Ford Motor Credit Co. and its year-old Lincoln Automotive Financial Services unit were winners in leasing in the 2012 Consumer Financing Satisfaction Study from J.D. Power and Associates.
Lincoln AFS was launched in November 2011 as part of Lincoln's ongoing image upgrade to give customers special and separate treatment from Ford-brand customers.
In the study, Lincoln AFS ranked No. 1 in luxury leases, ahead of established lease specialists Lexus Financial Services, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and BMW Financial Services. Ford Credit was No. 1 in leasing among volume brands.
For loans, Volkswagen Credit was No. 1 for volume brands. Mercedes-Benz Financial Services was No. 1 for customer satisfaction with luxury loans, according to study results released last week.
J.D. Power and Associates revived the Consumer Financing Satisfaction Study after a four-year hiatus and redesigned it for 2012. Changes include switching to an online survey format and switching to a single time frame for collecting surveys instead of conducting two surveys per year.
This year's results are based on 11,259 surveys from customers who bought or leased a new vehicle from June 2011 to May 2012. The previous study was in 2008.
Lisa Stimac, account director for automotive finance at J.D. Power, said the 2012 study ranks consumer satisfaction with auto lenders based on four main criteria that statistically have had the strongest correlation to overall satisfaction. In order, the criteria are billing and payment, interest rate/monthly payment, Web site and phone contact.
Billing, payments key
Stimac said customer handling in billing and payments definitely affects consumer intentions toward choosing a finance provider for their next purchase. In fact, she said, analysis of customer responses gave the billing and payment category of questions roughly twice the weight of interest rate/monthly payment.
Questions in the phone contact category received the least weight in the overall ranking because only a small minority of customers experience any phone contact with the lender. However, for those customers, phone contacts had a big effect one way or the other on customer satisfaction, Stimac said.
J.D. Power said results between the 2008 study and 2012 study aren't directly comparable.
In the 2008 study, BMW Financial Services ranked No. 1 in both luxury loans and luxury leases. Hyundai Motor Finance Co. was No. 1 in volume-brand loans. Ford Credit was No. 1 in volume-brand leases.
In both studies, captive finance companies came out on top, over banks and independent finance companies.
Survey results showed that satisfaction with a finance provider did not have a significant, direct correlation with how likely customers were to return to the same dealership for their next loan or lease, Stimac said.
However, a separate J.D. Power survey shows that, in turn, dealership satisfaction with lenders is highly correlated with customer loyalty, she said.
"A big chunk of the customer's indirect lending experience is the dealer picking the lender for the customer," Stimac said. "Where lenders can put pressure on future selection is twofold. You can put the customer in your corner as a lender, and you can put the dealer in your corner as a lender."