Most say emphasis on satisfaction is more critical today than ever
Recreational marine manufacturers, distributors and dealers remain committed to improving customer service, while marketing and advertising budgets are being cut to the bone and staffing is being reduced to near subsistence levels.
The reason, say the experts, is simple. Satisfied customers remain loyal. And especially during difficult times, businesses need a core base of repeat customers to drive the business and simply help them survive.
“As an informal and diagnostic tool, CSI is a window into the customer’s mind, and can provide significant insight into a customer’s intent with regard to loyalty, retention and defection,” said Dr. John Dillard, of AVALA Marketing Group in Fenton, Mo., in a recently released white paper titled “CSI in Tough Times: An Expenditure to Cut or Not?”
“Customers satisfied with the right things are much more likely to repurchase or to be retained as owners, while dissatisfied customers are much more likely to defect. Defection represents a direct impact to you, specifically lost revenue.”
David Parker, owner of Parker Business Planning in Orlando, put it more succinctly.
“Loyalty is about how many customers you have who are in love with your dealership and your people,” he said. “Loyalty is a whole level higher than mere satisfaction.”
In fact, Parker said, simply measuring customer satisfaction isn’t enough if you’re not looking closely at the loyalty issue, which looks at more than whether current customers are coming back to the business.
“Loyalty asks if they are bringing their friends,” Parker said. “Customer loyalty measures how many people you have who think you’re just wonderful, not just OK. Customer satisfaction often just measures how OK you are, but not how wonderful (customers) think you are.”
It wasn’t too long ago measuring customer service with the goal of targeting areas of improvement at the manufacturer and dealer level was more of a novelty in the recreational marine industry. The issue took on increased importance in the early and mid-1990s as studies showed boaters were unhappy with many aspects of product quality and dealer service and, in some cases, were leaving boating in frustration.
Studies also showed many prospective boat buyers walked away after hearing about these issues from friends, or experienced problems while shopping for a boat.
Today, according to the many in the industry, monitoring customer service through effective CSI programs is standard, especially among more established and marketing-savvy companies.
“In our past 20 group meetings we have spent a fair amount of time on customer satisfaction and how to improve our scores, although currently we’re spending more time on how to survive than CSI,” Parker said.
Still, he added, most dealers who attend the 20 group sessions regularly measure CSI on their own or through manufacturer-sponsored programs. “For most of them, CSI is a norm rather than a new fad,” he said.
A look at the numbers shows the idea is catching on.
As of mid-August, more than 620 marine dealerships had enrolled in Grow Boating’s Marine Industry Dealership Certification Program. A little more than a year after its official launch, 414 dealerships had completed the certification process. Dealers in the program receive numerous benefits, including access to leads of prospective boat buyers generated through the Discover Boating effort.
The push for certification also is coming from manufacturers, many of whom will be recognized for their CSI achievements during IBEX in October.
The NMMA will hand out awards to 73 recipients this year, up from 64 last year. Today, 110 boat and engine brands participate in the program. Award recipients achieved and maintained an independently measured standard of excellence of 90 percent or higher in customer satisfaction during the last year, based on information provided by consumers purchasing a new boat or engine during the period between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008. Participating manufacturers must survey all new boat buyers during this period. For this reporting period, more than 66,000 consumer responses were collected.
Since 2001 and the onset of the CSI program, more than 500,000 surveys have been sent to new boat and engine customers, allowing participating manufacturing companies to monitor customer satisfaction on an ongoing basis, and to benchmark themselves against the industry and their competitors.
J.D. Power & Associates has helped drive interest in CSI through its marine industry customer satisfaction ratings and awards program.
From his purview as president of the NMMA, Thom Dammrich says “I think the industry is doing a much better job than it was even five years ago.”
The NMMA now requires member manufacturers to have a CSI measurement capability as part of being NMMA-certified. “We are stressing that we need to continually measure customer satisfaction and that once you’re measuring it, you can’t avoid the voice of the customer and you will improve where you need to improve,” Dammrich added, saying CSI scores have improved steadily for dealers and boat and engine manufacturers for the last three years.
While things are improving, that doesn’t mean the industry can rest on its laurels.
Paul Sabourin, national manager of field service and service education at Honda Marine, said the recreational marine industry lags behind automotive and motorcycle dealers in delivering satisfaction to end users. “The marine industry is a little bit behind the power curve,” Sabourin said.
Honda Marine received the NMMA CSI Award for Excellence in Customer Satisfaction in 2008, marking the fifth consecutive year it has won the award. The company conducts a detailed and ongoing CSI program where dealers can go online to see what customers are saying about their dealerships.
Honda also plans to introduce electronic customer service training online to dealers. Called Web Based Training, it will be a three-module system of service management for marine dealers running between October and January.
“We’re going to give the dealers the tools to help themselves understand what the customer wants and how to get from where they are to where they need to be with the customer, and at their own pace,” Sabourin said.
He and other manufacturer representatives say these programs are designed to help dealers do a better job of serving end-users and meeting their expectations. At the end of the day, they say, that benefits everyone — including dealers.
Still, dealers who consistently don’t receive good CSI scores ultimately are penalized because they don’t receive benefits, such as full reimbursement for warranty repairs. And, of course, poor scores can lead to a manufacturer cancelling the dealer.
For that reason, Parker Planning recommends dealers take certain steps to ensure their customers will give them good scores on CSI forms and catch problems as they arise. “When they’re doing the closing documents, dealers should show the customer a copy of the CSI form ... and explain to the customer that the dealership considers anything less than a perfect score a failure,” Parker said.
If the customer can’t give a perfect score, Parker suggests that dealers ask the customer to contact the dealership before filling out and returning the form to the manufacturer so issues can be addressed. Obviously, Parker stresses that dealers should stay in close contact with buyers after the sale, but not to the point of being a pest.
“If customers get too many CSI surveys, it can turn them off,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.