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New quality index makes debut with IRS a loser

Americans are least pleased with the IRS and most satisfied with the quality of their cigarettes, beer and other non-durable manufactured products, according to a new customer satisfaction index released Tuesday.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index tracks satisfaction over time with a range of American goods and services, from the Post Office and the Internal Revenue Service to cars and appliances.

The quarterly index measures American satisfaction overall with goods and services from 200 companies and government agencies and 40 industries. Rankings of certain industry groupings and government agencies will be made public, but those for individual companies will not.

Creators hope it will become a widely used measurement of how consumers perceive the quality of American goods and services, much as the Consumer Price Index measures inflation.

A major goal of the index is to show how quality affects profits and the overall economy, said Claes Fornell, director of the index's creator: the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan School of Business Administration.

The index is based on random telephone interviews nationwide with 46,000 consumers who recently bought or used a product or service tracked by the index.

The index measures seven sectors of the economy: manufacturing of durable goods; manufacturing of non-durables; transportation, communications and utilities; retail; finance and insurance; services; and public administration and government.