The best and worst airlines according to customer satisfaction

Fortunes in the airline industry can change in an instant.

Southwest, which led all airlines in the latest ACSI Travel Report with a score of 80, recently had a plane engine explode and kill a passenger.

Allegiant Airlines, which jumped 4 percent in 2018 to a score of 74, was the subject of a damaging investigation that alleges the airline fails to follow safety standards, among other issues.

Not to mention the rising costs of fuel and new labor agreements. Or the spate of recent mergers that gives no more than four operators control of 80 percent of the market.

If you follow the news, you’ve likely seen countless stories of customer service mess ups on the part of airlines. And yes, the ACSI score for airlines dropped 2.7 percent from last year. All but four of the largest airlines saw weaker passenger satisfaction this year. And with the exception of the check-in process, which remained unchanged from last year, every aspect of flying has deteriorated in 2018.

But there is also good news for airlines in the scores. Let’s take a closer look.

Airlines with the highest customer satisfaction

Southwest, whose ACSI score remained unchanged from last year, took the lead from JetBlue, which fell 4 percent. JetBlue now sits tied for second with Alaska Airlines, which inched up 1 percent.

Southwest’s low fares and high service levels, combined with its growing network, have kept its customer satisfaction levels steady – this is its third year in a row with the same score. Alaska Airlines was boosted by considerably lower ticket prices and its merger with Virgin America, which has a legacy of good customer service.

Tied for third place are Allegiant (up 4 percent), American (down 3 percent), and Delta (down 3 percent). United fell 4 percent, and bringing up the rear are Frontier (down 2 percent) and Spirit (up 2 percent).

Allegiant’s gains may be short lived following news reports of mechanical issues and safety concerns that sent its stock tumbling. Beleaguered by customer service issues, United saw the sharpest decline in the airline industry in ratings of its employees’ courtesy and helpfulness.

Business travelers vs. leisure travelers

Dividing travelers based on the reason for their travel – business or leisure – uncovers interesting insights into customer satisfaction.

One of the biggest differences between the two is that business travelers are more apt to complain. More than a third of the business travelers surveyed filed a complaint with an airline, over three times the 11 percent of leisure passengers who did the same. But business travelers are also much more satisfied, with ACSI scores more than 8 percent higher than those from leisure passengers.

That makes sense: Business travelers travel more often and are more emboldened to address any issues they experience. Airlines, knowing business travelers are among their best customers, make an effort to right any wrongs. Business travelers are also just more experienced, smart travelers. While infrequent leisure travelers might be unhappy with an unexpected part of the boarding process, for example, business travelers know how to play the game.

ACSI-travel-business-vs-leisure

There are also stark differences around airline baggage fees. Among leisure travelers who didn’t pay fees to check luggage (56 percent), the ACSI score was more than 4 percent higher than among leisure travelers who did pay.

For business travelers, it was the opposite. The 69 percent of business travelers who paid to check baggage also had the highest ACSI score among business and leisure travelers, and nearly 7 percent higher than the business travelers who didn’t pay for checked luggage. Not having to pay out of your own pocket certainly helps.

What needs improvement: Nearly everything

The ACSI score for the check-in process held steady, but every other aspect of flying declined.

Ease of making a reservation, the courtesy and helpfulness of flight crews, timeliness of arrival, and website satisfaction all dropped about 1.2 percent. Seat comfort, already in last place, fell an additional 3 percent.

What’s the good news in all this? That even small improvements could pay big dividends for airlines. Just as fortunes can change in an instant for the worst, they can also shift for the better. By homing in on even a few areas to upgrade, airlines can improve their perception among customers.  

Facebook privacy issues: Consumers rank Facebook last among social media sites

Facebook has had a busy couple weeks. Between back-to-back hearings on Capitol Hill last week and new questions from the European courts this week, the social media behemoth is getting its fair share of regulator attention, negative press, and user complaints.

One of the main spotlights is on Facebook’s privacy policy, especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal news broke. However, the company’s less-than-stellar record with customer privacy has long been an issue.

Facebook has always struggled with satisfying customers – particularly in the privacy department — according to eight years of customer satisfaction research. When looking at its ability to protect the privacy of personal information, Facebook ranks dead last, which is likely due to its revenue goals encroaching on customer privacy. The second worst, LinkedIn, scores a full 11 percent higher than Facebook.

Overall, Facebook is one of the lowest-ranked companies among e-business sites, scoring a 68 out of 100 — and that’s before the last six months of negative press.

For reference, the social media industry average score is 73.

ACSI-social-media-site-scores-2017Overall ACSI customer satisfaction scores for social media sites as of July 2017.

Across all industries, a key driver of satisfaction is maintaining privacy of information. However, people also value convenience and Facebook is engrained into the social fabric of our lives. Users haven’t changed their privacy settings, and even Facebook’s stock has risen – but not recovered – since Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress.

Facebook may be too large to be quashed by these recent privacy fumbles, but its satisfaction score can – and likely will – take a hit. It’s certainly a warning to all companies in privacy management: Customers expect their information to be secure.

We’ll take a closer look at social media website scores this summer, but for now, take a deeper dive into the most recent customer satisfaction data with more insights on this industry.

 

Customer satisfaction with hospitals grows as health care sector shifts

One word defines health care right now: consolidation.

Pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) are merging with insurers. United Health Group led the charge a few years ago, buying Catamaran. Now CVS is buying Aetna and Cigna is buying Express Scripts. Walmart is in talks to buy Humana. Some see this as motivated by the potential for Amazon to leap into the health care space; the major players are joining forces to ensure they’ll be able to compete.

But the joining of PBMs with insurers could have an effect on hospitals as well.

UnitedHealth bought Surgical Care Affiliates to expand into primary and urgent care in ambulances, and picked up a physician group, moving closer to direct delivery of medical care. CVS and Aetna plan to add community medical clinics to their repertoire. Walmart already operates retail health clinics and has said it would begin offering lab-testing services in some stores.

The $18 billion urgent care center space is expected to grow nearly 6 percent in 2018, building on the more than 7,600 urgent care centers in the U.S. as of June 2017. The number of centers in 2017 was up nearly 10 percent over 2015.

The surge in clinics could be the reason that customer satisfaction with emergency room services jumped 6 percent since last year, to an ACSI score of 73.

That was the most dramatic change in the health care and social assistance sector, and drove the 1.3 percent increase in customer satisfaction with hospitals.

Inpatient hospital care saw a 1 percent rise to an ACSI score of 77. The gains in ER and inpatient care helped offset a decline for outpatient care, which ebbed 3 percent to 78.

Patient satisfaction with ambulatory care (office visits to doctors, dentists, optometrists, and mental health professionals) held steady at 77 for the third year in a row.

Among patients 51 years and up, satisfaction with hospitals was much higher, at a score of 80, than among those 18-50 years old, where it stood at just 72. The difference in satisfaction between the two age groups was most pronounced in outpatient care and emergency room services, where ACSI scores among those 51 and up were 10 points higher than scores for those 18-50.

It will be interesting to see the effect that continued growth of urgent care clinics will have on ER perception moving forward. And when Amazon, along with its collaborators JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway, does make moves in health care, it will be anyone’s guess how the health care and social assistance sector, and patients’ satisfaction with its services, will respond.