COSTA MESA, Calif. — Great relationships trump low interest rates and product mix when it comes to automobile dealer satisfaction with lending institutions. That’s according to the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Dealer Financing Satisfaction Study, which was released today and shows that interactions between dealers and frontline personnel working in the lender’s credit department are at the epicenter of that relationship.

“Across all segments of auto lenders — noncaptive, captive mass market and captive luxury — the dealer’s relationship with the credit desk is a key driver of overall satisfaction and the lynchpin to a sustained, fruitful relationship,” said Jim Houston, senior director of J.D. Power’s automotive finance practice. “Because the credit staff is often the first point of contact, not just for credit decisions, but also for problem resolution, the role has to evolve, with credit analysts becoming much broader subject matter experts and frontline sales personnel taking on more focused roles.”

The report found that the credit desk represents the “tip of the sword” in building dealer satisfaction. For noncaptive, captive luxury and captive mass market lenders, the credit desk represents more than half of the survey weight for overall satisfaction, compared with the impact of sales representatives. Overall, the dealer/lender relationship outweighs application and approval process, lender offerings and lease return as the single most important variable associated with high levels of dealer satisfaction.

Additionally, dealers overwhelmingly indicate that the credit desk is their first point of contact when looking to resolve problems, far outpacing sales representatives, sales support staff and regional managers. As such, dealer satisfaction with sales reps is highest when reps focus on portfolio performance review, dealership performance consulting and customer retention vs. problem resolution and training.

The study also found that the optimal dealer communications mix for finance sources involves a predictable cadence of monthly visits paired with weekly calls and emails. When touchpoints outside of these preferred parameters are used, overall satisfaction with sales reps falls by as much as 30 index points (on a 1,000-point scale).

“What this study really tells us is that many lenders should be taking a good long look at the way they are currently staffed and think about transitioning some of their most seasoned industry experts into problem-solving roles in the credit department,” Houston said. “Correspondingly, they also need to think about how they’re currently selling and re-evaluate whether it makes sense to have their best problem solvers on the road making sales calls.”

The study, which was significantly redesigned for 2017, measures dealer satisfaction in four segments of lenders: noncaptive, captive mass market, captive luxury market, and floorplanning. More than 11,622 finance provider evaluations across those four segments were collected for the study. These evaluations were provided by 4,245 new-vehicle dealerships in the United States.

Taking the top spot in the captive luxury segment was Mercedes-Benz Finance Services with a score of 972 points. The captive was followed by BMW Financial Services with a 955 score and Infiniti Financial Services with a 953 score. In the captive mass-market segment, Mini Financial Services led the way with a 954-point score. Following behind with scores of 916 and 887 were Volkswagen Credit and Ford Credit, respectively.  

In the noncaptive segment, TD Auto Finance ranked highest with a 912. It was followed by Citizens One Auto Finance with a 909-point score, while Chase Auto Finance and Huntington National Bank tied for third with a 906-point score.

In the floorplan segment, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services ranked highest with a score of 986 points. TD Auto Finance followed with a score of 982 and Huntington National Bank and Volkswagen tied for third with 970-point scores.

Originally posted on F&I and Showroom