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CUSTOMER SATISFACTION HOLDS STEADY

October 1, 2003
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Customer satisfaction remained constant last quarter.

MILWAUKEE—Customer satisfaction, which has ticked steadily upward for the past two years, remained constant last quarter, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Following a first-quarter surge of 1.2% to a score of 73.8 on a 100-point scale, the ACSI—a leading indicator of consumer spending—was unchanged for the second quarter.

“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,” says Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan Business School’s National Quality Research Center, which compiles and analyzes the ACSI data. “From the perspective of the economy’s capability to generate buyer satisfaction, the outlook must be viewed as moderately encouraging.”

Forecasting spending growth for the third quarter is a bit tricky, Fornell says. “If one believes that we are in a recession, the ACSI equations suggest a growth of 2.6%; if not, the prediction comes out to 3.9%. Since the National Bureau of Economic Research is somewhat vague on exactly where the economy stands at the moment, perhaps a reasonable forecast would simply be the average: 3.3%.”

During the second quarter, only the household-appliances industry showed a decline in customer satisfaction with quality of products and services, Fornell says. Satisfaction remained the same for automobiles while improving for personal computers, consumer electronics and Internet e-business such as Web portals, search engines and news sites.

Although the ACSI score for the household-appliance industry dropped a point to 81, it is still nearly 10% higher than the aggregate ACSI for all industries. Kenmore, the most popular brand, topped the industry with a score of 84, followed by Whirlpool (82), Maytag (81) and General Electric (81).

For the fourth consecutive year, the auto industry matched its ACSI record score of 80. Among individual car companies, however, there are some significant changes.

Fornell says that Hyundai continues its climb in customer satisfaction from an industry-low score of 68 in 1999 to a mark of 81 this year—a 19% increase. Cadillac remains at the top with an ACSI score of 87, followed by BMW (85), Toyota (85) and Buick (84). Pontiac and Volkswagen, which dropped 7% from last year, are at the bottom with scores of 76.

Among PC companies, Dell leads the way for the sixth straight year with an ACSI score of 78. Apple, up 6%, is right behind with a mark of 77, while the fall of Gateway continues—its 69 score is down 12% from its peak of 78 in 2000.

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