Airlines have a problem: The in-flight experience.

Airlines are ascending.

Following a 2.7% drop in 2018, airlines rebounded in passenger satisfaction this year, climbing 1.4% to an ACSI score of 74 (out of 100), per our latest Travel Report.

Several airlines experienced improvements in customer satisfaction. Most notably, the newly minted leader, Alaska, up 1% to an ACSI score of 80. Delta, which finished first among legacy airlines, also climbed 1% to 75.

A majority of experience benchmarks remained unchanged and in good standing. Customers found solace in the check-in process (82), the ease of making reservations (81), the timeliness of arrival (80), and website satisfaction (80).

Customers were even more impressed with mobile apps, which debuted on the list at 82 for both quality and reliability.

Given these scores, you might think airlines would be much higher on the customer satisfaction scale. Unfortunately, the industry left much to be desired in arguably the most important part of travel: the flight itself.

The in-flight experience is a problem

This year, four new metrics were used to track some of the most problematic aspects of travel. The results were revealing.

The availability and size of overhead storage earned an ACSI score of 73, as did both the quality of complimentary and premium (purchased) food and beverage. The quality of in-flight entertainment received an even lower mark at 71.

Seat comfort – or lack thereof – remained the worst part of flying, with an ACSI score of 69.

It’s clear that passengers are yearning for a better flying experience. They don’t have much overhead space, their seats are cramped, and the food and entertainment could be better. Fortunately, some airlines are listening.

Airlines attempting to make flights more comfortable

Delta customers appreciate the in-flight amenities they receive on the bulk of mainline aircrafts. The airlines offer seatback screens, USB ports, and Wi-Fi. But Delta isn’t alone.

Although United, like American, is in the process of transitioning away from seatback screens, it’s making changes to accommodate its passengers in the short term.

In the past, only domestic business class passengers on United flights could access DirecTV for free. Economy passengers had to pay a small fee, but that’s no longer the case. As of January 30, 2019, all passengers will have free access to the service.

United is also looking to improve the in-flight experience through a new partnership with skincare brand Sunday Riley, as three cabin-specific amenity kits will be made available to United passengers.

“Sunday and her team really took the time to understand how travel and the aircraft environment affects our customers and formulated an in-flight remedy that complements their journey with United from beginning to end,” said Mark Krolick, United’s vice president of marketing, per the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).

In an attempt to improve in-flight entertainment, American Airlines is making it easier for passengers to listen to their Apple Music. Those with subscriptions can now use complimentary Wi-Fi on all American Airlines domestic flights to access their music.

Passengers might be part of the problem

It’s true that flights have become less comfortable over the years. However, airlines aren’t the only ones to blame. Consumers are also at fault to an extent.

According to an MSN poll, 51% of Americans noted price of the ticket as their top priority when selecting which airline to fly. Only 6% of the 209,000 people polled listed comfort as their No. 1 priority.

“The reality is that people have proven to the U.S. airline industry time and time again that, at volume, they prefer the lower advertised price regardless of how many add-ons they have to pay for,” said Vinay Bhaskara, a senior business analyst with industry publication Airway.

If customers are going to purchase tickets based on the price, they’re essentially saying they’re willing to forego comfort for cost-cutting. That’s part of the problem.

Voice your concerns

If passengers are looking for improvements to airlines’ in-flight experience, they have to speak up. Some customers do that more frequently than others, and it’s paying off.

Nearly a third of business travelers have filed a complaint with an airline as opposed to only 11% of leisure passengers. Yet, business travelers who complain are still far more satisfied than the average leisure traveler with a complaint, posting an ACSI score of 78 compared to 73.

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You might be surprised by these numbers, but it makes sense.

Business travelers travel more frequently. They have more experience and a better level of expectations. They know the lay of the land, and they have a greater sense of how things are supposed to operate (which is while they’ll likely speak up if things are off).

Leisure travelers, on the other hand, may fly once a year and not be as comfortable with the process. They have different expectations, and while they might get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan, they’re less likely to voice a concern.

If customers really want more, they have to give airlines a greater reason to change. Given the current consumer spending habits, however, this trend will likely continue.

Everything you need to know about customer satisfaction

You might have an idea about customer satisfaction, but do you really know what goes into satisfying customers? Do you understand the difference between customer satisfaction, customer experience, and customer service? What about the correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction?

If you’re hesitant about any of the above answers or have a thirst for knowledge, have no fear: We’re going to answer all of the above and more in this blog post, including some commonly asked questions about our data. We are, after all, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

What’s the difference between customer satisfaction, customer service, and customer experience?

Customer service is an element of the customer experience, and both can contribute to overall customer satisfaction.

To break it down, let’s say you’re a customer shopping in a grocery store. An employee helps you locate chips in aisle three, then a cashier helps you during the checkout process. Both interactions are customer service elements of the customer experience, but the overall satisfaction is more than that: It includes the cleanliness of the store, the price you paid for those chips, etc.

Sometimes, customer service doesn’t factor into customer satisfaction or customers provide their own services. For example, shoppers may use the self check-out option instead of speaking directly with a cashier.

Customer satisfaction can also occur with a specific product. For example, how did those chips you bought taste? Were there enough in the bag to justify the cost?

While nuanced and somewhat intertwined, satisfaction, service, and experience play different roles.

Does employee satisfaction impact customer satisfaction?

The correlation between employee and customer satisfaction is closer than you think. Both are part of the value chain. For companies, customer satisfaction starts with the company’s products or services. Drilling down further, there’s the quality of the employee’s service or quality of the manufacturing. And all of that flows back up to investors; good products/services mean more customers and more money.

The happier your employees are, the better service they’ll provide, which means you’ll have happier customers. If customers are happy, they’re more likely to be repeat shoppers and generate more revenue for the company. This leads to higher stock prices, bigger returns on investment, and happier shareholders. And (the smart companies) can turn that capital around to give employees bigger benefits, which in turn makes them, and their customers, even happier.

Basically, satisfied employees equal satisfied customers, which equals satisfied investors.

However, the opposite happens, too. If employees aren’t as happy, then they may not treat each other or customers as well (compared to competitors). Quality of products and services may go down, causing stock value to drop, then there’s less cash to utilize.

It’s the circle of life.

What are a few things any company can do to improve customer satisfaction?

The secret is: There’s no secret. Because every company and situation is different, there’s no “one thing” companies can do to improve customer satisfaction. However employee satisfaction is the keystone of any positive customer experience, as explained above.

A common denominator among companies with low customer satisfaction scores is they typically have unsatisfied employees. Mismanagement is another theme. If products or services were performing well and then changes to business strategy impacted the performance, that can influence customer satisfaction.

Greed is another pitfall. Specifically, profit-taking during mergers and acquisitions. Often the first step to please shareholders is to cut costs, which typically starts with labor costs and downsizing. That means there may not be enough employees to help, which means service can suffer. Even if staff provide high-quality service, there may not be enough bodies to handle requests, which then causes satisfaction to dive.

That’s the exact opposite of what should be done. Investing in employees can create happier customers, which means they’ll stick around and keep their money in your pockets.

Bottom line: Consider your employees as you consider your customers, and satisfaction is likely to follow.

Is customer satisfaction a bigger priority or focus for companies now?

In 25 years since the ACSI was founded there have been shifts in customer satisfaction; however, there haven’t been many changes in the last decade or so.

Customer experiences have a greater portion of businesses’ attention, particularly on the end-to-end experience. We’re starting to see a growing interest around metrics, which help companies determine where best to allocate resources to improve their operations or products. But just because a business collects customer satisfaction data, doesn’t mean they will make good decisions based on it.

What are some major changes in customer experience?

We’re living in a digital world. Now, companies need to be concerned about their online presence, creating mobile-friendly options, and the power of the internet. Companies need a good website and the ability to do business online, whatever that business may be. For retail, that means having clothing for sale; for travel, that means booking flight reservations efficiently; for banking, that means setting up automatic bill pay options.

Finding that balance between digital and brick and mortar is the latest obsession in satisfying customers. Companies can set themselves apart by customizing the experience to meet individual needs. That may mean having store pickup or a great website. Offering different incentives to keep customers coming back can help improve the overall experience.

The digital experience is the heart and soul of transformation: Companies need to understand different customers’ needs and interests and develop a range of options to accommodate.

While customers are more self-sufficient in this digital world and that tends to increase customer satisfaction — more service required, the lower the customer satisfaction — there is a caveat: If there’s a problem, all of this goes out the window.

If customers run into a snag on the website or have trouble getting answers in a live chat, it can negatively impact overall customer experience. In fact, call center satisfaction tends to rate at the bottom of most industry benchmarks.

What goes into the ACSI’s measurement and methodology?

 The ACSI’s process has been extensively tested for over 25 years. While we can’t reveal all the details, we use an econometric model developed at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. It factors in customer expectations, perceived quality, perceived value, complaints, loyalty, retention, and more criteria.

There are also specific benchmarks relevant to each industry’s products and services, whether that’s website satisfaction, battery life for cell phones, seat comfort for airlines, or speed of service for restaurants.

For more on the science that goes into measuring customer satisfaction, check out this chart on our website.

 How are companies selected for the ACSI’s reports?

The ACSI conducts its syndicated research independent of any of the companies measured. Inclusion is based solely on market share, meaning the companies included are of sufficient size to meet sample size thresholds that create statistically reliable data.

No company is included or excluded based on the company’s request, though companies can hire the ACSI to do an in-depth customer satisfaction analysis.

What’s the sample size collected in your studies?

Based on our advanced Partial Least Squares (PLS) structural equation modeling methodology, the ACSI can achieve statistically reliable results from a range of 100 to 250 respondents per company each quarter. Sample sizes at the industry and company level are not defined arbitrarily; using a historical database of nearly 3 million interviews and a Bayesian statistical procedure, sample sizes are adjusted based on prior information about data variance and stability.

How do I obtain access to specific company scores?

Full confidential data sets for a particular company or industry are only available to ACSI clients. For more information on how to subscribe and what that entails, please contact Tina Dettloff.

I don’t see my company among the list of measured companies; can I get an ACSI score to compare among the industry and my competitors?

The ACSI offers proprietary solutions that allow any organization to obtain data via the same survey methodology the ACSI utilizes across all industries. Companies will be provided with metrics calculated for the corresponding industry with apples-to-apples benchmarking opportunities. That’s the beauty of our national, cross-industry measurement! For more details contact Tina.

 

If you have any other questions, leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to get back to you — and possibly include it in another FAQ post.

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Etsy and Amazon are where it’s ‘app’ on mobile

There’s a first time for everything.

In our most recent Retail and Consumer Shipping Report – where customer satisfaction dipped 0.9 percent to an ACSI score of 77.4 (out of 100) – one of those firsts was the inclusion of Costco, Etsy, Wayfair, and other major internet retailers to the list. But it didn’t stop there.

For the first time since 2010, Amazon lost its grip on the e-commerce space. The new king of internet retail? Costco, with an ACSI score of 83.

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One other first stood out, an element within internet retail that we officially measured for the first time: mobile app satisfaction.

The highs and lows of the mobile experience

If you consider e-commerce a hot market, then the use of mobile in retail is like walking on the sun. Unfortunately, while some companies know how to walk the walk, others, not so much.

The HP Store earned the highest ACSI score for mobile reliability with an 88, however it also came in with the lowest mobile quality score at 72.

Staples struggled in both categories, scoring 76 in mobile reliability and 78 in mobile quality. Sears had the same marks but reversed, with 78 in reliability and 76 in quality.

On the flip side, Amazon, which scored an 87 in both mobile reliability and mobile quality, and Etsy, which also scored an 87 in reliability and recorded a category-best 88 in quality, appear to have cracked the code.

“There’s an app for that” is a cliché for a reason. Every company recognizes the importance of creating a footprint in the mobile market. The real question is, what can companies do to differentiate their application from the competition?

Amazon’s staying power

Consumers don’t just download Amazon’s app; they keep it. Some 76 percent of millennials have Amazon’s mobile app on their phone.

Lincoln Merrihew, senior vice president of client services at Millward Brown Digital, Boston, sees a correlation between the success of Amazon’s app and the success of its overall business model. Merrihew told Retail Dive he sees Amazon as a “combination of a transaction environment and a search engine,” and this works out in its favor.

Amazon offers “one-click ordering and fast shipping options” and has the highest penetration rate among shoppers at 76 percent.

Its app is easy to navigate, easy to use, and offers “special app-only functions.” On top of that, Amazon gives consumers a consistent experience across all of its mobile platforms.

Amazon is truly a “one-stop shop for consumers,” noted Claudia Hoffner, vice president of global marketing for Feedvisor, based on a recent study conducted by the company. It knows what its customers want, where they’re going, and how they’re behaving.

Now that more people are turning to mobile shopping, Amazon continues to make it a priority to adhere to its customers’ needs, thus helping the company maintain customer loyalty.

Etsy listens to its customers

Meanwhile, Etsy pays considerable attention to consistently improving customer experiences. Which is why it redesigned the homepage of its mobile app by including “recommendations.”

“We designed and built the new home screen to give shoppers a better and more inspiring experience on Etsy’s mobile apps,” said Bowen Slate-Green, product manager at Etsy, New York, to Retail Dive. “By providing shoppers with an improved experience, they can better find items and shops that intrigue them.”

By implementing a feature that helps personalize the user experience, Etsy is creating a simpler shopping experience for its customers. Users no longer need to spend time searching for products, Etsy has already done that for them. This streamlines the process, and puts the items shoppers find appealing – based on previous searches and purchases – right in front of them. Consumers are likely already on Etsy because they want to shop. Now there’s less hurdles involved.

Said Slate-Green: “Mobile is a priority for us and the new home screen in the Etsy apps is the latest of our enhanced mobile offerings. Going forward, we will continue to develop and roll out new features that improve the overall experience for our mobile-focused community of shoppers and creative entrepreneurs.”

If Etsy continues catering to its individual customers by making its app more personal and embracing the power of technological advancements, it will likely remain among the leaders in mobile customer satisfaction.

Companies must continue to focus on mobile

This was the first year we looked at customer satisfaction with mobile apps within retail, but it certainly won’t be the last.

As we’ve noted before, consumers are becoming increasingly reliant on their mobile devices. They use their phones to do everything from browse the web and watch their favorite movies and TV shows to shop, shop, and shop some more.

Smart companies are recognizing this growing trend and are taking the steps needed to ensure their customers have the smoothest possible mobile experience.

Amazon and Etsy are off to a hot start. But the race has only just begun.