Customer satisfaction? Who's hot, who's not
Wake up and good morning. Here we are in a down economy and consumers trying to save more and spend less.... and yet new numbers out today show customer satisfaction with retailers is up -- but with banks is way down. Who's hot and who's not?
The 2008 fourth-quarter results from the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index, known as ACSI, saw consumers' satisfaction with the goods and services they buy inch up. The index climbed to 75.5 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up 0.9 percentage point from the third quarter. As Claes Fornell, the University of Michigan professor who heads up ACSI, told MarketWatch:
"The paradox is that there's rarely been a better time to be a consumer. I'd be surprised if consumer satisfaction had fallen. The question now is how sustainable is this."
The ACSI is also one of the better tools out there to measure how individual companies are doing in the minds of their customers. Many of you shop at the stores I'm about to mention. Do you agree with these survey findings?
* Supermarkets: One again, Publix (in photo by Brian Cassella of the St. Petersburg Times) shows it is the Michael Phelps of grocery shopping (meaning it is a frequent gold medalist, not a bong enthusiast), once again ranking tops in satisfaction. Most other grocery stores measured (Kroger, Safeway) and not players in the Tampa Bay market. But Winn-Dixie and Wal-Mart were ranked at the bottom of the list.
* Department stores: Nordstrom and Kohl's share the top spot in customer satisfaction, followed closely by JCPenney and Target. Bringing up the rear: Sears and Wal-Mart.
* Banks: No surprise given their problems, banks were hammered in the market and by customers. As an industry, satisfaction with retail banks drooped 3.8 percent. Wachovia slipped but still held the top spot despite its financial woes caused by the mortgage business and its sale to Wells Fargo. Bringing up the bottom in the bank survey: Citigroup. And credit unions debuted on the ACSI index with customer satisfaction "far superior" to the big banks (but not necessarily superior to community banks).
* Specialty stores: Among the better ranked: Barnes & Noble, Costco, Borders and Sam's Club. Among the worst: Home Depot (still well below rival Lowe's), Circuit City (since they're in bankruptcy and liquidating their inventory, we won't have them to kick around in the next survey), TJX Companies, Best Buy and OfficeMax.
* Brokerages: No shock here, they fell the most in the wake of the stock market meltdown. Faring best was Fidelity, followed by Charles Schwab. Worst was E*Trade and TD AmeriTrade (this one declining most severely in the past year).
A couple of thoughts about this survey. Some business can rate high in customer satisfaction but still struggle financially. The Borders book chain falls into that category. On the flip side, Wal-Mart ranks lower in satisfaction as both a retailer and supermarket. But the company is among the few that is still growing, proof that consumer satisfaction and love of low prices are not necessarily the same thing.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist