In any sales environment — dealerships included — some botched leads will leave a salesperson scratching his or her head and pondering: What went wrong?

In a recent partnership with Hyundai Auto Canada Corp., Martiz Research tried to solve this very question and more, looking into the concept that just one negative element can ruin the customer’s entire experience.

The research company’s “Make or Break” approach to customer satisfaction focuses on the following concept:  “Auto dealers can invest millions of dollars in customer satisfaction programs, but if one element of the sales experience goes poorly, it can ruin the entire sale.”

In light of this, Maritz research tried to determine what drives true customer satisfaction, in this case, specifically for Hyundai dealers.

When asked what in this case were the “right” customer service elements to focus on, Chris Travell, vice president of strategic consulting for the Automotive Research Group at Maritz Research, said: “Specifically as it relates to Hyundai, professionalism and courtesy towards the customer, ease of agreement on the deal, and disclosure of charges and fees rank at the top for the sales experience. 

“For service, thoroughness of work performed, diagnosing problems properly, and time to complete the service were most important.  These are the most important things to Hyundai customers.”

Looking in to 25 case studies, Maritz research examined two Hyundai customer reactions, according to company officials:

1. The Reward Effect: “When outstanding performance in one area outweighs shortcomings in other areas, resulting in a truly exceptional overall experience.”

2. The Punishment (or Non-Compensatory) Effect: “When poor performance in just one area penalizes the brand or company severely, even if they perform well in all other areas.”

Further elaborating on this approach,Travell said, “A customer can buy a car at a good price from an extremely helpful and professional salesperson at a reputable dealership, but if that car has a dent in it when the customer picks it up — we see ‘The Punishment Effect.’ In this simplistic example, that one negative outweighs everything else.

“This customer response may seem intuitive, but what makes the Make or Break technique different is that we can quantify the relationship and determine its impact on dealerships’ future sales, services and referrals,” he continued.

To determine what customers value most, Maritz Research and Hyundai Auto Canada collaborated on a consumer study, which identified the drivers of buyer satisfaction for Hyundai’s sales and service customers. The top three include:

Sales Experience:

1.    Professionalism and courtesy toward the customer
2.    Ease of agreement in making the deal
3.    Full disclosure of charges and fees

Vehicle Services:

1.    Thoroughness of the work performed
2.    Correct diagnosis of the problem
3.    Time to complete the service

“The predictive power of the Make or Break methodology means dealers can use their resources more efficiently to invest in areas that actually impact the bottom line,” said Kevin Lattery, vice president of marketing sciences at Maritz Research. “We’ve found that people expect good customer service. In those cases, doing something well may not provide a huge lift to customer satisfaction scores, but customers can still punish dealers severely for not doing something well –and the penalty for poor service can be seven times greater than the reward.”

Steve Kelleher, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Auto Canada, commented on the results, explaining  why dealerships should now be focusing on the showroom environment:

“All customers have very high expectations when they shop for a new vehicle and they demand exceptional quality, reliability and durability. That’s really the cost of entry into the auto industry,” said Kelleher “The next battlefield in the fight for auto sales is in the showroom. If we can give our customers a better experience, we’re going to be more likely to sell them a vehicle, and have them come back to us to get it serviced.”

Focusing on the ‘Surprise and Delight Factors’

And though customer service must be analyzed on a brand-by-brand or store-by-store basis, Travell said, “Regardless of which brand you’re talking about, I would strongly encourage dealers and manufacturers not to guess at what’s important and not important to customers.  The analysis needs to be thorough and rigorous.”

Travell went on to highlight a few customer relationship management tools that dealers can utilize and focus on when trying to ensure their customers leave the dealership satisfied and content with their purchase.

First, Travell shared a well-known fact in any customer service business: doing things well just sometimes isn’t enough, because “customers just expect these things to be done well.”

Travell gave the example of the service department, in that customers are going to expect their vehicle to be fixed right the first time.

“When this basic need isn’t met the customers will ‘punish’ the dealership which will result in lower customer satisfaction scores,” Travell added.

Instead of focusing on what customers already expect, Travell encourages dealers to look at what he calls the “surprise and delight factors.” In other words, “those things the customer doesn’t expect that often result in higher levels of satisfaction. “

“I used to moderate a lot of focus groups and customers would tell us it’s the service adviser who gave a customer a gas cap for free since they had lost theirs, the service manager who drove the customer home since the shuttle had stopped running, or the dealership that had flowers delivered to the customer’s workplace after buying her new car,” Travell said.  “These are things the customer doesn’t expect, and they tell others about it either face-to-face or through social media.”

Sarah Rubenoff can be reached at