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 Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant'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.

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