The study rated Mini, BMW, Lexus, Chrysler, Dodge, Lincoln and Ram dealers as the most improved over the 2014 index, while the brands with the greatest decline since last year were Volvo, Smart, Jaguar and Cadillac.
To gather its data, Pied Piper sent "mystery shoppers" — researchers posing as prospective customers — to 6,370 dealerships throughout the U.S. and had them rate the service they received based on more than 50 fact-based criteria.
These included whether the salesperson offered a test drive, gave a reason to buy from that dealership, suggested sitting down at a desk, asked why the prospect considered that brand, asked how the vehicle would be used and offered printed materials for the customer to take home.
Pied Piper notes that while brand average scores are used for the PSI rankings, of course individual dealership performance varies within each brand. Thus, highly rated brands could have some below-average dealers, and lower-rated brands might have some very responsive dealers.
The point of the study is to help automakers and dealerships hone their customer service techniques. Pied Piper says that dealers who improved their PSI score by 10 points or more from year to year saw their sales rise by 9 percent, while those whose score dropped by 10 points or more saw sales fall off by 6 percent.
On average, says Pied Piper, dealerships in the top quarter of the PSI rankings sell 16 percent more vehicles than those in the bottom quarter.
The key, according to Pied Piper, is to systematize the sales staff's approach to building a relationship with customers so that nothing is overlooked during the process.
"Top performing dealerships define specific sales steps to be followed by their salespeople," said Fran O'Hagan, president and CEO of Pied Piper Management Company LLC. "Less successful dealerships allow a 'Wild West' approach where each salesperson decides how to sell."
Edmunds says: Consumers looking for an auto dealer in their area should consult the Edmunds.com dealership page.