1. Online Customer Satisfaction:
Driving Loyalty and Sales in the Automotive Industry
by Larry Freed
President and CEO, ForeSee Results
© 2008 ForeSee Results
2. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Introducing the ForeSee Results Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Automotive manufacturers continue to struggle with the role of the website in their organizations.
Even as retailers, banks, investment firms, utilities and a host of other types of businesses have
moved operations online, it’s clear that most consumers still need to go to a dealership in person
and test drive a car before making a purchase decision.
However, consumers are doing more and more research online, and the website remains a critical
marketing channel for any auto manufacturer hoping to attract new customers and engage and re-
tain current customers. Auto manufacturers are looking for any advantage in the current declining
economy, and a strategic, customer-centric website is a major competitive differentiator.
But how can we tell which automotive websites are doing the best job encouraging customers to buy
their vehicles? Customer satisfaction, when measured using the proven and scientific methodology
of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), provides a performance
metric of how well automotive websites perform today, and how effectively they influence consum-
ers’ purchase behavior and brand loyalty tomorrow.
Therefore, ForeSee Results is launching the Automotive Website Satisfaction Index, a study of cus-
tomer satisfaction with the leading automotive websites. By applying the ACSI methodology to auto
websites, we can determine:
• Customer satisfaction with each company’s website
• Customer satisfaction with aspects of the online experience, including vehicle descriptions, im-
ages and navigation, that drive overall website satisfaction
• The effectiveness of the web in encouraging consumers to visit a dealer and purchase, among
other desired future behaviors
Customer satisfaction with six major auto websites was measured: Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Honda,
Nissan and Toyota.
• Honda has the highest web satisfaction of all measured automotive companies, resulting in the
highest likelihood that customers will buy a vehicle
• Nissan provides the least satisfying web experience for online shoppers
• In aggregate, automotive websites add value to a company’s marketing initiatives by increasing
consumers’ likelihood to purchase
3. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Honda Tops Web Satisfaction Rankings
As shown in the chart below, Honda tops the online automotive
About the ACSI Methodology
index with a customer satisfaction score of 80 on the survey’s
100-point scale, followed by Ford and Chrysler at 79. Nissan,
The American Customer Satis-
with a score of 76, has the lowest online satisfaction of the mea-
faction Index (ACSI) is the only
uniform, national, cross-industry
sured automotive organizations and is below the industry ag-
measure of satisfaction with the
gregate score of 78.
quality of goods and services avail-
able in the United States. A key
distinguishing feature of the ACSI
methodology is its patented sci-
entific approach to customer sat-
Website Satisfaction Score isfaction measurement. The tech-
nology behind the ACSI computes
scores that reflect performance—
Aggregate Score 78
based on the relative impacts of
Honda.com 80 various components of satisfac-
tion on overall satisfaction and
Chrysler.com 79 the likelihood of desirable future
behaviors. Accordingly, the ACSI
FordVehicles.com 79 methodology is able to isolate and
determine the importance of the
features and functions most likely
Toyota.com 77 to produce these behaviors—a
critical distinction from basic cus-
NissanUSA.com 76 tomer satisfaction ratings.
A score of 80 is generally considered the threshold for a truly
superior customer satisfaction score using the ACSI methodol-
When applied to the web, the
ogy, and only Honda makes the mark, though Chrysler and Ford
unique cause-and-effect method-
ology of the ACSI shows how satis-
are close behind.
fied site visitors are today, and how
satisfaction leads to desired future
It is notable that for its strength in the marketplace, Toyota’s
behaviors, such as dealership vis-
website performance is only middle of the road. Its website could
its, future purchase and positive
provide more value to the organization if the voice of customer
word of mouth recommendations.
This unique methodology also
was integrated more into online marketing strategies.
gauges satisfaction with specific
elements of the online experience,
It is also interesting that only four points separate top-perform-
such as brand, site performance
ing Honda from Nissan, the bottom performer, so there is a rela-
and vehicle descriptions that influ-
tively small degree of differentiation among these six automo-
ence overall satisfaction and fu-
tive sites. Most mature online industries have a point spread of
10 or even 20 points between the industry leader and laggard.
The ACSI produced by the University
of Michigan creates an annual rank-
Even one additional point of customer satisfaction provides in-
ing of customer satisfaction with
credible value because as satisfaction rises, customers’ likeli-
the automobile industry as part of
its Manufactured Durable Goods
hood to buy and visit a dealer also rises. If one of the automotive
report, released each August. The
companies were to take bolder, more innovative steps online, it
University’s rankings do not break
would have significant potential to leap ahead of the pack, re-
out website performance. This is
sulting in a higher likelihood that customers will buy a vehicle.
the first Index to focus on satisfac-
tion with auto websites.
4. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
How Satisfaction Influences Purchase Intent
What good is high satisfaction unless it has a proven impact on customers’ likelihood to buy a vehicle,
recommend a certain website or visit a dealership? And why should a company put resources into
increasing satisfaction unless there is a demonstrable payoff? The ACSI methodology used to conduct
this study recognizes that satisfaction itself is not the desired end result.
The numbers produced by the ACSI methodology are more than just satisfaction scores for each of
these companies. They can actually be used to predict, and even alter, specific future behaviors of
customers. For this reason, the ACSI methodology is the one we chose to conduct this study. When au-
tomotive companies can measure the impact of their website on offline behaviors, it becomes much
easier to determine return on investment and to allocate resources effectively.
Satisfaction is a means to an end, as satisfied customers are scientifically proven to be more likely to
engage in each of the following future behaviors and attitudes:
• Brand Commitment: Gauges the impact of web satisfaction on share of mind and brand perceptions
• ikelihood to Purchase: Measures how satisfaction with the website influences purchase through
• ikelihood to Recommend: Shows how satisfaction can create positive word of mouth recommen-
• ikelihood to Return: Indicates propensity to return to the site, which provides an opportunity for
the automakers to further engage online customers
• isit a Dealer: Measures the impact of the web channel on consumers’ likelihood to visit a dealer
to take a test drive, make a purchase, etc.
Like satisfaction, each of the future behaviors is scored on a 100-point scale to show how likely cus-
tomers are to engage in it. The graphic below shows that in the aggregate, the automotive websites
we measured are doing a fairly good job encouraging visitors to return to the website (80) and caus-
ing them to visit a dealer (78). Increasing satisfaction by even one point would substantially impact
the likelihood of customers to engage in all of the future behaviors mentioned below.
Brand Commitment 74
Likelihood to Purchase 76
Satisfaction 78 Likelihood to Recommend 76
Likelihood to Return 80
Likelihood to Visit Dealer 78
5. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Scores in the 70s indicate that most auto websites are not allowing the online channel to fulfill its
potential as a key influencer of customer behavior. If automotive websites can get their scores up
well into the 80s for all these desirable future customer behaviors, they will be truly taking maximum
advantage of the online channel as an influencer of purchase decisions, dealer visits, loyalty and posi-
tive word of mouth.
The chart below shows the measured companies scores for satisfaction and each future behavior.
Future Behavior Chevrolet Chrysler Ford Honda Nissan Toyota Aggregate
Satisfaction 77 79 79 80 76 77 78
Brand Commitment 73 74 73 77 72 73 74
Purchase 75 77 75 81 75 78 76
Recommend 76 77 76 78 73 75 76
Return to Site 80 81 81 82 76 79 80
Visit a Dealer 78 78 76 82 77 79 78
As shown in the chart, since satisfaction directly impacts future behaviors, Honda’s strong satisfac-
tion score results in the highest scores for all measured future behaviors. Most significantly Honda
leads by quite a margin in likelihood to purchase (81) and likelihood to visit a dealer (82), typically
a key part of the purchase process in the automotive world. Site visitors to Honda.com are 8% more
likely to purchase than are visitors to Ford.com, which ties with Chevrolet and Nissan for the lowest
score, a 75, in this key behavior. These high future behavior scores indicate that Honda is doing the
best job leveraging its website to build brand value and encourage purchases in a very tangible way.
Chrysler tops Ford in all future behaviors except for likelihood to return to the site, where both score
81. Chrysler most significantly beats Ford in both likelihood to purchase and likelihood to visit a
dealer, in each case by two points.
In fact, Ford has the lowest score of all measured sites for likelihood to visit a dealer despite having
the second highest satisfaction score. Clearly Ford’s website is having some impact, but the company
could be doing so much more to make its website a measurable, demonstrable contributor to dealer
visits and sales. Very small increases in online customer satisfaction can pay huge dividends in terms
of future customer behaviors.
Toyota, which has a satisfaction score of 77, has fairly good future behavior scores for likelihood to
visit a dealer (79), likelihood to purchase (78) and likelihood to return to the site (79). While likeli-
hood to return to the site doesn’t have a direct impact on sales, each site visit gives the auto manufac-
turer an opportunity to strengthen the relationship and share of mind with the customer.
Satisfaction laggard Nissan, with a score of 76, has the lowest scores in the future behaviors of return
to the site (76) and likelihood to recommend (73). However, visitors to Nissan’s website are more
likely to visit a dealer as a result of their online experience than visitors to Ford’s website.
6. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
How Can Auto Websites Make Visitors More Satisfied,
and Therefore More Likely to Purchase and Visit a Dealer?
There is extensive published peer-reviewed academic research showing that customer satisfaction
as measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) methodology can predict and influ-
ence loyalty, purchase behavior, positive word of mouth, and even future financial results. There has
even been research showing that the ACSI predicts stock prices (Journal of Marketing, January 2006).
So, knowing how important customer satisfaction is, what can companies do to improve it?
The ACSI methodology measures several key drivers, or elements, of online satisfaction. Improving
these elements generally leads to increased satisfaction. The elements that will have the most impact
on overall satisfaction (and therefore on future behaviors) differs for each company.
For the automotive industry, our analysis measured customer satisfaction with the following elements:
• rand Consistency: How well the site communicates the company’s qualities, creates positive im-
ages about the company and is consistent with the consumer’s image of the brand across channels
• Inventory: Variety, availability and appeal of vehicles
• Look & Feel: Visual appeal of site, ease of reading, appropriateness of graphics and text
• avigation: Site organization, number of clicks to get to desired information, site layout, naviga-
• Site Performance: Speed, consistency of page loading
• Vehicle Browsing: Ability to sort vehicles, find desired vehicles, effectiveness of site features
• Vehicle Descriptions: Thoroughness and effectiveness of vehicle descriptions
• Vehicle Images: Effectiveness, realism of vehicle images
The sophisticated methodology of the ACSI is able to assign priorities for improvement based on
which elements have the biggest impact on overall satisfaction and future behaviors. For example,
one auto website may find that although the element of vehicle descriptions is high-scoring, it also
has the biggest impact on overall satisfaction (and therefore likelihood to purchase, visit a dealer,
etc.), so it should be the first focus of improvement efforts. Another website may find that navigation
is low-scoring and has the highest impact on satisfaction, so it should be considered the top prior-
ity for improvement. Through this system of discovering which elements have the greatest impact
on satisfaction, automotive websites are able to determine where valuable development resources
should be allocated.
7. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
The graphic below shows an industry snapshot of how each of the elements was scored by customers
and the impact of each element on overall customer satisfaction. Elements with higher impacts (as
shown by the asterisks below) should be priorities for improvement.
Brand Consistency 81 1.8
Inventory 81 .07
Look and Feel 78 0.0
Navigation 76 1.1 Customer
Site Performance 76 0.0
Vehicle Browsing 79 0.6
Vehicle Descriptions 79 0.8
Vehicle Images 80 0.3
These elements and impacts give us a snapshot of the industry as a whole, but do not provide a pre-
scription for individual websites. We provide a bit more detail later in the report on the priorities for
individual automotive websites.
Though priorities for each website will differ, the industry snapshot indicates that improvements to
how well the site conveys the brand are a priority for the industry overall. Even though brand is already
a fairly high-scoring element, it has the greatest impact on satisfaction, and therefore on likelihood to
purchase, recommend or visit a dealer. As consumers increasingly turn to the web as their first point
of contact with an automotive company, it’s critical that the companies communicate their brand’s
unique qualities online, and that their websites are consistent with the brand image that a consumer
will find in a dealership, via TV commercials or through other non-web interactions and experiences.
Another priority for most auto websites, as shown by the table above, is navigation, which has the sec-
ond highest impact on overall satisfaction. On the other hand, although site performance is amongst
the lowest-scoring elements, improvements in this area will have the lowest return on investment.
It should be noted that these priorities will vary by website (and by audience segment, vehicle name-
plate and other factors) and each auto website should take time to determine its own individual
element scores and priority map. However, in general, the industry can save on investments in tech-
nology that will increase page download time and should increase attention and spending that will
result in better navigation.
8. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
In addition to providing industry-level suggestions, we have identified some top priorities for each of
the individual measured sites. It should be noted that these are general, site-level observations. Auto-
makers would be well served to segment by audience, nameplate, time to purchase, etc. For example,
someone going online to research a lease on a Prius in six months may have different needs and pri-
orities than someone looking to buy a Ford SUV next week. Our analysis and suggestions below are
based on all visitors to the site.
In a few cases with the most dramatic findings, we’ve provided analysis suggested by our usability ex-
perts based on website usability best practices. Usability analysis begins with satisfaction data, which
provides laser focus. A typical site-wide usability audit could identify as many as 1000 or more us-
ability infractions, and automakers would have no way to know which improvements would have the
biggest impact on overall satisfaction and future behaviors. The ACSI methodology identifies which
elements are priorities, then the usability analysis discovers and prioritizes specific improvement
opportunities to those elements that will have the greatest return on investment.
Note: Usability reviews of certain key elements of the Ford, Toyota, Chevy, and Nissan websites were
conducted in March, 2008. The ForeSee Results Automotive Website Satisfaction Index research was
conducted between August and November of 2007.
Top-scoring Honda excels at brand consistency, where it garners a strong score of 82. This means
that Honda has done a good job communicating the unique qualities of its brand online while also
maintaining a consistent brand image across channels, including dealerships, advertising, media
coverage and other channels. Honda’s biggest opportunity to improve online satisfaction and de-
sired future behaviors is through improvements to navigation, its lowest-scoring element (77).
For Chrysler, tied for second place in overall satisfaction with Ford, inventory is also an area of oppor-
tunity, even though the element is fairly high-scoring (80). Additionally, improvements to the online
brand would also yield positive results. Brand consistency can be one of the hardest elements to pro-
actively change, but taking a look at whether the brand communicated by the website is consistent
with the brand communicated by advertisements and dealerships is the first step.
9. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Ford is tied with Chrysler for sec-
ond-place in overall satisfaction
(79). Based on our research, Ford’s
top priority is navigation. A usabil-
ity evaluation of the navigation ele-
ment sheds light on some specific
mistakes Ford is making on its site.
FordVehicles.com provides a Fea-
tures tab  on vehicle pages; how-
ever, the associated sub-navigation
options of Design, Technology, Flex-
ibility, and Safety are easily over-
looked because the navigation bar is
located further down the page .
The images located below the Ve-
hicle Features bar  compete for
visitors’ attention and increase the
likelihood that they will miss out
on the additional vehicle informa-
tion and images available via this
While other activities associated
with browsing vehicles (such as
viewing the photo gallery, rotating
the vehicle 360 degrees, selecting a
color, etc.) are given greater promi-
nence at the top of the page, Vehicle
Features is shortchanged.
Ford should provide a primary page
for each model that sets expecta-
tions regarding special incentives,
financing offers, etc., and FordVe-
hicles.com should avoid displaying
these elements on pages designed
to showcase the specifics of each
10. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
For Toyota, which falls just below the in-
dustry average in satisfaction with a score
of 77, improvements to inventory, while
not the lowest rated element, would have
the most impact on overall satisfaction. A
usability evaluation of the inventory ele-
ment shows that searching for new inven-
tory on Toyota.com is not as efficient or
intuitive as it could be.
 Shows the page for the 2008 Prius. Visi-
tors use the cascading menu embedded
within the Prius page to look for local spe-
cials  to find that after inputting their zip
code they are taken to a page that features
cash back and special financing offers for
a 4Runner  (not a vehicle likely to be of
interest to someone looking for a Prius).
Visitors who use the cascading menu with-
in the Prius 08 page to locate a dealer 
find themselves taken to a page of Toyota
dealers within the specified zip code .
However, the only explicit option to search
inventory is the Search Certified Used In-
ventory link , which facilitates searching
for used vehicles, even though the visitor
has an obvious preference for a new Prius.
Strikingly, those interested in a new 2008
Prius fail to find any explicit means for
searching for inventory. While visitors can
click on the Visit Dealer Website link to go
to the local dealer site —even here they
fail to be provided with an immediately
visible means of searching the dealer’s in-
ventory for the desired vehicle.
Fixing these kinds of issues would improve
Toyota’s inventory score, improving overall
satisfaction, which would in turn improve
the likelihood that visitors to Toyota.com
would visit a dealer or purchase. In such a
competitive space, these kinds of small ad-
justments can be incredibly valuable.
11. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Chevrolet, also just below the industry av-
erage for satisfaction with a score of 77,
should focus its efforts on improvements to
navigation, specifically on minimizing the
number of clicks required to get to desired
information. Our usability review identi-
fied several improvement opportunities.
Without a Model Selector functionality,
Chevrolet.com deprives visitors of a critical
way to navigate the site and hone in on a
vehicle of interest. As shown in , visitors
land on the homepage and find no means
to view all Cars and then designate criteria
of importance to narrow their options. For
example, car buyers are keenly interested
in fuel efficiency and may wish to immedi-
ately see only on those models that meet
their preferences with regard to MPG. In-
stead, they must select a model from the
drop-down menu , and navigate to a par-
ticular model . Navigation is negatively
impacted for those who have not yet deter-
mined which model they are interested in
purchasing as they must make additional
clicks to each model page to review car
features. Chevrolet.com forces visitors to
make additional clicks as they navigate
within the Photo Gallery. As shown in ,
visitors within the Photo Gallery find a
mechanism labeled About This Photo that
accompanies an individual view of the ve-
hicle. Visitors must make the effort to click
on the mechanism in order to see the text
that accompanies the vehicle image .
Upon reading the description that accom-
panies the photo, they must then go to the
effort to close the layer  in order to return
to an unobstructed view of the vehicle.
These examples of additional clicks add up
during the course of an online browsing
experience and give visitors a negative im-
pression about the efficiency of navigation.
12. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
NissanUSA.com, the lowest-scoring site
in our index with a score of 76, falls short
when it comes to providing visitors with
adequate information about vehicle speci-
fications. Vehicle descriptions come up as
Nissan’s highest priority element.
From a usability review, we found that
NissanUSA.com does a solid job of detailing
the specifications within various categories,
such as interior, exterior, and mechanical,
as well as indicating whether features are
standard or optional. However, as shown in
, the site fails to hyperlink specifications
to provide visitors with additional informa-
tion. Stellar usability dictates that vehicle
specifications be hyperlinked and produce
an accompanying pop-up window or layer
that gives visitors a better understanding
via a textual description as well as a helpful
visual image. In contrast,  shows this ap-
proach on Chevrolet.com where specifica-
tions are more fully explained through text
These are just a few examples of the spe-
cific elements these automotive websites
could improve in order to improve overall
satisfaction, which will in turn impact fu-
ture purchase behaviors.
Conclusion: Putting It All Together & Driving the Dollars
The ACSI methodology shows how satisfaction with certain website elements leads to overall satis-
faction, and how overall satisfaction determines the likelihood that customers will engage in certain
specific future behaviors. The ACSI provides the diagnosis, and as shown over the past few pages,
usability can provide the prescription.
Automotive companies must understand how satisfaction drives future behaviors. And in order to in-
crease satisfaction, they must, at an individual level, understand which elements will have the great-
est impact on satisfaction. Only then can automotive websites realize their full potential as key driv-
ers of offline sales and overall loyalty.
13. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
Automotive Customer Satisfaction Model
Look and Feel
Likelihood to Purchase
Customer Likelihood to Recommend
Likelihood to Return
Likelihood to Visit Dealer
While the automotive industry is still behind many other industries in terms of maximizing the poten-
tial of the web, there is great opportunity to do a better job of satisfying site visitors. As the majority
of customers increasingly turn to the web as a first point of contact to gather information on vehicles
and compare them, automotive companies will need to ensure that they provide a more satisfying
online experience. Online customer satisfaction leaders will reap the benefits of enhanced loyalty
and sales, while those that are unable to deliver on the web will lose their competitive advantage and
deflect in-market shoppers to competitors. Measuring customer satisfaction using a credible cause-
and-effect technology is the first step toward doing a better job of managing customer satisfaction.
About the Author
Larry Freed is an expert on website effectiveness and online customer satisfaction. He is also Presi-
dent and CEO of ForeSee Results, a market leader in customer satisfaction measurement on the web,
which utilizes the methodology of the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
About the ForeSee Results Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
The ForeSee Results Automotive Website Satisfaction Index uses the methodology of the University of
Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) to analyze data collected from visitors to six
major auto websites: Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Surveys were conducted
via an online panel. Approximately 2,000 respondents who had visited one of the websites within the
past 48 hours between the dates of August 1 and November 6, 2007, completed an online customer
14. ForeSee Results 2008 Automotive Website Satisfaction Index
About ForeSee Results
As the leader in online customer satisfaction measurement, ForeSee Results uses online voice of
customer data to help organizations around the globe increase sales, loyalty, recommendations and
website value. Using a proven, patented technology, ForeSee Results identifies the improvements to
websites and other online initiatives with the greatest ROI. With over 28 million survey responses
collected to date and benchmarks across dozens of industries, ForeSee Results offers our clients un-
paralleled expertise in customer satisfaction measurement and management. ForeSee Results works
with clients across industries, including: retail, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, tele-
communications and government, including Ace Hardware, Automotive News, Best Buy, Forbes Auto
and Harley-Davidson, to name a few.
ForeSee Results, a privately held company, is headquartered in Michigan and can be found on the web