price if not cheaper then the aftermarket shops.

  8. I worked in the sevice dept for over ten years. I’am the person who calls customers. The problem starts with the JD Power’s rateings that customers look to for information to buy a product. It is a good place to look but If the dealership is not linked into JD Powers then people think that dealership has a bad rateing. In order to draw customers the dealership must be part of the rateing scale. The Manufactors then use the JD Powers rateing that the dealership get to base the employees pay. Employess hate to ask for that”Perfect Score”. We hate missing the pay when a customer gives us a very low score on questions like “How was it to drive in/out of the lot”. it’s not fair to us to kill everyones pay for one month over a question that is out of our hands.
    I enjoy calling customers because I really want to be sure the customer is happy with their car. I want to know if there is a problem so I can get it addressed and corrected for the customer. I never ask customers to call me back unless there is a problem.
    I undersand fully how hard it is to have to bring a car back again for something that was not fixed right the first time. Please undersatnd we are also upset when we didnt get it fixed on the first visit. The service department or aleast the one I worked at feel very bad when it happens, it gives the customer a lower sence of confidence in their car. So when a department person calls and there is a problem tell them! give them the chance to fix it and maintain their pay.
    Did you know it effects everyone from the receptionest, to the cashier to the service writter and the the repair person. Just twice our dealership had a loss of pay over one question by one person giving a “Nine” instead of a “10 because we didnt serve cookies, many people work together to make customer’s happy.
    I would love it if I had been called from the doctor and see if the condition I went in for has been healed. No one is perfect but if you dont tell the dearship there is a problem then dont take it out on all the other employees. Its just easyer to give a perfect score because we do know who you are! We will try to do better when you come back but we can only help you if you tell us. Life is hard enough for all of us,, jus be nice and understand we love what we do and what happy customers.
    So I hope this helps and just give everyone a perfect score while telling thme what is wrong and I will do the same.. maybe we can make everyone’s life a lot easyer.
    Have a blessed day.

  9. I agree with so many points made on this page and disagree with a few.

    Compassstl, there are a few reasons why a vehicle owner would still go to a New Car Dealer and not be advised to go to their trusted local Mechanic. It has nothing to do with ability in most cases; I know some very talented individuals who do work for independent shops:

    1. Recalls: Can only be done at Franchise New Car Dealers. Not to mention specialized training to perform the procedure as outlined by the manufacturer.
    2. Factory OEM Parts: I’ll use oil changes as one example as most everyone is experienced in having this done on a regular basis. Any decent mechanic can perform an oil and filter change without risk of major issues. However, not all Oil Filters are made the same and this has nothing to do with talent. If you would rather take your car to your local shop, purchase a Factory oil filter from the dealer and take it to your guy. I’ve been in the service department for 20+ years working for a few different brand dealers and I’ve replaced about three engines for customers due to filters that were inferior. Some are physically smaller and don’t filter as well as promised. If you do have a problem with an engine and you’ve been taking your car to an indie repair shop, you might have problems trying warranty your engine as you try to prove you maintained your vehicle by the book. Dealers keep records and submit them to the manufacturer. You’re covered anywhere in the nation. And unless you own a luxury/ high-line vehicle. Chances are the dealer will change your oil at cost. GM, Ford, Toyota and many others generally charge $19-$39 for oil changes. You can do it at home for the same price and clean the mess up too or you can take it to your local guy and fit your vehicle with inferior parts or pay him more than you would at the dealer to install factory parts…you get the idea.
    Did you know that Aftermarket Parts Manufacturers do NOT need to meet the same level of quality for Brake Pads/Shoes as the Manufacturer? Again, Buy the right parts and hand them to your mechanic if you wish to continue using his services.
    3. Free Maintenance: If you have a new vehicle, you may have 2-3 years of free maintenance. Would you really take your vehicle to your local indie shop if you were given free OEM parts and service?

    One other thing to consider is this: Does you mechanic work only on your Brand of vehicle? The Dealer Technician Does and chances are he’s been sent to several specialized training sessions for systems exclusively made for your brand vehicle only.

    You were wondering why anyone would still take vehicles to dealers anymore. Does this help you to understand why someone might still take their vehicle to the dealer?

    With that said, these same customers will be exposed to the still-fresh culture of CSI exposure.

    Regarding CSI,
    It’s been about 15 years since CSI practices started but it is now becoming much more aggressive. And I have seen guys I have worked alongside lose their jobs over one bad survey. And often these Lower than average Surveys are due to things outside the control of a Service Adviser or Salesman. I do work in the Service Department but I see the Sales Department as one of my integration points. At the end of the day, we are a team. And we have this common goal of working together in improving CSI scores. Our livelihoods depends on it and I don’t want to fumble in my part and cause a bad survey for someone else.

    Begging for customer’s “Truly Expectional” CSI scores is degrading but unfortunately necessary. Btw- We do receive a detailed report with customers name and scores of everyone who turned in a survey. This is the same for every Dealer and a source of great anxiety. I deliver great service and truly don’t stress about the level of interaction with my customers. But when there is no part available from the manufacturer and a service/recall needs to be rescheduled. Then how is a person supposed to answer the question, “Was your vehicle fixed right the first time”. The answer of course is no. Is it the fault of the Service Adviser, no. So it is necessary to coach and/ or beg our customers to lie. It’s really quite sad and hard to do while keeping your dignity.
    I’ve also had very good customers go above and beyond and write very nice letters on my behalf and unfortunately fill out surveys incorrectly. Yes, this happens, “XXX was the best! and the score is a zero. I do get scared when my loyal older folks fill out surveys for me. These sort of accidents are never corrected, no freebies so to speak, and hurt just as much as any genuine complaint.

    Some customers have learned how to play the game and take advantage of the CSI tool. I was shocked when one of my customer’s stated, “I want you to give me a free detail, I’ll give you all 10’s, otherwise I’ll slam you on the survey. I was speechless. This was been my experience at the number one Mercedes Benz Dealer in the world. Free oil changes are extorted daily.

    To Customers Everywhere: I apologize on behalf of all Service Advisers, Service Managers, Fixed-Ops Directors & Salesmen for the all follow up phone calls, the letters asking you to call us before complaining about the dealers “Convenience in Dealer Location”, “Ease of Entry” or lack of donuts.

    Yes, you can slam your sales or service agent if you wish; this is your right. Sometimes, in fact, it is legitimate and I know this too, as long as you take accountability for your actions as it will cost that one person and no one else, financially.

    If you receive a survey after servicing your vehicle or buying a new car, take the time to fill it out. A good survey may not earn you a free oil change but it will earn you much appreciation from your regular Sales Person or Adviser and inspire him/her to be the best he/she can be for you.

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