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American Customer Satisfaction Index ACSI

Quality Insider

Customer Satisfaction for Domestic Autos Surges

Strong showings for Ford, General Motors; Chrysler improves

Published: Sunday, August 16, 2009 - 19:45

(ACSI: Ann Arbor, MI)  -- Taxpayers are getting a first hint of potential returns on their investment in the U.S. automobile industry: Detroit is doing a much better job satisfying their customers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). After having trailed competition for a long time, domestic automakers post a large gain in ACSI. Rising contentment with the automobile industry leads the way for an increase in the overall Index, particularly among the U.S. brands, which now equal Asian vehicles for the first time in a decade.

After having slumped prior to the recession, the overall ACSI registers a gain for a third consecutive quarter. The Index stands at 76.1 on a 100-point scale, up 0.1 percent over last quarter and an improvement of 1.3 percent compared to a year ago.

“Although the future will obviously be challenging for Detroit, the rise in customer satisfaction provides a much needed improvement in competitive standing,” says University of Michigan professor Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI, “Making sure that customers are satisfied will be a most important task for the automakers because it leads to higher levels of repeat purchase and fewer customer defections. If they were to remain at the bottom of customer satisfaction in their industry, these companies would not be able to survive.”

Second quarter ACSI results include the durable goods sector and e-business, with automobiles, personal computers, major appliances, portals and search engines, and news and information websites.

Automobiles: Detroit back to (and in) business

Not a moment too late perhaps, customer satisfaction with automobiles jumps 2 percent to an all-time high of 84. With Ford leading the way, Detroit improves much more than its Asian competitors. General Motors, with less of an improvement, is not far behind.  Chrysler also improves, but still ranks a distant third in customer satisfaction compared to its domestic rivals. No longer is it the case that the lowest scoring cars in the industry are all domestic nameplates.

Even though ACSI data suggest that quality has improved and that customers recognize the progress, some of the rise in customer satisfaction is the result of a shrinking customer base. As the least satisfied customers depart, the ones who remain are on the average more satisfied. For example, Buick, Cadillac, Lincoln Mercury, Jeep and Chrysler were among the most improved in ACSI. All saw sales drop by 50 percent or more over the past year.      

“This is not all bad in the context of a downsized company. The domestic car companies now have a smaller, but more satisfied customer base to build on,” says Fornell. “This is going to be more sustainable than having a large diversified mass of buyers, who tend to be less satisfied than the customers of competition. Not only is a smaller, more satisfied customer base less difficult to grow, it is also much easier to defend against competitive inroads.”

Cadillac and Lexus lead all auto manufacturers at 89, followed by Buick, Honda, and Lincoln Mercury, all at 88. BMW is at 87, with Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Volkswagen next at 86.   Volkswagen makes one of the biggest improvements in customer satisfaction this quarter, leaping 6 percent, the first time VW has bested the industry average since 2004. Asian brands are mostly flat with Honda alone showing a modest 2-percent gain. Kia and Mazda are both at 81 and Nissan falls 5 percent to 78 to round out the bottom of the industry.

Personal computers: Apple still shines

User satisfaction with personal computers rises after two years of decline, improving 1 percent to 75. Apple dips slightly by 1 percent to 84, but the decline has done little to hurt the large lead Apple has enjoyed for six straight years over the Windows-based manufacturers. Apple maintains a 12 percent lead over Dell, one of the largest gaps between first and second place for any industry.

Yet, the climb in the industry is largely a result of improvements among Windows-based machines. Dell is unchanged at 75, while Gateway (Acer) rises 3 percent to 74. The two brands of Hewlett-Packard also improve. HP inches up 1 percent to 74 while Compaq jumps 6 percent to create a three-way tie with HP and Gateway.    

“The recession has shifted demand toward lower-priced PCs and Hewlett-Packard is taking advantage by rolling out more of its less expensive Compaq models,” says Fornell. “Recent sales are up and HP’s share value has more than doubled relative to market since the beginning of the year.”

Major appliances: Whirlpool whips the competition

Customer satisfaction with major appliances remains strong, improving 1 percent to 81 this quarter. Whirlpool improves by 4 percent to 83 on the strength of lower prices and successful new products. A year ago, Whirlpool, Electrolux, and GE were all tied at 80. Electrolux drops 1 percent to 79 and General Electric slides 4 percent to 77—an all-time low for the company, something that appears to be reflected in its share price as well. GE’s stock has eroded 53 percent over the past year, nearly twice the decline of the market as a whole.

E-Business: Google’s dominance leaves rivals searching for answers

Customer satisfaction with e-business goes up again, by 3 percent to 81.5, the ninth improvement in 10 years. Google maintains a sizeable advantage at 86, 12 percent higher than Yahoo!, which is unchanged at 77. AOL remains a distant last at 70, which is also the lowest score of any company in the second quarter release.

For a complete list of measured companies and scores, please visit www.theacsi.org.


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American Customer Satisfaction Index ACSI

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and produced by ACSI LLC, is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. The national index is updated each quarter and scores on a zero-to-100 scale at the national level. The ACSI produces indexes for 10 economic sectors, 47 industries, more than 225 companies, and more than 200 federal or local government services.