Customer satisfaction is on the upswing -- at least in the auto industry. In fact, a new study shows that the majority of auto brands have improved in customers' eyes, and satisfaction has matched an all-time high.
The news comes from American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which gauges customer attitudes across a variety of companies, including banks, hotels, hospitals, and airlines. Since 1995, the firm has been tracking satisfaction in the auto industry, asking thousands of consumers to score their purchases on a scale of 0 to 100. Those scores reflect everything from the price of the vehicle, its value, and the quality of its construction.
In the study's first year, the auto industry averaged a score of 79. In 2005, the figure hit 81 for the first time, and in 2009 -- when incentives and the federal "Cash for Clunkers" program made deal-hungry customers giddy -- it reached 84.
The most recent ACSI survey shows that the industry has now matched that high score. What's remarkable is that, unlike in 2009, it's done so without massive incentives to make customers feel as though they're getting great bargains.
Here are the major takeaways from the latest data:
- Lincoln came in at the top of ACSI's customer-satisfaction list, with an average score of 90. That's the highest score any brand has ever received, and it's a full four points above Lincoln's 86 from last year. However, as ACSI analysts point out, "The downside for Lincoln is that high satisfaction may reflect a loyal, but dwindling, customer base."
- Rounding out the top five, in order, were Lexus (89), Buick (87), Subaru (87), and Cadillac (86).
- At the very bottom, we find Chrysler, with a score of 78. However, that's an improvement from last year's 76.
- Also earning low marks were GMC (80), Dodge (81), Mazda (82), and Kia (82).
- Even ACSI's lowest-scoring vehicles still earned grades above the 79 average seen in 1995 -- which either means that consumers have gotten soft in their scoring, or competition has gotten a lot tougher. (We're guessing it's the latter.)
- About 60% of the brands on the survey showed improvement over last year. Those brands were a good mix of American, Asian, and European marques.
- Even though Chrysler had a couple of brands at the bottom, all three on the list showed improvement over last year.
- Interestingly, Honda and Toyota -- often considered paragons of quality -- fell in the rankings.
Want to know how your brand fared? Have a look at ACSI's complete list and share your thoughts in the comments below. (Note: some brands are missing from the list, since there weren't a statistically significant number of buyers to give an accurate picture.)