Customer Champions: Lexus, Jaguar, Lincoln, Cadillac

Automakers accounted for four of the 50 brands that got golden wreaths for being J.D. Power 2014 Customer Champions, a validation of their ability to provide the highest level of customer service. Lexus, Cadillac, Jaguar and Lincoln were the big auto winners in the study, which was done in partnership with Fortune Custom Publishing and is based on customer feedback.

J.D. Power looked at over 600 brands across nine industries and based the ranking on performance in what the firm calls "J.D. Power 5 Ps": People, Presentation, Price, Process and Product.

Dave Sargent, VP, vehicle research in the global automotive operations division at J.D. Power, tells Marketing Daily that the automotive results are derived from J.D. Power’s 2013 data on sales and service satisfaction from its syndicated studied, such as the APEAL ( Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout) study which looks at individual vehicle models and the SSI (Sales Satisfaction Index). He says that for cars, product and service weigh heavily. 

In last year's APEAL, Volkswagen Group won the highest number of segment awards at the corporate level, while Chevrolet won at the brand level. In the firm's 2013 SSI, which measures the new-vehicle buying experience, Jaguar won for the luxury segment and Mini for mass-market auto brands. 

The Champions ranking only compares products and services within their categories. "Within auto we have 32 brands and by definition you have to be in the top 20% to be on this list," says Sargent. "And even within that you have to be high enough above a threshold that separates the top 20% from the rest. And we have a hard cap in terms of the number of brands in any one industry."

He adds that in absolute terms, dealerships across the board are improving as customer’s expectations rise. "But the more you give the more customers expect, and they are either consciously or subconsciously comparing their experiences in one industry with those in another category: Lexus versus Four Seasons, for instance. Customers will say 'I'm spending $60,000 on a vehicle and I'm getting better service at my pharmacy.’" 

As for digital savvy as a component of service, Sargent says the influence is indirect. "But the overall results are certainly colored by how they experience the brand online -- can they easily see inventory online? Can they get a service appointment? -- even though those things aren't directly asked on the survey." 

Finbarr O'Neill, president of J.D. Power, noted that customer satisfaction at all points of the process is not an option, stating:  "Not only does satisfaction encourage customer loyalty, but happy customers also become advocates of the brand to others. Particularly given the ability of today’s consumers to easily communicate their experiences far and wide through social media and online reviews, customer advocacy can be critical to a company’s bottom line.”

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