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Consumers Say Credit Unions Offer Better Rates Than Banks

For a second year, credit union members feel that they receive better service and more competitive interest rates than consumers who have accounts or personal loans through retail banks. ACSI’s annual study on financial services shows banks down 2.6% for customer satisfaction to score 76 on a 100-point scale. Meanwhile, credit unions—with membership now surpassing 100 million—are second best among all ACSI industries with a high benchmark of 85.

ACSI’s findings coincide with record-high fees for checking accounts, but banks are actually collecting fewer fees than ever before. Consumers are becoming more adept at avoiding extra charges, but another strategy may be avoiding the big banks altogether. While the structure of credit unions allows for fewer fees, CUs still provide superior service in nearly every area, from transaction speed to Web banking.

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Indeed, consumers looking for free checking are much more likely to find it at a credit union. For interest rate competitiveness, customers put CUs ahead of banks by a wide margin of 13 points. The only areas where banks outpace credit unions are number and location of ATMs and branches. While this is not surprising given the more localized nature of credit unions, this may be an area that the industry could focus on improving, especially as membership continues to swell.

The Washington Post: Why Customers Are Less and Less Happy With Their Banks »

Denver Business Journal: Rising Fees Hurt Banks’ Image, but Consumers Happy With Credit Unions »

Albuquerque Business First: Study Finds Credit Unions First in Customer Satisfaction »

Credit Union Journal: CUs Still Enjoy High Customer Satisfaction: But Have Levels Peaked? »

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Health Insurance and Airlines: Close Partners for Dissatisfaction

Few industries have offered less satisfaction to consumers over time than commercial airlines, but now health insurers find their policyholders nearly as disgruntled as air travelers in the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual study on Finance and Insurance industries. While subscription TV and Internet service providers earn the very lowest ratings among 43 industries in the Index, health insurers share a berth close to both airlines and social media among ACSI’s bottom five.

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Among the three insurance categories in the study, health shows the biggest decline in policyholder satisfaction, down 4.1% to 70—the industry’s lowest ACSI score since 2005. The satisfaction history of health insurance, however, reveals a record of lower performance than other insurance types. Claims processes are more complex, but also more frequently used, which means there are more opportunities for things to go wrong. High premiums, along with deductibles and co-pays, may feel as hard on the wallets of consumers as shrinking legroom is on passengers’ knees.

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But the adverse effect of higher cost on satisfaction this year stems primarily from employer-provided group policies, which are by far the industry’s largest segment. Satisfaction with group policies tumbles 7% to a very low benchmark of 67 whereas individual policies are unchanged at 74. If the industry were evaluated on group policies alone, customer satisfaction would dip below airlines.

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Nearly every aspect of the customer experience for health insurance policyholders has deteriorated over the past year—several by 5% or more. Consumers are much less pleased with prescription drug coverage, as well as coverage of standard procedures. They find it more difficult to submit claims and are frustrated when dealing with call centers. While bright spots are access to primary and specialty care, the industry falls well short of the customer experience offered by other insurance types.

Download ACSI Finance and Insurance Report 2014 »

CBS MoneyWatch: Americans Put Health Insurers on the Hate List »

PropertyCasualty360: Report: Consumers Reasonably Satisfied With P&C Insurance;
Health, Not So Much »

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Is the Thrill Gone for Tablet PCs?

In a new twist this year for PCs, findings from the American Customer Satisfaction Index indicate that desktops have gained favor with users to the point that tablets no longer hold sway over the beleaguered desktop. According to the ACSI’s recent study on customer satisfaction with personal computers, tablets overall edge back 1% to an ACSI score of 80, while desktops surge 3% to 81, a healthy improvement over a year ago. Laptops, however, trail behind both—down 4% to a much lower benchmark of 76.

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The ACSI results coincide with recent trends in the PC market—namely, a flattening in the decline of PC sales along with a slow down in tablet sales. Over several years, consumers poured money into tablets, but now the market is becoming saturated. Simultaneously, there has been an uptick in PC users who are entering the market to upgrade their older home desktops—some of whom were prompted by the end of  Windows XP support in April.

Part of the picture may be that high consumer expectations for mobile devices make it challenging for manufacturers to satisfy users. In contrast, buyers looking to refresh home PCs—perhaps replacing desktops that are three years old or more—are pleasantly surprised by the speed and power of new machines on the market. Higher desktop satisfaction this year could be reflecting a modest ‘wow’ factor among consumers re-entering the PC market.

With regard to laptops, before tablets came on the scene, laptops received higher user satisfaction ratings than desktops because back then, the laptop was the tablet. But now, the laptop is orphaned, falling in the middle between the traditional set-up of a desktop and the ‘carry-everywhere’ tablet. For the industry, the next wave could come from products that bridge the gap by marrying the functionality of the desktop with the ease of use and portability of the tablet.

HotHardware: Desktop PCs Gain Traction in American Customer Satisfaction »

NBCNews: Desktop Computers Show a Gain in Customer Satisfaction »

NewsFactor Network: Consumers More Satisfied With Desktop PCs Than Laptops, Tablets »

PCMag: Consumers Love Their…Desktop PCs? »

Tech Times: Desktop Comeback on Horizon? It May Be So, Given User Satisfaction Report »

TWICE: As PC Demand Slips, Desktop Approvals Climb »

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Detroit Closing the Gap, But Imports Stay on Top

In a year of waning overall driver satisfaction, Asian and European cars command the field, holding six of the seven top slots in the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual measure of the automobile industry. Only one domestic vehicle, GM’s Buick, earns an above-average score for customer satisfaction.

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Driver penchant for imports is not new in ACSI studies. The year 2010 marked the first time in a decade that U.S. plates overall managed to edge out Asian brands for satisfaction. The brief stint for U.S. cars over Japan/Korea followed one year after the auto industry hit a record-high ACSI score of 84, as aggressive dealer incentives plus the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program helped revive a recession-strapped industry. In 2012 autos hit 84 again, but since then driver satisfaction, on average, has waned.

For the last five years, European brands have held the high ground in ACSI. This year, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz leads the field at 86, helping Europe maintain the upper hand over Asian cars—but only by the slimmest of margins. With the entire industry trending downward, a less steep decline for Detroit’s Big Three works to narrow its gap to imports compared with a year ago.

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With imports now in its sights, Detroit could be poised to catch up—and perhaps even surpass—both Asian and European brands for customer satisfaction, but this has yet to occur in two decades of ACSI measurement.

Download ACSI Automobile Report 2014 »

Automotive News: Asian, European Brands Dominate Satisfaction Survey, but U.S. Brands Close Gap »

Marketing Daily: Satisfaction Dips; Imports Vs. Domestics Gap Narrows »

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Driver Satisfaction Shake-Up for Luxury Cars

Drivers who opt for luxury are typically among the most satisfied, according to two decades of ACSI research on customer satisfaction with automobiles and light vehicles. When it comes to premium-priced vehicles, manufacturers strive to pair top-notch service with features aimed at comfort and luxury—all of which helps boost satisfaction.

ACSI findings for 2014, however, reveal widespread deterioration in driver satisfaction. Among 21 measured car brands, 80% show some decline in ACSI compared with the prior year. The two that take the hardest hit are both luxury makes: Acura and Cadillac. By contrast, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz still leads the field as it did in 2013, albeit at the lower ACSI score of 86, while GM’s Buick is one of only two nameplates to post a gain (+1% to 83).

With a sharp drop of 7%, Honda’s Acura tumbles down to last place for 2014. In its second year of measurement, Acura scores 77, down from 83 a year ago. Another luxury newcomer to ACSI, Audi, inhabits the low end with a debut score of 79.

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Cadillac, GM’s flagship luxury make, plunges 6% to 80, failing to score above average for the first time in ACSI history. The drop in customer satisfaction for Cadillac coincides with news that the brand’s August year-on-year sales in the U.S. are down 18%, in sharp contrast to the industry’s overall gain of 5.5%.

View more automobile scores »

AutoGuide: Mercedes, Subaru Top Customer Satisfaction Survey »

Bloomberg: GM’s Chevrolet, Buick Achieve Sole Gains in Auto Survey »

MarketWatch: The most hated car company in America is »

The Wall Street Journal: Automotive Customer Satisfaction Dips for Second Straight Year »

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ACSI’s Forrest Morgeson Talks Cars with MarketWatch’s Catey Hill on WSJ Live

On August 26, ACSI Research Director Dr. Forrest Morgeson discussed the highs and lows of this year’s ACSI study on driver satisfaction with MarketWatch’s Catey Hill on Wall Street Journal’s News Hub with Sara Murray.

According to the recently released ACSI Automobile Report 2014, imports and luxury nameplates top the list for customer satisfaction, with Germany’s Mercedes-Benz leading the field at 86, followed by Subaru at 85. The other above-average brands for satisfaction are Lexus, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, and Buick—the only domestic make in the upper tier.

By contrast, Audi and two Chrysler plates—Jeep and Dodge—inhabit the low end among 21 popular vehicle lines with scores of 78 to 79. A relatively new entrant to the study, luxury model Acura, drops down to 77, perhaps leaving owners wanting more for their premium dollar.

Watch the interview »

Throughout September, the ACSI will feature customer satisfaction news on the auto industry, as well as complete 2014 coverage of the durable goods sector.

To join the conversation, sign up for ACSI Newsletters, follow us on Twitter at @theACSI and Like us on Facebook.

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Fast Food Patrons Find Less to Love at McDonald’s

When it comes to dining out, choosing a big-name venue may result in big disappointment. McDonald’s is a prime example that number one in sales does not always add up to number one in customer satisfaction. In fact, fast food Goliath Mickey D’s has been serving up less satisfaction to its patrons than any other competing chain for 20 years. Consistency may be good in some cases, but not when it involves being an industry customer satisfaction laggard.

Since the ACSI’s inception in 1994, McDonald’s has earned the lowest ACSI score among a dozen major fast food chains such as Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Subway, and more. The ACSI also measures smaller chains and independent restaurants in aggregate (shown in the chart as “all others”). In stark contrast to McDonald’s, these smaller chains—including the rapidly growing fast casual brands Panera and Chipotle—have always been just above or much higher than the industry average for customer satisfaction. This year, small chains are on top with an industry-leading ACSI score of 84 (scale of 0 to 100). This is a whopping 13 points ahead of last-place McDonald’s at 71.

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A possible silver lining for McDonald’s is that it no longer scores in the 60s, as it did for many years. With a large and diverse customer base, maintaining a higher level of satisfaction may always be challenging for the company. In 2014, McDonald’s declines 3%, down from a peak score of 73 in 2013. Smaller chains, in contrast, improve 2% and set a new record high for the industry at large.

View more fast food ACSI scores »

United Press International: Americans Are Not ‘Lovin’ McDonald’s That Much Anymore »

Business Insider: America’s Favorite Fast Food Chains »

USA TODAY: Not-So-Happy Meal: McDonald’s Satisfaction Lags »

Chicago Tribune: McDonald’s Ranks Last in Customer Satisfaction »

24/7 Wall St: Poor Wages Given as Reason for Poor McDonald’s Service Rating »

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Will Mega-Telecom/TV Mergers Mean Mega-Headaches for Consumers?

As regulators take on the implications of the broadband uber-company that could emerge from a Comcast-Time Warner Cable marriage, another scaled-up competitor is in the making. AT&T announced its $49-billion deal to acquire DIRECTV, a proposal reflecting a reality where TV and telecom continue to blend into “one mutant industry.”

ACSI data have long shown that mergers are no friend of customer satisfaction. Industries where competition is limited—including virtual monopolies like the U.S. Postal Service’s mail delivery—generally show lower satisfaction overall. The airline industry with its hub structure or cable TV with its service area limitations are good examples of poor customer satisfaction.

But in the land of media, voice, data, and video, customers also take a dim view of the quality and value of their service. On one hand, they may be paying for more than they want via supersized TV packages. On the other, Internet service speed still lags consumer desires. ACSI results show that all communication categories fall well below average for customer satisfaction, with ISPs and pay TV at the very bottom among 43 industries.

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Comcast and Time Warner assert that their proposed merger will not reduce competition because there is little overlap in their service territories. Nevertheless, it’s a concern whenever two poor-performing service providers merge—as well as unlikely that combining two negatives will be a positive for consumers.

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As for AT&T and DIRECTV, the two companies do well compared with other pay TV providers, but their ACSI scores have declined relative to 2013. Combining their operations may ultimately mean less choice for pay TV customers, as analysts anticipate that U-Verse subscribers will be shifted to satellite in order to free up space on AT&T’s landline network for better high-speed Internet.

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Download ACSI Telecommunications and Information Report 2014 »

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Hotel Chains: Different Name, Same Experience?

In a recently issued report on travel-related industries, the ACSI analyzes customer opinions concerning the experience offered by nearly 30 popular hotel chains—from budget brands to luxury resorts and everything in between. As expected, the view from a room at price-conscious Econ Lodge (overall ACSI score of 67 on 0-100 scale) or a midscale property such as Ramada Inn (70) stands in sharp contrast to the accommodations of a Ritz-Carlton hotel (86).

But when guests select lodgings that are categorized as either upper midscale, upscale, or upper upscale, their satisfaction level may be quite similar—regardless of which brand or which category they choose.

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For the hotel industry, the ACSI measures nine customer experience elements, such as ease of making reservations, check-in processes, staff courtesy, and loyalty programs. Across all six lodging types, reservation and check-in processes receive strong customer ratings in the 80s. Likewise, guests feel that hotel staff members are courteous and helpful (scores ranging from 82 to 90).

Greater differences emerge for aspects such as quality of amenities or quality of food service, with about 20 points separating the economy and luxury categories. By contrast, guests evaluating upper midscale, upscale, and upper upscale properties see less variation in items like pools, business centers, fitness rooms, mini-bars, restaurants, and room service.

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The field tightens further for two ratings that focus in on guest rooms: cleanliness and comfort and in-room entertainment. In the three “upper” categories, guests find the room quality to be nearly cookie-cutter. The 10-point difference between midscale and luxury shrinks to a mere 2 points between upper midscale and upper upscale. Likewise, in-room entertainment spans only 3 points from both upper midscale and upscale to upper upscale. Given this lack of differentiation, brands that can rise above the current standard in these categories may gain an upper hand on their direct competitors.hotel-CE-2

Hotel Brands ACSI Scores 2014 »

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Cyberspace Checkout Process Beats Standing in Line

Technology has changed the way many Americans shop, especially with the advent of mobile computing devices. Via smartphones and tablets, consumers can browse in cyberspace rather than at the mall. Looking at specific aspects of the customer experience across five retail categories, ACSI data show that traditional retailers receive their highest marks for convenience of store location and hours, indicating that many shoppers still appreciate the in-store experience, even as foot traffic continues to diminish.

When it comes time to checkout and pay, however, consumers overwhelmingly favor the online purchase experience, which receives a very high score of 90 (scale of 0-100 points). In contrast, checkout speed is often the least satisfying part of the in-store shopping experience. Across four traditional categories, customers rate speed of checkout in the 70s. While traditional retailers may never be able to match the speed of online checkout, there is clearly room for improvement.

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In addition to measuring overall customer satisfaction, its drivers, and its outcomes, the ACSI helps retailers and businesses in a wide variety of markets perform competitive benchmarking across the total customer experience.

Learn more »

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