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Maruti `Powers' to the top of customers' hearts

S. Muralidhar

FOR a market leader with the largest share of the passenger car segment, Maruti Udyog's customer service quality is showing no signs of fatigue. For any auto company, the service quality of the sales process — or the showroom experience as it is also called — is a key indicator for the continued customer loyalty. After all, first impression is indeed the best.

In this regard, Maruti Udyog has set a new benchmark by being ranked highest in customer satisfaction with the new-vehicle sales process for the second consecutive year, according to the recently-announced J. D. Power Asia Pacific's 2005 India Sales Satisfaction Index Study.

According to Mr Mohit Arora, India Director at J. D. Power Asia Pacific, Maruti Suzuki's performance reflects its consistent approach to building and promoting effective sales processes based on the voice of the customer. "In turn, Maruti Suzuki customers reflect their satisfaction with the brand by demonstrating the highest loyalty and advocacy intentions in the industry," he said.

The study, in its sixth edition, examines the satisfaction of new-vehicle buyers with the sales and delivery experience at two to six months of ownership.

More than 4,150 owners of 36 different vehicle models participated in the 2005 study, which lasted from March to May. Overall sales satisfaction is assessed on 48 attributes, grouped into six pre-defined factors:

Delivery process, delivery timing, salesperson, dealer facility, paperwork, and deal. The study does not rank any specific car model.

As for the industry, there has been an improvement in overall performance studied by six index points, with eight of the 11 manufacturers ranked in 2005 showing improvements over the previous year.

Mahindra & Mahindra recorded the greatest improvement, with an increase of 45 index points over 2004, and took sixth place in the overall rankings. Opel, a General Motors brand, posted an improvement of 40 index points in performance to rank second overall.

Further, the study reveals a significant improvement in implementation rates of various dealer activities during the entire sales and delivery process, such as offering test-drives and explaining the vehicle's features.

On test-drives being offered to customers — a key sales activity — the implementation rate improved 14 per cent over 2004 for the industry, one of the higher year-on-year improvements registered during the past five years.

J. D. Power feels that the improvements on the various parameters registered by most manufacturers are indicative of the growing competition in the industry as vehicle-makers strive to create a strong and positive first impression on their customers.

Owners of Mahindra & Mahindra and Opel vehicles have reported significant improvements across all factors that compose the Sales Satisfaction Index, with the biggest improvement for timing of delivery.

The study also finds that although making a booking for a new vehicle is an industry practice, customers report higher satisfaction if they are able to receive their vehicles with no booking time.

Additionally, according to the study, the satisfaction score declines rapidly with increased booking time. Customers not only report lower satisfaction, but also a greater number of problems with their dealer if they have to book their new vehicle and wait for delivery.

Headquartered in Westlake Village, California, J. D. Power and Associates is an ISO 9001, registered global marketing information services firm operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction.

The firm's quality and satisfaction measurements are based on responses from millions of consumers annually. J. D. Power and Associates is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies.

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