Retail customer satisfaction, which has climbed steadily since 2001, remained constant last quarter, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) results from the University of Michigan's Business School.
Following a first-quarter surge of 1.2% (reaching a score of 73.8 on a 100-point scale), the ACSI remained unchanged for the second quarter. But this apparent tail-off does not necessarily represent bad news.
"Although a climb may be preferred over a stable index, the ACSI improvements over the past 21 months cannot be dismissed by a three-month halt," explained Professor Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality Research centre, which compiles and analyses the ACSI data. Instead, Fornell believes that, from the perspective of the economy's capability to generate buyer satisfaction, the outlook should be viewed as moderately encouraging.
During the second quarter, only one of the industries measured by the ACSI showed a decline in customer satisfaction with the quality of its products and services. Satisfaction fell slightly overall for household appliances, while remaining the same for automobiles, and improving for personal computers, consumer electronics and internet e-business.
Although the ACSI score for the household appliance industry dropped one point to 81, it is still nearly 10% higher than the overall ACSI score for all industries combined. The popular Kenmore brand topped the industry with a score of 84, followed closely by Whirlpool (82), General Electric (81), and Maytag (81).
For the fourth consecutive year, the automobile industry matched its previous ACSI record of 80. Among individual car companies, however, there are several significant changes: Hyundai continued its climb from an industry-low score of 68 in 1999 to 81 in 2003 (a 19% increase). Meanwhile, Cadillac remains at the top with a score of 87, followed by BMW (85), Toyota (85), and Buick (84). Pontiac and Volkswagen, which both dropped by 7% since 2002, scored the industry-low of 76.
"With sales and quality lagging in the past, Cadillac now seems to have hit its stride with gains in sales, and a customer base no longer at, or near, retirement age," explained Fornell. "As Cadillac reaches younger and more affluent customers, the importance of satisfaction and buyer loyalty will take on new significance."
Computing and e-business
Besides automobiles and household appliances, the ACSI measured two other manufacturing durables industries last quarter - consumer electronics, with a score of 84, and personal computers (PCs), which improved slightly to 72.
Among PC companies, Dell still leads the way for the sixth year running with a score of 78. Apple, now up 6%, follows with 77, while Gateway continues to fall behind with a score of 69 (down 12% from its peak of 78 in 2000).
This quarter's ACSI also measured internet e-business (see Aug. 25). Overall, the e-business score gained 4%, rising from 68.7 in 2002 to 71.4. Among the web portals, Yahoo! scored highest in customer satisfaction with a mark of 78, followed by MSN (74) and AOL (65). In the search engines category, Google continues to dominate with a score of 82, compared to Ask Jeeves' score of 69 (up 11% on 2002), and Alta Vista's score of 63. Among news and information sites, the collective ACSI score was 74.
The ACSI is produced by a partnership of the University of Michigan Business School, the American Society for Quality, and CFI Group, and is supported in part by corporate contributor Market Strategies Inc., and e-commerce sponsor ForeSee Results.