There is a belief among many car owners that a good independent mechanic provides a much better service experience than a dealer.
But a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey of owners showed that dealerships are making customers happier than independent shops.
Dealerships, says Chris Sutton, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates, have been getting better across the board as dealers have invested in better service-bay environments and taken an increased amount of customer handling training. Customer satisfaction with maintenance visits is typically higher than satisfaction with repair visits, since visits for routine maintenance tend to be less expensive and less time-consuming.
Five measures are examined to the survey of luxury vehicle customers: service quality; service initiation; service advisor; service facility; and vehicle pick-up.
For many luxury buyers who are not rock-solid brand loyal to one car company, the quality of service and dealer can be an important tie breaker between, say, buying a Lincoln over a Cadillac, or a BMW over a Mercedes.
Mercedes-Benz North America President Steve Cannon says that he is focusing his company and dealer network on "service, service and more service." Mercedes ranks seventh out of thirteen luxury brands, and below the category's average. Why? Cannon says that Mercedes has a dynamic and expanding product line that has been bringing in lost of first-time and young Mercedes buyers. "They have high standards for how they are handled, and we have to work harder to meet them and we are investing a lot to make sure we don't lose customers who are happy with our products but not the ownership experience down the road."
So who is the best of the best when it comes to service and customer handling? Check out the slide show to see the top-five luxury brands, the only five that ranked above an industry average for customer satisfaction. And be sure to check out which brand is the #1 King Of Service.
That the German automaker--best known for slick sports cars, remains in the top five -- is a testament to the company's hard work in the area of dealer training. In the last few years, Porsche has attracted a whole new audience and buyer to its dealerships with the Cayenne SUV and Panamera sedan.
It's not just 911's and Boxsters any longer.
One of the things Porsche has going for it is that its dealer personnel tends to have a lot of years of experience -- there is not the same level of turnover as one sees at many mass-market brand dealerships, like Dodge, Ford or Nissan. Porsche is also an engineering driven company, and that focus on quality of the vehicles and service has long been a hallmark.
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The luxury division of Honda has an advantage in that customers who buy an Acura, or Honda for that matter, are generally very satisfied with how seldom the cars break in the first place. Honda engines, too, have longer oil change intervals, which cuts down on maintenance costs.
Acura and Honda vehicles also have a lot of common parts under the vehicles' skin, so that there is usually little drama, or shockingly high costs, when vehicles do need repair.
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The British luxury brand has come a very long way over the last five or six years. It used to be that Jag owners needed two cars -- one to drive and one to keep in the shop.
But under Ford Motor Co., which owned Jaguar from the late 1980s until 2009, quality improved and investments were made in dealerships to better the owner experience.
Now, under the ownership of Indian automaker Tata, Jaguar continues to score high on customer handling and service. In fact, the company and dealer network have doubled down on service standards that were already pretty high as many customers may be looking for Jag to falter under Tata ownership, which is unproven in the U.S. or in the luxury market.
Tata also owns and runs Land Rover, which is operated together with Jaguar. The two brands also share a lot of parts and corporate resources. But among thirteen luxe brands surveyed by J.D. Power, Land Rover ranks last. Maybe some of the Jaguar service experts should turn their attention to Land Rover.
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Cadillac, the luxury brand of General Motors, has long ranked near or sometimes at, the top of service surveys.
Cadillac dealers have a pretty solid, steady relationship with customers over long periods of time. And like good luxury goods dealers should, they engage in long-term "relationship marketing."
Cadillac, as it has broadened and modernized its lineup, has had a few quality hiccups. But given the results of the study, year after year, dealers are making up for those transgressions by going extra miles to make their customers happy.
2012 is a big year for Caddy, it is launching its all new XTS flagship car, which will be replacing two Cadillac stalwarts -- the DTS and STS. Those models have older, but very loyal, followings and dealers are challenged to make those customers happy when they can't come in and buy the new versions of the cars they have been driving for years. Cadillac this year is also introducing the ATS, an entry-level sedan it promises will compete against the BMW 3 Series and thus attract a younger and new kind of buyer to Cadillac dealerships. The dealer network will be put to the test because younger luxury car buyers who have been driving import brands are harsher judges of service than older customers who have been buying Cadillacs for decades.
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The luxury division of Toyota is king of the service and quality surveys, and has dominated the top ranks for many years.
It is the fourth consecutive year that Lexus has led the survey. In years when it hasn't led, it has hovered near the top.
The first ingredient in leading a survey like this is that Lexus vehicles don't break very often in the first place. That is always the first way to make customers happy.
Lexus dealers, when they began with the franchise in the late 1980s, over-achieved in any way they could. Toyota knew they would be met with skepticism entering the luxury ranks against established players like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. So, lots of investment went into dealer facilities and customer training. That bred a culture in the dealer network of always over-delivering on customer handling.
Until 2011 when Lexus's supply of vehicles was cut short by the Japanese earthquake in March 2011, it had led the luxury category in quality, service and sales. A pretty good tri-fecta.
It fell to third in sales last year. But it is bouncing back strong this year with new vehicles like the all-new GS sedan, which ushers in a sportier look and feel to Lexus sedans the company says will continue with each new model it brings out. A new Lexus ES comes out later this year.
If history shows us anything, it is that Lexus will probably make its new customers as happy as its old ones.
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