The customer experience benchmarks that have automakers spinning their wheels

You know things are bad when “stalling out” would be an improvement on your current predicament.

After climbing 1.2% in 2018, customer satisfaction in the automobile industry reversed course this year, sliding 3.7% to an ACSI score of 79 (on a scale of 0 to 100), per our latest Automobile Report.

Customers agree that automobiles don’t have the same quality and value they once had.

Rising prices and the constant risk of new tariffs make buying new vehicles less appealing. When you consider that Millennials are strapped with debt, more people are turning to used cars, and ride-sharing apps continue to disrupt the market, it’s not surprising that 21 of the 27 automakers in this report experience declining customer satisfaction, as does nearly every driver experience benchmark.

Lowering prices would seem to be an obvious answer, but that’s at best a short-term fix that doesn’t address customers’ core complaints. The industry has work to do across the board.

But one area in particular is low-hanging fruit, benchmarks with significant room for improvement based on 2019 ACSI scores, and also something consumers are asking for: technology.

Demand is rising for car tech

The desirability of car technology has been building in recent years.

According to the 2017 Autotrader Car Tech Impact Study, 56% of customers research in-vehicle technology and know exactly what they want before even stepping foot in a dealership, while 48% place a higher premium on in-vehicle technology than they do on car brand or body style.

“Technology has become the deciding factor for car buyers selecting a vehicle,” said Michelle Krebs, Autotrader senior analyst. “Automakers must deliver innovative features or risk consumers looking elsewhere.”

According to this year’s Automobile Report, automakers are taking that risk.

Customer satisfaction with technology – controls, displays, audio, navigation, and video systems – in mass-market vehicles is down 2.5% to an ACSI score of 78. Mobile app marks are slightly better, with quality and reliability scoring 81 and 80, respectively, though still in the middle to bottom of all benchmarks measured.

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Even luxury vehicle owners weren’t over the moon with the tech in their vehicles, though they were more satisfied than their mass-market counterparts. Technology as a whole decreased 1.1% to 83. Mobile app quality came in at 84, barely inching out mobile reliability, which scored an 83.

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Technology and technology-related features like mobile app and website satisfaction are among the fourth-worst scoring customer experience benchmarks for both mass-market and luxury vehicles. But those features, including in-car displays, audio, navigation, and video systems as well as mobile options such as the ability to use remote commands, search for dealerships, schedule service, request roadside assistance, locate vehicles, use navigation, access the owner manual, or view how-to videos, are appealing to drivers.

Where automakers stand in technology satisfaction

Fortunately, some individual nameplates do better with technology than others.

Subaru and Toyota lead all mass-market vehicles for in-car technology satisfaction, while GM’s Chevrolet and GMC have the highest customer satisfaction for mobile quality. GMC, Subaru, Toyota, and Chevrolet score the highest marks for mobile reliability.

Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Dodge (also part of Fiat Chrysler), on the other hand, are the worst among mass-market vehicles for technology. Kia is the bottom of the segment in both mobile quality and mobile reliability, while Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, and Ford also score low marks.

Among luxury vehicles, Lexus and Cadillac customers were the most satisfied with their cars’ tech features. Infiniti was the most improved over the last year. Lexus, Cadillac, and Volvo led the way in mobile quality, and Lincoln joined Lexus as the category leaders in mobile reliability.

On the flipside, customers were most dissatisfied in Volvo’s technology offerings. Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi struggled with mobile quality; the latter two also lacked sufficient mobile reliability.

Automakers taking technology seriously

Digital transformation continues to have a major effect on the lives of consumers. Some automakers are taking advantage.

Ford launched its “one-stop mobility app” FordPass back in 2016, which lets customers find and pay for parking, locate gas stations, unlock and start their cars, and remotely access information about their vehicle.

Hyundai used a program called Shopper Assurance to make the car-buying process more transparent, allowing customers to handle the majority of the purchase process before they go to the dealership. Hyundai also lets customers schedule test drives at home or at the office. This adds extra convenience and improves the customer experience.

The truth is, customer satisfaction in the automobile industry isn’t going to suddenly turn around because automakers make technology a high priority. But it is a golden opportunity to give customers what they want and improve customer satisfaction in the process. In a competitive industry, failing to make these changes could mean automakers are left in the dust.

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