American consumers' satisfaction with the quality of goods and services in the retail, finance and e-commerce sectors rose during the fourth quarter of 2001, ending a slide that began in late 2000, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
The ACSI, which is compiled and analyzed by the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality Research Center, had declined for four straight quarters. In the fourth quarter of 2001, it climbed to 72.6 out of a possible 100, a 0.8 percent increase and the third-highest quarterly improvement ever.
"As customers become more satisfied with the nation's output of goods and services, they tend to increase their spending," said Claes Fornell, professor and business director at the NQRC. "Corporate revenues from repeat business tend to grow, as well. Since profits for most companies depend so much more on repeat customers than on new customers and because consumer spending is so central to economic growth, the latest ACSI numbers are encouraging."
Fornell said the latest ACSI growth cannot be entirely explained by individual company behavior. Falling interest rates, lower prices during the holidays, increased emphasis on customer service by slumping companies, and improvement in the buyer-seller relationship due to Sept. 11 and its aftermath are possible underlying forces that may have contributed to the increase.
Of the three ACSI sectors updated in the fourth quarter of 2001, e-commerce has the lowest score (73). Retail, including department stores, specialty stores, fast-food and gas stations, scored a 75. Finance, including banks and insurance, scored a 76.
E-commerce includes Web portals, retail, auctions and brokerage services. While it was outscored by retail and finance, good news on the customer service is front is always welcome in an industry that became notorious for customer service issues over the last few years.
Familiar names were highest scoring e-commerce companies in the ACSI, led by Amazon.com (84), BarnesandNoble.com (82) and eBay (82). The biggest improvement was made by 1-800-Flowers.com, which jumped 10 percent from 69 to 76. There was also a familiar name at the bottom: AOL.com, which scored a 58. According to Larry Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results, AOL's score is the result of a common problem among portals -- not quite knowing what to give consumers who aren't sure what they want.
"The companies that can really stay on top of what matters to Web customers and what doesn't will be the winners," Freed said. "With traditional retail showing increased customer satisfaction and more experienced companies dominating the Web, e-tailers will face stiffer competition on both fronts."
More information on the ACSI can be found on its Web site, www.theacsi.org.
Reprinted from CyberAtlas