While current U.S. consumer satisfaction with service and purchase experiences may have idled at some auto manufacturers over the past year, recent research shows that consumers who visited Subaru and Buick dealerships rank their experiences above those who did business with 13 other competing brands.
Each year, the Forrester research firm's CX index survey asks consumers about their most recent experience regarding effectiveness, ease and emotion at specific brand dealerships.
This year, Subaru ranks No. 1 among 15 mass-market auto brands for a second consecutive year in Forrester's 2018 U.S. Mass Market Auto Manufacturers Customer Experience (CX) Index.
Not only is it this year's top-ranked brand in the overall rankings, but the Japanese brand also earned the best purchase experience score for the third year in a row.
Meanwhile, Buick, the No. 2-ranked mass-market brand overall — up from 13th last year — ranks No. 1 for service experience.
In addition to receiving the highest brand ranking for service, Buick also came just behind No. 2 Ford Motor Co. on the purchase experience, climbing 12 spots to reach No. 3 in this year's rankings.
“Buick’s scores on all three-quality metrics increased significantly,” according to Forrester principal analyst Michelle Yaiser, referring to the aforementioned effectiveness, ease and emotion metrics.
“Buick’s positive emotion, the most important aspect of the experience, had a very large increase. That increase was coupled with the negative emotional experiences decreasing by half,” she said in an emailed Q&A with Auto Remarketing.
Buick's CX Index climbs
In 2017, the annual CX index found Buick’s overall emotion ratio had 3.5 positive experiences to every one negative experience, Yaiser explained. That jumped to an improved 11.2-to-1 ratio this year.
She went on to say that consumers are first asked about how they felt interacting with a brand on a very negative to very positive scale, before receiving an open-ended follow-up question asking them about their emotional experience.
Forrester asked consumers to identify which specific emotions they experienced from a list of 27 emotions, according to Yaiser.
She explained that the choice of emotions includes 13 positive, 13 negative and one neutral emotion.
“How an experience makes a customer feel is the most important dimension of the three. Our research shows that emotion has a bigger influence on customers’ loyalty to a brand than effectiveness or ease in all 16 industries that we cover across seven global markets,” Yaiser said.
Furthermore, this year, not only did Buick's positive emotion scores increase sizably, but the amount of negative emotional experiences reported also dropped by half, according to Yaiser.
“That increase was coupled with the negative emotional experiences decreasing by half... [and] similar patterns exist when looking more granularly at Buick’s purchase and service performance,” she said.
Importantly, Yaiser points out that Buick has benefited from an information technology overhaul launched by parent company General Motors about six years ago.
“When companies make significant changes to both digital experiences and the back-office systems, we often see an initial decrease in customers’ perceptions of quality,” Yaiser said.
“Any change can often make customers receiving the new experience and the employees delivering it a bit unsettled and uncomfortable. Once both groups of people become more accustomed to the new experience, we begin to see the desired positive affect — which we see with Buick,” she said.
The recent technology changes that have impacted how customers interact with Buick have helped the brand more seamlessly connect apps and websites to dealers for service, according to Forrester's Brendan Miller, who works with Yaiser as a principal analyst at the research firm.
“The two components of great digital CX is digital experiences and digital operations,” he said via email. “The first part of the equation (digital experiences) gets all the glory, but there is a lot of unsung effort that goes into connecting back-office systems that provides the foundation for stellar front-office customer experiences."
Forrester’s 2018 CX Index is based on a recent survey of more than 110,000 U.S. auto manufacturer customers. The survey is designed to gauge brand effectiveness, ease and emotion, as well as brand enrichment and advocacy, the research firm said.