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ACSI 2015: The Year in Review

The year 2015 marked customer satisfaction downturns across nearly every economic sector—from the post-holiday 2014 retail segment to U.S. federal government services. At the national level, overall U.S. customer satisfaction retreated across four quarters, adding to a string of consecutive declines that began in 2014.

According to ACSI results released from February to December 2015, 70% of 43 measured industries showed year-over-year satisfaction declines, with products or services from 59% of measured companies deemed less satisfying according to their own customers.

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In the public sector, citizens were less satisfied with services of the federal government during the year 2015, although the pace of decline slowed considerably compared with the two prior years.

Despite this pervasive weakening of consumer opinions of goods and services over the past year, the most recent satisfaction levels tracked by the ACSI are not dramatically different from pre-Great Recession data. It is possible that the years immediately following the recession represent a honeymoon period when companies went to greater lengths to attract and keep their customers—and when those customers may have been more willing to adjust their expectations.

Coming soon at www.theacsi.org: customer satisfaction results for the fourth quarter of 2015, including ACSI scores for more than 60 online and traditional retailers, based on data collected during the holiday shopping season.

ACSI Federal Government Report 2015 »

ACSI 2015 Year in Review: 
Slumping Customer Satisfaction Across Much of the U.S. Economy »

Investor’s Business Daily: Facebook Made Way More Users Happy in 2015: ASCI »

Money: These Companies Were the Biggest Customer Satisfaction Losers for 2015 »

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Consumers Weigh In: Choice Matters for Health Coverage

With new customers up one-third over last year, the health insurance industry continues to add policyholders at a rapid pace. According to the federal government, from the November start of enrollment through December 17, nearly six million people signed up for 2016 health insurance coverage on the federal exchanges. Within this group, 2.4 million were new customers.

The ongoing influx of newly insured Americans could put even more downward pressure on policyholder satisfaction next year. At present, customer satisfaction with health insurance has fallen to a 10-year low of 69 on the ACSI’s 0 to 100 scale. This places the industry among the bottom five in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

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As the health insurance exchanges bring more people into the system, more opportunities open up for things to go wrong. This means that the impact of the Affordable Care Act on satisfaction is yet unclear. What is apparent, however, is that high premiums and slow claims processing do little to help consumer opinions of the industry.

There is a factor that leads to better outcomes for policyholder satisfaction: choice. ACSI data show that customers choosing individual plans are more satisfied on average (71) than those with group health insurance coverage (68). But even among group policyholders, choice plays a role. Those who are offered a choice of group plans rate their experience significantly better (70) than those with no choice (65).

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ACSI Finance and Insurance Report 2015 »

CBS MoneyWatch:  Guess Who Now Ranks With America’s Most Hated Industries »

The Fiscal Times: Americans Give Health Insurers a Big Thumbs Down »

MarketWatch: Health insurance satisfaction at a 10-Year Low (But Don’t Blame Obamacare) »

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Consumers Appreciate Personal Touch of Community Banks

Regional and community banks offer a level of service that competes with the membership model of credit unions, according to recent results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Credit unions have a history of being a satisfaction pacesetter, scoring at or near the top among 43 ACSI industries. In 2015, the industry may be experiencing growing pains from burgeoning membership as its ACSI score drops 4.7%.

Nevertheless, credit unions continue to receive some of the best customer experience benchmarks in the ACSI. At the same time, regional and community banks show that they are no slouches when it comes to well-regarded customer service. Across an array of customer experience elements, community banks earn scores that approach—or even exceed—credit union ratings.

The high point for both credit unions and community banks is courtesy and helpfulness of staff, scoring 90 and 89, respectively, on a scale of 0 to 100. Transaction speed for both is swift (89 and 87) and interest rates are competitive (80 and 78), especially when compared with national banks (69). In fact, nearly every aspect of the customer experience offered by community banks and credit unions is deemed excellent, including service variety, account changes and information, and touchpoints like call centers and websites.

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The two areas where community banks and credit unions fall behind nationals and super regionals are number and location of branches and ATMs. While this is not surprising given the local focus of smaller institutions, clearly their customer base is craving a bigger footprint for services. The personal touch, however, is winning out over location convenience—as demonstrated by the much lower overall customer satisfaction of national banks (72) versus community banks (80) and credit unions (81).

A recent BloombergBusiness article on the popularity of local over “big banks” with millennials discusses how fewer fees and a more “high-touch” approach is driving young bank customers away from national institutions and toward community banking. Even as many banking transactions move online, young customers also look for a one-on-one approach and are more likely to seek financial advice. ACSI data demonstrate that for millennials and non-millennials alike, banks and credit unions will gain favor with customers by focusing less on collecting fees and more on delivering excellence in their customer relationships over the long haul.

BankNews: Credit Unions Losing Edge Over Community Banks on Customer Satisfaction Index »

ACSI: Finance and Insurance Customer Satisfaction Slides as Cost Cutting, Fees and Premiums Pinch Customers »

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Growing Membership Strains Service for Credit Unions

Financial service providers and insurers join the trend of dwindling customer satisfaction that marks the year 2015. Credit unions, typically a high-scoring industry, retreat nearly 5% in ACSI as membership growth accelerates.
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ACSI Finance and Insurance Report 2015 »

Credit Union Times: Credit Union Member Satisfaction Hits Five-Year Low: ASCI »

CBS MoneyWatch: Guess Who Now Ranks With America’s Most Hated Industries »

Charlotte Business Journal: Wells Fargo Tops Customer-Satisfaction Ranking for Big Banks, BofA Continues to Lag »

The Fiscal Times: Americans Give Health Insurers a Big Thumbs Down »

Insurance Business America: Brokers Missing Opportunity to Bundle Policies »

MarketWatch: Health Insurance Satisfaction at a 10-Year Low (But Don’t Blame Obamacare) »

Winston-Salem Journal: BB&T, Wells Fargo Have Above Average Customer Satisfaction Scores »

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PCs Decline as Consumers Cool Towards Tablets

Highlights of customer satisfaction trends for desktop, laptop, and tablet computers.

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ACSI Household Appliance and Electronics Report 2015 »

PC World: Survey: Users Love Their Desktops More Than Their Cheapo Tablets »

CIO: Consumers Increasingly Dissatisfied With PCs, Tablets »

TWICE: Consumers Aren’t Satisfied With Their PCs Or Their TVs »

NBCNews.com: Satisfaction With PCs of All Types Declines for Third Year in a Row »

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Autos: Ongoing Recalls Deflate Driver Satisfaction

With automobile recalls at record-high levels, it comes as no surprise that car buyer satisfaction declines for a third straight year, according to recent results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). At the industry level, driver satisfaction falls 3.7% to 79 on ACSI’s 100-point scale in 2015, and nearly all nameplates lose ground in the eyes of their customers.

While consumers are seeing a rapid influx of technology innovation that is transforming the driving experience, recalls are becoming a more common occurrence for car owners. The ACSI automobile customer satisfaction survey asks all respondents to indicate whether or not their car has been the subject of a recall since the time of purchase, allowing researchers to investigate the impact of recalls on satisfaction.

In 2011, ACSI researchers used a pooled sample of 2010 and 2011 data to show that customers who experience recalls are significantly less satisfied with their cars than those who have not. One of the industry’s highest-profile recalls happened before and during that period—Japanese automaker Toyota’s massive, worldwide safety recall that started in 2009.

Recalls generally signal major quality defects, so it is not unexpected that they will depress satisfaction. But, as automobiles become more and more complex, there is the possibility that consumers could come to accept recalls as a normal part of car ownership. Nevertheless, ACSI data from the past three years confirm the 2011 findings. Customer satisfaction for owners who experience recalls is significantly lower than non-recall respondents, and the percentage of owners that say they have gone through a recall has increased substantially in 2015.

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The negative impact of recalls on automakers does not end with lower satisfaction. Because there is nearly a one-to-one relationship between satisfaction and customer loyalty for this industry, recalls create customers who are significantly more likely to defect to a competitor the next time they purchase a car. And because current customers are generally “cheaper” customers for automakers (requiring fewer acquisition costs), recalls have tangible and negative economic consequences for automakers. A pooled sample of 2013 to 2015 data for all nameplates shows that customers who experience recalls are significantly less likely to be repeat buyers.

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Satisfaction declines caused by recalls also have a host of indirect, negative consequences because satisfaction drives behaviors such as word-of-mouth, cross-selling, up-selling, brand image, and corporate reputation. Like many other nameplates, Volkswagen’s driver satisfaction tumbles 5% in 2015, but the drop is based on interviews that took place prior to the company’s well-publicized emissions scandal. Although diesel engines are less widely used in the United States than elsewhere around the globe, the revelation of emissions rigging by Volkswagen—along with the sheer number of vehicles that the company will now recall and refit—could be devastating on future satisfaction. Current customers may be even less likely to repurchase from Volkswagen if they perceive the company’s actions as a breach of trust.

ACSI Automobiles Report 2015 »

Associated Press: Survey: Recalls Make Americans Less Satisfied With Cars »

 Michigan Radio: Recalls, Cost, Taking Toll on Customer Satisfaction With Cars »

USA TODAY: Deluge of Recalls Dings Auto Customer Satisfaction as Lexus Earns ACSI’s Top Spot »

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Big User Satisfaction Turnaround for Facebook

Social media websites—previously stuck in the bottom 5 among 40+ industries measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index—unleash a tide of improved user satisfaction ratings in 2015, led by a 12% year-on-year leap for social-networking juggernaut Facebook.

Across the industry, user satisfaction is up since 2014. Pinners remain the most satisfied user group, bumping up their assessment of Pinterest to 78. Wikipedia, YouTube, and Instagram follow in a tight configuration, scoring 76 to 77, just ahead of a greatly improved Facebook.

Between 2011 and 2014, Facebook either held last place alone or tied with LinkedIn for the worst user satisfaction in this already low-scoring category. With a steady three-year climb, Facebook hits the middle of the pack (75), while LinkedIn continues to anchor the bottom (68).

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ACSI data point to three key areas where users perceive improvement in their experience with social media websites this year: advertising, privacy, and mobile access.

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In 2014, advertising and privacy protection were the least satisfying aspects of the social media user experience. With the advent of more targeted advertising, users encounter fewer ads to sort through—speeding up the experience and lowering frustration. Social media sites also are paying more attention to privacy concerns and are doing a much better job of protecting personal information.

For a user base that is increasingly on the go, mobile access is critical and social media seems to be getting it right—better than search or news sites at present. Social media rates highest for ease of use on different devices, such as tablets or smartphones. And while news and opinion websites receive the best score for performance on a desktop, social media is the leader for both access via mobile browser and access via mobile app.

At a time when smartphone market penetration is at 75%, social media is proving adept at making the mobile experience work for users.

ACSI E-Business Report 2015 »

The Wall Street Journal: Paced by Facebook, Customer Satisfaction Up for Social-Media Sites »

MSN Money: Facebook Haters Just Took Another Hit »

Mobile Marketer: Facebook Makes Significant Strides in Improving User Satisfaction: Report »

NBC News: Focus on Mobile Drives Social Media Satisfaction Higher, Survey Finds »

MarketWatch: 5 Reasons You Hate LinkedIn So Much »

MediaPost: Social Media Bolsters EBusiness »

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Restaurants 2015: ACSI Highs and Lows

Highlights of customer satisfaction trends in fast food and full-service dining.

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ACSI Restaurant Report 2015 »

Limited-Service Restaurant Scores »

Full-Service Restaurant Scores »

Business Insider: The Top 10 Most-Loved Fast Food Chains in America »

CBS MoneyWatch: 5 Most Loved and Hated Fast-Food Restaurants »

International Business Times: Best Restaurants in USA: Chick-Fil-A Trumps Competition, McDonald’s Falls Out of Favor »

CNBC: Things Just Got a Lot Worse Over at McDonald’s »

Consumerist: Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle Lead in Customer Satisfaction Survey, McDonald’s Brings Up the Rear… Again »

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Laser Focus Puts Chick-fil-A on Top

Chick-fil-A customers are loving their experience—so much so that the company vaults to the top of the fast food restaurant category in its first appearance in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. What about the love coming McDonald’s way? Well…not so much. In fact, the world’s largest fast food chain can’t get out of the industry’s basement. In 2015, McDonald’s takes another hit for customer satisfaction—down 6% to an industry low of 67 on ACSI’s 100-point scale.

With a laser focus on poultry, Chick-fil-A debuts at the sky-high level of 86, handily beating rival KFC (-1% to 73) and setting an all-time ACSI high among fast food outlets. Additionally, across nine key elements of the restaurant customer experience, Chick-fil-A is the industry benchmark leader for the fast food category, with only Papa John’s providing a challenge in one area—website satisfaction.

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Across the board, pizza makers see big drops in customer satisfaction this year—ranging from an 8% decline for Little Caesars to 5% and 6% drops for Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut. Other established names including Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and Taco Bell populate the low end of the ACSI ratings, perhaps receiving a collective yawn from consumers looking for healthier menu items, better service, and amped-up décor. Seemingly fitting the bill better are Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill, debuting in second and third place with ACSI scores of 80 and 83, respectively.

In the full-service category, steak houses do well by their customers as Texas Roadhouse grabs first place at 83, followed by LongHorn Steakhouse at 81. Outback Steakhouse, however, ends up below the industry average after retreating 3% to 78.

Across the customer experience, LongHorn leads in six of nine food and service areas, including food and drink quality, layout and cleanliness, and staff courtesy. Texas Roadhouse offers the best website while matching Longhorn for beverage quality and service speed. Cracker Barrel—placing third among sit-down venues with an ACSI score of 80—is well-liked by its customers for food-to-table speed as well as food menu variety.

Download ACSI Restaurant Report 2015 »

MarketWatch: What Is America’s Most Hated Fast-Food Chain? »

USA TODAY: What’s America’s Favorite Fast-Food Restaurant? »

Chicago Tribune: Chick-fil-A tops other fast-food chains in satisfaction survey »

CNN Money: America’s Favorite Fast Food Chain is… »

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Customer View Darkens as Merger Mania Persists for Telecom Companies

Poor service and high cost is making consumers feel left out of the equation when it comes to telecommunications services. A year ago, the American Customer Satisfaction Index reported that customers were highly dissatisfied with subscription TV and Internet service—a situation that has worsened in 2015. While customer satisfaction with bottom-ranked ISPs has not budged, pay TV service has deteriorated further in the eyes of subscribers. The two telecom segments tie at an ACSI score of 63 (100-point scale), the lowest level of satisfaction among 43 consumer household industries. Fixed-line telephone service, often included in bundled packages along with Internet and TV, languishes as well—down 5.5% to 69.

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While consumers remain frustrated with their service providers, options are growing. Streaming services from Amazon, Apple, and Netflix are just one alternative in a fast-changing landscape. Moreover, these companies all display much higher customer satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the big telecom players continue to focus on mergers. In spite of an aborted Comcast-Time Warner Cable (TWC) marriage, Charter Communications continues to pursue both TWC and Bright House Networks. If successful, Charter would become the second-largest cable company in the country.

As with the now defunct Comcast-TWC merger, a Charter-TWC union joins together two poorly performing coaxial cable providers—a dubious prospect for consumers yearning for better service. Bright House shows higher customer satisfaction than either Charter or TWC, but even so, ACSI data show that most mergers tend to dampen satisfaction, at least in the short term.

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Among pay TV providers, fiber optic and satellite service beats cable. Verizon’s FiOS leads with an ACSI score of 71, followed by AT&T’s U-verse (69) and DIRECTV (68). AT&T’s bid for DIRECTV would allow it to deliver TV service via multiple technologies, which could benefit consumers. That said, neither AT&T nor DIRECTV shows any improvement in customer satisfaction over the past year, and their scores remain far below the national ACSI average.

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Download ACSI Telecommunications and Information Report 2015 »

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