The new QX80 helped Infiniti to the top of the latest J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index.

In an unexpected and potentially critical move, Infiniti unseated Lexus as the top-ranked brand in J.D. Power’s annual Customer Satisfaction Index, while Buick ranked tops among mass-market brands.

But the auto industry on the whole managed to post big improvements, reflecting an increased focus on keeping customers happy when it comes to receiving service at franchised dealers, according to the annual Power study.

Keeping customers happy is critical, said Chris Sutton, Power’s vice president of U.S. automotive retail practices. “Satisfied customers tend to stay with a brand and bring others with them,” said Sutton, adding that, “Anything less opens the door for customers to shop elsewhere.”

Infiniti scored 876 out of a possible 1,000 points in the 2018 U.S. Customer Service Index Study, an increase of 15 points over last year’s results. That pushed it past Lexus, last year’s winner, as well as Porsche, the second-ranked brand, as well as Audi and Cadillac. Until this year, Infiniti had never come in higher than sixth place and it dipped below the industry average in the 2016 CSI.

(Toyota dominates Consumer Reports’ top 10 brands. Click Here for the story.)

Lexus finished second to Infiniti in this year's J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index.

That’s a significant development for Infiniti. The Nissan luxury arm launched in 1989, at the same time as Toyota’s Lexus, but has long lagged in the shadows of the upscale market. It has been making a push, backed by an array of new products, to join the luxury leaders. And improving service satisfaction could help it both retain more existing owners while also attracting new buyers.

“We know that time is a valuable currency, which is why our retailers make it a priority to deliver an exceptional experience from the moment customers walk in the door and throughout the entire ownership cycle,” Randy Parker, vice president of Infiniti Americas, said in response to the 2018 CSI results.

As for Buick, General Motors’ “premium” brand came in with a score of 850 points. That was enough to retain its leadership, though it dropped 10 points from the 2017 CSI results. Buick has been the leader in the mass-market segment for four of the last five years – and it has also scored well in other recent Power surveys, including its annual Initial Quality Study.

(Click Here for details about Lexus and Buick leading the industry in long-term dependability.)

GM’s biggest brand, Chevrolet, fell just one point behind its sibling, at 849, tying British-based Mini in second place. And GMC came in third. Overall, GM has had its four U.S. brands land in the top five luxury and mainstream segments for eight consecutive years.

The industry overall saw its average in the CSI rise 12 points for the year, to 821 points. That’s the biggest one-year gain since 2012. Automakers have gained ground for eight of the last nine years in the study which examines how manufacturers perform when it comes to all aspects of the service experience.

Not all brands fared well. Jaguar, which topped the luxury segment, and the CSI overall, in 2015 dropped to second to last in the 2018 study, with a score of 841. Only its sibling Land Rover fared more poorly, with a score of 812.

On the mass-market side, Fiat ranked last for the second consecutive year, with a score of 744. All five Fiat Chrysler brands ranked in the bottom six, along with Mazda which had a score of 786.

(To see more who’s at the top and bottom of the latest Power IQS rankings, Click Here.)

While the CSI helps add perspective to how individual automakers are performing in the service arena, the study also provides insight into industry and consumer trends. Among key findings:

  • There has been a big push to scheduling service appointments online, especially among Gen Y customers;
  • Premium brand owners have come to expect what Power calls “white glove valet service,” including home or office vehicle pickup and delivery. Among owners who were given such treatment, scores were a full 27 points higher;
  • Young owners, in particular, are drawn to dealer service departments when offered coupons and other promotions, though they also are affected by strong word-of-mouth.

“Increasing the number of brand advocates” by meeting service expectations, said Power’s Sutton “is the pathway to growth for dealers looking to generate repeat business and bring in new business.”

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