Additional Insights from a Recent Industry Study.

The last couple of years have been a sales bonanza for the boating industry as manufacturers and dealers have been able to sell nearly all they could handle. However, these days will not last and it is important now to prepare for more challenging days ahead. One key way to do this is to be sure you are treating your current customers well. This is especially important given that 70% or more of boat sales each year are to prior boat owners.

In a recent industry webinar, I explained the drivers of satisfaction with the overall boat ownership experience. If you did not get a chance to see it, you can see the presentation here or listen to the webinar recording.

For this article, I explore the drivers of satisfaction with the dealer purchase experience. The analysis was based on a sample of 493 boaters who purchased from a dealer between 2019 and 2021.

What Matters to Customers

In our survey, boaters were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their dealer purchase experience. Regression analysis was then used to determine which attributes had the greatest impact on overall satisfaction ratings.

Four attributes were included: Salesperson is knowledgeable/trustworthy, Purchase process was quick and easy, Boat was in good condition/as described, and Dealer provided a thorough overview of the boat at delivery.

All four attributes were found to have a statistically significant relationship with overall satisfaction with the dealer purchase experience. This means that a deficiency in any one area may negatively impact the customer’s overall sentiments of their dealer.

Drivers of Satisfaction with the Purchase ExperienceHowever, to determine the relative impact of each item, a sensitivity analysis was performed. In it, each attribute was varied one unit at a time (from a rating of 1 – Not At All Satisfied, to a rating of 5 – Completely Satisfied) while holding all other attributes constant (at a rating of 4). The percent of customers “Completely Satisfied” with the dealer was then calculated.

As you can see from the table on the right, if a customer rates their Salesperson a “1” in terms of “is Knowledgeable and Trustworthy”, then there is essentially zero chance they would be completely satisfied with the dealer. But, if this rating increases to a 5, then approximately 35% would be completely satisfied – even though all other attributes were held constant at a mediocre rating of 4. The spread or range between the highest and lowest values is indicative of the relative importance of a particular item.

The Most Important Item

Based on this, the single item that has the greatest impact on overall satisfaction with the dealer purchase experience is whether or not the dealer provided a thorough overview of the boat at delivery (range of 42 pts).  Unfortunately, as we will see shortly, this is an area that is sometimes overlooked.

Interestingly, “delivering a boat in good condition/as expected” was relatively less important (though still significant) than the other three attributes.  This suggests that even if the boat is delivered in perfect condition, it will only have a modest impact on overall perceptions of the dealer if the customer is not fully satisfied in the other areas.

Fumbling on the Goal Line

Now let’s take a look at how dealers, on average, are performing in each of these areas. The chart below shows the average satisfaction ratings for dealers overall and for each purchase experience metric.

Dealer Satisfaction Ratings

As you can see, providing a “thorough overview of the boat…” was the lowest rated item. And, as noted above, this final step in the purchase process has the largest impact on the customer’s impression of their dealer purchase experience.

Many boaters told us that the overview was too quick, the amount of information was overwhelming, and was often not comprehensive enough.

Suggestions to Improve the Delivery Experience

Given the challenges of trying to keep up with consumer demand in recent years, it may be very tempting for dealers to breeze through the delivery process.  Especially since many of the details might seem like “common sense” to an experienced salesperson.  However, what we discovered in our survey is that even “repeat boaters” found the product overview at delivery to be inadequate.

So what can dealers do to ensure a positive delivery experience?  Below are some suggestions based on feedback from boaters:

  • Be sure to schedule an adequate amount of time for the product overview. While the amount of time needed will vary by boat and boater, it is important to set aside enough time to cover all major boat features and functions and still allow time for questions.
  • Use a checklist to cover all boat systems from bow to stern. This is not a time to “wing it”.  Having a checklist will help ensure all key items are covered and will add consistency to the process.
  • Provide hand-outs to remind customers of key items such as the routine maintenance requirements, engine break-in procedures, or how to operate major systems. The “flood” of information provided during the delivery process is often overwhelming.  Providing hand-outs will help remind your customers of the key things they need to know and may deter some questions or frustration.
  • Provide or direct customers to supplemental information or videos to educate them on the details of all major boat systems (boat, motor, electronics). This is where manufacturers can play an important part by developing instructional videos or product manuals for every new model introduced.   Dealers could then hand out this information or forward the appropriate links to enable customer to “study” the material on their own time rather than wasting hours searching for helpful content from a variety of other sources.

Finally, it is important to measure how well you are doing with regards to the purchase experience.  This will help to ensure you are meeting customer expectations and allow you to measure progress over time.  If you do not already have a customer satisfaction survey in place, be sure to check out our free dealer satisfaction survey tool that you can use “as is” or customize for a minor additional charge.