Widewail released its 2023 Widewail Voice of the Customer Report, which studies the voice of today’s automotive customers by compiling U.S. new car dealerships’ Google reviews from the first half of 2023. An analysis of 800,000 Google reviews from more than 16,000 new car dealerships found that 25% of customers who left a review after purchasing a car from a direct-to-consumer electric vehicle (EV) company, such as Tesla or Rivian, left a one-star review; 14% of customers who purchased an EV from a traditional car dealership left a one-star review. The auto industry average benchmark is dealerships having 7% of their reviews be one star, so the high volume of negative reviews raises concern about the experience of buying and owning an EV.
A deeper analysis of Tesla reviews, which included 8,009 Google reviews from 204 Tesla showrooms and service centers, noted several factors that likely impact the customer experience:
- Digital-first service experience: The leading indicator of a positive review is a good experience with staff, Widewall said. 80% of reviews in the report mention a staff-related topic, and 57% of positive reviews mention a specific dealership team member. Tesla’s service scheduling app system limits the role of Tesla’s team, removing the most influential factor of positive reviews that exists for the rest of the automotive industry.
- Ownership moments: With the excitement of a new Tesla expressed on social media and low-cost maintenance issues taken care of by mobile service teams, the serious, expensive and time-consuming issues remain for Tesla’s 184 service locations. The negativity of an in-person experience cuts through on Google at nearly 3.5 times the one-star volume of traditional dealerships.
- Cost: The average price of an EV battery-pack replacement is reportedly more than $5,000, meaning the expense of an in-person visit can be substantial. Sticker shock is a top factor in a negative experience, Widewail said.
- Low review volume: Tesla locations average just 2.6 reviews per location each month, less than half the industry benchmark of 9.6, and 14 times lower than the leading 20% of dealers, which average 28 reviews per month. Low volume depresses ratings because unhappy customers are better represented when a business lacks a strategy to generate reviews, Widewail said.
Additionally, Widewail said data revealed that the direct-to-consumer dealer model changes the familiar customer experience, impacting satisfaction.
“Given Tesla’s strong brand, high virality, and top marks from trusted consumer media, it was surprising to see that their Google reviews revealed such a high percentage of unsatisfied customers,” Matt Murray, chief executive officer of Widewail said. “More surprising was that even EV buyers from traditional dealerships left substantially more negative reviews. Our Voice of the Customer Report is designed to help customers and dealers understand where pain points in the buying and ownership experience may exist, and to shed light on what car buyers report about their experiences.”
The 2023 Widewail Voice of the Customer Report analyzes the contributing factors for both positive and negative reviews. Positive experiences with staff are the most predictive of a positive review outcome.
According to Widewail, data also shows:
- Customers value staff who are helpful, friendly and professional. Most positive reviews of the sales department mention a staff member by name who met those criteria.
- Nearly 80% of all reviews mention staff and 70% of those reviews are positive.
- 57% of positive reviews mention individual team members. The experience customers have with a specific staff member at a dealership is the most commonly mentioned category in Google reviews and has the leading influence on positive reviews.
- Most positive reviews of the service department mention a good experience with a specific staff member, an effective vehicle repair, and a moment when wait times met expectations.
- Experience with staff is 12x more predictive of a positive outcome than other dealership topics, like inventory, loaner car or valet.
- Experience with staff is 5.2x more predictive of a positive outcome than pricing topics such as cost, warranty and deals.
The negative review analysis found that poor communication is mentioned 37% of the time, leading to negative reviews. Negative reviews also cite wait time as an issue, mentioning it 3.1 times more often in negative versus positive reviews.
According to Widewail data:
- Most negative reviews mention poor communication, the service department, unsatisfactory or expensive repairs, long wait times, and price surprises.
- Price concerns are almost five times more common among unhappy customers than happy customers, likely because of a lack of predictability in costs associated with the service department.
- While customers mention pricing in 20.7% of negative reviews, price is mentioned even more often in reviews about a specific service experience, such as brakes, engine and transmission repairs.
- Negative reviews average 100 words while positive reviews average just 33 words. Negative reviews have a higher density of topic-specific mentions, explaining in greater detail the problems encountered.
According to Widewail, other key findings in the report include:
- Q2 interest rate hikes had no material impact on consumer sentiment. The average rate jumped from 6.91% in Q1 to 7.8% in Q2 2023.
- Deals don’t make or break the customer experience. While some dealerships offer great deals or regular promotions, customers rarely mention deals in reviews. Customers bring up deals in 3.8% of positive reviews and just 2.1% of negative reviews.
- Despite rising car prices, pricing meets customer expectations in 2023. The average cost of a new vehicle is high – $48,451, up 61% since 2012, yet the data finds that customers rarely mention price in reviews.