In the months before the financial market crisis led to tighter credit, small-business owners were generally happier with their banks than they had been in years, according to a J.D. Power and Associates.

In a study conducted this summer after the collapse of Bear Stearns but before the crisis spread to other large banks, small-business owners cited shorter lines and better customer service among other improvements, the California-based market research firm reported this week.

Based on responses from 6,550 small businesses with annual revenues between $100,000 and $10 million, the firm's annual bank satisfaction index jumped to 720 on a 1,000 point scale, a 23 point increase from last year.

The study also found access to credit had been improving, though the percentage of small businesses acquiring unsecured loans slid four points to 40 percent.

“The factors relating to the customer relationship and in-person branch experience are most important to small-business customers, as these areas account for 40 percent of the overall experience,” Rockwell Clancy, the firm’s executive director of financial services, said in a statement. “Simply meeting with small-business customers at their place of business significantly improves satisfaction, yet it is amazing how rarely this happens,” Clancy said.

At the same time, the study found recent bank mergers and acquisitions had a negative impact on customer satisfaction, which tended to decline by an average of 50 points among business clients whose accounts were taken over by a new financial institution.