Grady White – JD Power

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How J.D. Power rates the companies

How J.D. Power rates the companies

J.D. Power and Associates analyzes data from thousands of boater surveys to produce its Boat Competitive Information Study.

“We’re in the business of making sense of what the boater thinks of the product,” says Eric Sorensen, director of the marine practice for J.D. Power. “It’s not what J.D. Power says; it’s what the customers say.”

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The Westlake Village, Calif.-based marketing information firm mailed 57,203 surveys to new-boat owners for its 2006 study. The mailing list comes from boatbuilders and new-boat registrations provided by Info-Link Technologies Inc., a Miami-based marketing information firm that compiles registration information from around the country.

To be eligible for the study, a boatbuilder must have 100 surveys returned in a particular market segment; the target is 150 surveys per boatbuilder per segment, Sorensen says. The segments are bass boats, coastal fishing boats, express cruisers, large runabouts, pontoon boats, ski and wakeboard boats, and small runabouts. Additional segments, such as aluminum fishing boats and personal watercraft, could be added in the future, he says.

About a quarter of the surveys were completed and returned to J.D. Power. “Stringent data cleaning,” as Sorensen puts it, eliminated another 4 percent of the surveys, leaving 12,255 for the study.

The 100-survey minimum means a company has to build upward of 500 boats per year in a specific segment because of the percentage of surveys typically returned, Sorensen says. If you don’t see your favorite builder on the list, that might be the reason.

For the 2006 study — which covers new boats sold from June 1, 2004, through May 31, 2005 — six brands were added: Parker, Sailfish and Sea Boss in the coastal fishing segment, bass boat company Champion, and pontoon boat manufacturers Bentley and Sunchaser. A total of 78 unique brands were analyzed in seven product segments for the study.

In addition to such information as how the boat is equipped, how it is used, and why a specific boat was selected, the survey asks owners to rate characteristics like the effectiveness of non-skid surfaces, performance in a high-speed turn, and space to mount electronics. J.D. Power statisticians assign weights and values, based on relative importance to the customer, to create the index scores.

“It’s not a shotgun approach,” says Sorensen. “You target attributes of the boat that have the most impact to customer satisfaction.”

Customer satisfaction index scores for product quality are based on performance in up to nine categories depending on boat segment: cabin, engine, ride/handling, helm/instrument panel, design/styling, sound system, maintenance, water sports and fishing. These are the basis for J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction awards.

The ratings are just the tip of the iceberg, Sorensen says. “A big part of the value of this study is competitive analysis,” he says. For example, builders can see specific areas where they trail a competitor, such as helm seat adjustability or sound-system clarity. He likens the rankings to a test in school. “If there’s going to be a quiz at the end of the day,” he says, “you’re going to pay a lot more attention in class.”

For a fee, builders can subscribe to the J.D. Power study to dig deeper into its comprehensive data; the marketing firm also offers custom research and consulting services. Sorensen points to a study finding to prove the importance of raising customer satisfaction: the higher customers rate their satisfaction with their boats, the more likely they are to repurchase and recommend the same brand.

“Six out of 10 owners who rate their boats a nine out of 10 in overall satisfaction, which represents the highest-scoring brands in the marine industry, say they will definitely repurchase the same brand,” says Sorensen. “Unfortunately, the average OSAT across the industry is 8.16; at an OSAT score of 8, only 31 percent of owners say they will definitely repurchase.”

In the end, the study information, combined with competition among builders for high customer-satisfaction rankings, should result in higher-quality boats designed to better align with customer needs, Sorensen says.

For more information, including a look at how each boatbuilder scored in various categories, visit www.jdpower.com .