Car dealerships' service departments are making strides in customer satisfaction according to the latest J.D. Power and Associates Customer Service Index survey.

More than two-thirds of the 37 brands in the index improved significantly from last year. The industry's overall average increased from 876 to 882 (out of 1,000) after staying flat since 2005.

The 2008 Customer Service Index gauges the satisfaction level of vehicle owners who visit a dealership for maintenance or repair work during the first three years of ownership of a new vehicle, which is a typical warranty period.

Customers that go in for routine maintenance are more likely to be satisfied (894) than those who visit the dealership for repair work (862), according to the survey.

Satisfaction with repair work, though, jumped nine points over last year despite the fact that the proportion of consumers visiting a dealership for repair work declined to historic a historic low — 35%.

J.D. Power attributes the decline in repair work visits to improved levels of vehicle quality. Also, dealerships are doing a better job of marketing to customers needing maintenance work, in order to offset declines in warranty and repair work.

The Jaguar brand earned the top score for the second year in a row at 923, followed by General Motors Corp. brands Cadillac (922) and Buick (919).

Customers like Jaguar's service initiation, service advisors and user-friendly service measures, says David Sargent, vice president-automotive research for J.D. Power.

Buick's strong showing is a result of improved vehicle quality, he says.

Buick and Jaguar have fared well in the Customer Service Index in recent years. One dealer attributes it to the fact Jaguar and Buick might have more time for one-on-one interaction with customers because of anemic sales of late.

Better communication with customers also helps dealers in the study. Data show when a service department offers an explanation of charges and the necessity of the work, customer satisfaction is roughly 100 points higher on average.

According to the survey, 82% of customers say they were offered an explanation from the service department about the work performed, while 58% were given an explanation of the charges, when necessary.

Timing also is important. Customers who spoke with a service advisor immediately upon arrival report satisfaction scores averaging 224 points higher than those who had to wait more than five minutes.

Another key factor is whether the dealership takes time to deliver a clean vehicle following the service appointment. If a vehicle is returned cleaner than it was originally, satisfaction scores climb, on average, 48 points. On the other hand, if a vehicle is returned less clean, satisfaction drops 202 points.

The study also shows online scheduling interest still is low. Only 5% of customers surveyed say they intend to schedule service appointments through the Web. One percent do so.

The majority of customers — 74% — prefer to use the phone to schedule work while 25% just visit the dealership without an appointment.

Satisfaction Survey Index
Jaguar: 923
Cadillac: 922
Buick: 919
Lexus: 915
Lincoln: 913
Mercury: 908
Acura: 904
Infiniti: 903
BMW: 901
Honda: 897
Saturn: 897
Chevrolet: 896
GMC: 896
Saab: 896
Pontiac: 895
Hummer: 892
Mini: 890
Volvo: 888
Audi: 887
Mercedes-Benz: 884
Chrysler: 882
Industry Average: 882
Hyundai: 880
Mitsubishi: 880
Subaru: 878
Ford: 875
Porsche: 873
Toyota: 871
Land Rover: 863
Dodge: 858
Jeep: 858
Nissan: 857
Mazda: 851
Suzuki: 846
Scion: 845
Kia: 844
Volkswagen: 842
Isuzu: 782