For the first time since 1986, a non-luxurynameplate, Saturn, ranks highest in customer satisfaction with dealer service,according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2002 Customer Service Index (CSI)Study released June 10.According to the study, Saturn's strength lies in its strong performance on routine maintenance,where it earns the highest score in the study, significantly above all othermakes, luxury or non-luxury. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Saturnservice is routine maintenance-related; the industry average is 55 percent."The overall strength of Saturn's customer satisfaction is a result of'white glove' treatment, with easy service appointments, friendlyinteraction with service personnel and a strong emphasis on considerationfor the timely treatment of customers," said John Harbicht, director ofservice/dealer satisfaction at J.D. Power and Associates. "Saturn ownersare intensely loyal to their dealers."The study indicates that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of spendingon routine service and repair by Saturn owners is conducted at thedealership-much higher than the non-luxury average of 64 percent. Whileless than one-half of non-luxury owners intend to return to their dealersfor customer-paid work, 61 percent of Saturn owners intend to do so, according to the study.With marked improvement in service facility ratings compared to 2001,Infiniti follows Saturn in the ranking. Customers rate Infiniti serviceexceptionally well on both routine maintenance and repair.After securing the top position in CSI for the past five years (and nine ofthe previous 11 years), Lexus ranks third in 2002."Although Lexus is not the top-ranked brand this year, its service qualityevaluations and the ability to fix vehicles right the first time continue tobe hallmarks of Lexus service," said Harbicht. With steady product quality improvements throughout the automotive industry,customers are visiting dealer service departments with fewer repairs needed.The reported mix of maintenance and repair events for the industry is now at55 percent for routine maintenance and 45 percent for repairs-an 8percentage-point shift since 1999 when the industry average was 47 percentmaintenance and 53 percent repair.Quality improvements also contribute to an industry trend of dealershipsincreasingly fixing vehicles right the first time. In 1990, only two-thirdsof consumers said their repairs were resolved on the first visit. In 2002,that percentage has jumped to 85 percent. Much of this can be attributed tovehicle quality improvements, less difficult repairs and improved serviceprocesses designed by manufacturers, according to J.D. Power & Associates.The study shows that even when recalls are necessary, they're not alwaysperceived as negative experiences by consumers. Not only arecustomer-reported incidences of recalls down from 21 percent in 2001 to 18percent in 2002, but also product recalls don't necessarily result in anerosion of customer satisfaction."When handled properly, we're seeing that dealers can turn a recall into apositive experience that highlights good customer service," said Harbicht."When parts are readily available for the recall repair, customers caneasily get a service appointment and the work is done in a timely fashion,CSI scores do not suffer. In fact, customers often have maintenance workperformed during the recall visit, resulting in additional service dollarsto the dealership."The survey also said that there is an ever-increasing trend among luxury-vehicle manufacturers tooffer free maintenance programs. Customer-reported free maintenance forluxury makes has risen to 38 percent in 2002, up from 28 percent in 2001.Superior treatment of these customers during the warranty can result inhigher post-warranty service retention. Seventy-five percent ofluxury-vehicle owners who benefit from free maintenance say they wouldreturn to the dealership for routine maintenance after their warrantiesexpired, and 80 percent would return for repairs.The CSI Study, which was pioneered by the firm in 1981, focuses onexperiences with the dealer service department during the first three yearsof vehicle ownership, which represents the majority of warranty periods.The study is based on responses from nearly 50,000 new-vehicle owners andlessees.Headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., J.D. Power and Associates is aglobal marketing information services firm operating in key business sectorsincluding market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customersatisfaction.