Customer Satisfaction: Going in the Wrong Direction?

The new American Customer Satisfaction Index report points to disappointing trends over the past year.

acsiAnother year has gone by — and with it the unsettling revelation that companies may be more talk than action when it comes to improving their customer satisfaction levels with customers.

The latest evidence of this comes from newly released ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) figures. The data were compiled from results reported by ACSI in 2015 based on surveys conducted from Q4 2014 though Q3 2015.

What the ACSI report shows is that customer satisfaction is trending in the wrong direction. Of the 43 industries tracked by ASCI, only five of them registered an overall improvement in customer satisfaction score, while the other 38 declined or stayed the same.

The ASCI index includes more than 325 measures, with some companies represented in multiple industries where they hold substantial market share. Each company’s rating is based on a total possible high-score of 100.

Here’s the unpleasant bottom-line finding: In nearly 60% of the cases where year-over-year comparisons were possible, customer satisfaction scores have declined over the past year.

Where are the biggest problem areas? Perhaps not surprisingly, four of the five companies that experienced the largest declines in customer satisfaction were in the communications sector:   Comcast, AT&T, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.

ccComcast experienced a particularly bad result, with its ASCI score dropping ~10 percentage points to 54, tied for second-lowest among all companies included on the index. Cox Communications’ rating declined ~9 points to 58, and Time Warner Cable showed a similar percentage decline all the way down to a 51 score – the lowest rating recorded among all the companies on the index.

On the other hand, there were some bright spots in the latest ASCI report — and a lot of it has to do with Internet-based sectors.

Indeed, three of the five industries which charted overall improvements in customer satisfaction ratings are Internet-based, including Internet retail (up ~5 percentage points to an index of 81, the highest total achieved by any of the industries categories).

Other industries that exhibited an improvement in customer satisfaction ratings over the past were online travel services (which improved by ~1.5 percentage points to a composites score of 78) and social media (up ~4 percentage points to 78).

Two other industries that notched improved composite scores were household appliances – doing quite well with an ~81 score — and passenger air travel which, while still mired in a low index of 71, actually is during a tad better than in earlier years.

Even though the overall trends in customer satisfaction haven’t been in the right direction, more than 70 companies managed to achieve ACSI scores of 80 or better in the most recent evaluation, which has to be considered a very positive outcome. Most of these firms are manufacturers rather than service companies – which also continues a trend observed in prior-year surveys.

Additional results and detailed findings can be viewed here. Do any of the company findings surprise you?

Which are America’s Most Disliked Companies?

More than a few perennial “favorites” … plus a couple newcomers.

yuck factorI’ve blogged before about the companies Americans love to hate.  And now, 24/7 Wall St. has published this year’s list of America’s most disliked companies.  As the equity investment data aggregator and investment firm describes it:

“To be truly hated, a company must alienate a large number of people.  It may irritate consumers with bad customer service, upset employees by paying low wages and disappoint Wall Street with underwhelming returns.   

For a small number of companies, such failures are intertwined.  These companies managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked.”

In developing its list each year, 24/7 Wall St. reviews various metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction and share price performance.

Only companies with large customer bases are evaluated, based on the premise that for a company to be widely disliked, it needs to be known to a large number of people to begin with.

Among the sources reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. are the following:

This year’s list of the most disliked companies includes the following:

logo#1  General Motors — More than 30 million recalls pertaining to vehicular problems that have been linked to more than 40 deaths brings this company to the top of the list … along with a lot of dissembling about the issue.

#2  Sony — The hacking of the company’s computers and the resulting chaos surrounding the (non)-release of the movie The Interview was just the latest in a string of bad news, including a string of financial losses and fruitless reorganization attempts that seem more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than a recipe for righting the ship.

#3  DISH Network — Super-poor customer service ratings along with ongoing fights with the Fox network, leading to the blackout of popular programs that have done nothing but rile the customer base even more.

#4  McDonald’s — Its menu has lost favor with consumers — particularly when compared to competitors’ offerings.  Negative press about low employee wages doesn’t help, either.

#5  Bank of America — BofA can never seem to score above the average for its industry.  In fact, it’s been the least popular big bank in the ACSI surveys for years.  Even worse, Zogby Analytics has BofA with the second lowest share of “poor” reviews of any business in its 2014 customer service survey.  On top of that, the bank continues to have major problems in the mortgage sector, with a slew of fines levied to clean up mortgage practices that ran afoul of the U.S. regulators

#6  Uber — No doubt, this app-based ride sharing service is wildly popular with many users, even as it’s the bane of the traditional taxi business in major American and European urban centers.  But few companies so popular have faced as much controversy at the same time.  Perhaps it’s a natural side effect of being a disrupter in the market, but it’s caused many enemies for Uber in the process.

#7  Sprint Corporation — “The great disappearing phone service” might be one way to describe this firm.  Sprint has lost nearly 2.5 million customers in just the past two years.  In fact, it’s had 11 straight quarters of net decline in subscribers.  The result is lost employee jobs (2,000 and counting), along with reduced customer service and industry competitiveness.  And the share price of Sprint stock has fallen by half in the past year.

#8  Spirit Airlines — Imagine this list of maladies in the airline industry:  flight delays, long customer lines, invasive security, lost baggage, hidden fees.  Now imagine them all wrapped up in one air carrier and you have Spirit Airlines.  Enough said.

#9  Wal-Mart — According to ACSI, few companies have lower customer ratings than Wal-Mart.  It’s low even in comparison with other big-box discount and department stores, as well as supermarkets.  Its own employees also rate the company low — and there are 1.4 million of them, so their opinions really matter.  Meanwhile, some consumers see Wal-Mart as hurting or destroying local businesses wherever it chooses to open a store in a new community.

#10  Comcast — Whether we’re talking about its television or Internet services, this company comes in with really horrific customer satisfaction ratings.  They’re “standout bad” in an industry that’s infamous for poor customer care.  It didn’t help when a phone recording of a Comcast customer service representative went viral — the rep who took up nearly half an hour refusing to help a customer cancel his service.

[Interestingly a few companies that were on 24/7 Wall St.’s list last year no longer appear — notably retailers JCPenney and Abercrombie & Fitch.  For Penney’s in particular, it seemed a slam-dunk prediction that it would remain on the list this time around, but the company is actually in the midst of a modest turnaround — and consumers and investors have noticed.]

There’s another interesting and perhaps ironic factor about America’s “least liked” companies.  It’s that four of them also appear on the list of the ten most-advertised brands in the United States.

That is correct:  Based on 2013 U.S.-measured media ad spending as calculated by AdAge, Chevrolet (General Motors), McDonald’s, Walmart Stores and Sprint rank in the Top Ten list of the most-advertised brands:

  • untitled#1 AT&T
  • #2 Verizon
  • #3 GEICO
  • #4 Chevrolet (General Motors)
  • #5 McDonald’s
  • #6 Toyota
  • #7 Ford
  • #8 Walmart Stores
  • #9 Sprint
  • #10 Macy’s

Evidently, “all that advertising” isn’t doing “all that much” to burnish these brands’ image!

Bank of America: The Financial Institution Everyone Loves to Hate

Bank of AmericaIf you’ve ever had an unpleasant or unfulfilling experience regarding Bank of America and how it handles transaction fees, branch operations or customer service in general, raise your hand.

Uh-huh.  I thought so. 

Our family’s lone experience working with BofA (when an inherited bank CD matured a few years back) was enough to elicit the famous cry:  “Never again!”

Evidently, we’re not alone.  According to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index report, customers give Bank of America its lowest satisfaction score in more than a decade.

In fact, BofA’s 2012 score of ACSI score of 66 out of possible 100 points is two points lower than its 2010 score.

There’s more:  Not only does BofA trail all of its main banking competitors, it’s the only financial institution with a customer satisfaction grade that is actually lower than its pre-recession level.

Not surprisingly, the bank is also the least popular one among consumers.  It’s had that ignominious distinction for four years running.

Just how are big banks faring in general?  The ACSI report reveals the following index scores (out of a possible 100):

  • JPMorgan Chase:  74 (up 7 points from 2010)
  • Wells Fargo:  71 (-2)
  • Citigroup:  70 (-1)
  • Bank of America:  66 (-2)

In general, consumers tend to rate smaller banking institutions, with an aggregate score of 79, higher than their big-bank rivals.  But the highest ratings in this sector are reserved for credit unions (82).

Incidentally, the American Customer Satisfaction Index is also calculated for the major insurance carriers — one of the 47 industries and 10 sectors that it surveys quarterly.  Who’s on top there?  Blue Cross/Blue Shield scores best among health insurance firms with a 73 rating, while Aetna brings up the rear with a 67 score.

As for property and casualty insurance providers, the scores are somewhat better.  State Farm and Progressive lead in this category with an 81 score … but none of the other major firms do significantly worse.

If you’re interested in exploring the results in greater depth, you can review the current and historical ACSI scores here.

An About-Face on Facebook?

Facebook logoThis past week, social networking site Facebook trumpeted the fact that is signed up its 500 millionth member. That’s an impressive statistic — and all the more so when you realize that Facebook had only about 100 million registrants just two short years ago.

And the site is truly international these days, with ~70% of Facebook users living someplace other than the USA.

But there are some interesting rumblings in cyberspace these days that suggest the bloom may be off the rose for Facebook. After having climbed to the #1 perch in terms of registrations and site traffic, there are some intriguing new signs that all is not well in Farmville – or elsewhere in the land of Facebook.

Inside Facebook, an independent research entity that tracks the Facebook platform for developers and marketers, is reporting new Facebook registrations dropped in June to ~250,000. That may still seem like a lot of people, but it’s a far cry from the ~7.7 million new registrants in May.

Furthermore, looking at age demographics, Inside Facebook has concluded that in the critical 26-34 age group, the total number of U.S. users active on Facebook actually declined during the month of June.

Are these people being swayed by the privacy debate that’s happening concerning how much visibility Facebook postings are being given on Google and other search engines?

That may be one explanation for the decline, but there could be other forces at work as well. The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index report from ForeSee Results, a web research and consulting firm, places Facebook’s ranking near dead-last on a list of 30 major online web sites in terms of customer satisfaction with site design and utility.

Who scored highest? Dowdy old Wikipedia. Even boring government sites like the IRS scored better.

It’s evident the issue goes far beyond privacy concerns. There’s also confusion or irritation with Facebook’s ever-changing user interface. As Aaron Shapiro wrote recently in Media Post’s Online Media Daily:

“The truth is, Facebook isn’t fun to use anymore. It’s become a chore, just one more place that busy people have to log in to stay up-to-date. And Facebook is making the goal of staying up-to-date harder and harder to achieve. There are so many apps like Farmville producing status updates, as well as people using Facebook as their repository for passing thoughts and private/public conversations, I have to sort through tons of what I don’t want to read before I get to something I want or need to know.”

Back in its early days, the beauty of Facebook was that it provided such an easy framework to stay connected with family and friends. It was a way to share photos and other personal information quickly – and almost effortlessly – with far-flung contacts all over the world.

Those attributes seem to have gotten buried in all of the “spammy” hi-jinks and gimmicks that characterize so much of today’s Facebook.

Considering the growing dissatisfaction with Facebook, ranging from things like privacy (mis)management and ubiquitous advertising to confusion with the site’s ever-changing design and irritating lack of utility, some industry watchers are predicting that users will begin seriously looking at alternatives. Despite Facebook’s huge presence and large pool of registrants, they may find simpler, purer sites out there that are more to their liking. Several that could be beneficiaries of the “Facebook fall-off” are Diaspora and Collegiate Nation.