Can Hotels Make Guests Happy Across Diverse Brand Portfolios?

For several years, the hotel industry has been a fairly steady performer when it comes to customer satisfaction, according to ACSI research. From 2008 to 2010, guest satisfaction with hotels was stable at 75 (on a 0 to 100 scale). Next came three straight years at 77—a record high for the industry, but middling compared with the national ACSI average of 76.5.

The hotel industry’s flat trend, however, masks differences in the customer experience offered by some of the biggest names by market share in lodging. More upscale hoteliers tend to dominate the category, with Marriott in the top spot this year at 82, followed closely by Hilton 80. Budget-conscious chains such as Choice Hotels (75) and Wyndham Worldwide (72) comprise the lower end of the industry.

But many of these corporations are home to diverse lodging brands—from upscale resorts to midrange business-oriented properties to family-friendly budget brands. For instance, Marriott owns JW Marriott, a luxury hotel chain, alongside Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, a midscale brand. Hilton, also know for its resorts, offers Hilton Garden Inn, an upscale property with appeal to both business and leisure travelers.

Next month, the ACSI will uncover the customer satisfaction differences—or lack thereof—among two dozen of the most popular hotel brands that come under the aegis of Choice Hotels, Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International, and more. The new study has the potential to reveal strengths and weaknesses within the brand portfolios of major hotel chains, as well as facilitate comparisons between competitors at the brand level.

 Read About ACSI Hotel Brand Study  »

Galaxy and iPhone Customers Weigh In on Their Brand of Choice

In July, the American Customer Satisfaction Index released its first-ever customer satisfaction results for top-selling smartphones. The 2013 scores prompted great interest and lively discussions in the media as two Samsung phones dashed past three Apple devices to lead the survey at 84 (on a scale of 0 to 100).

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The new brand study is based on the same independent, scientific methodology that the ACSI has employed since 1994 to measure 40+ industries which market products and services to U.S. consumers. Proprietary technology ensures all ACSI results are consistent, reliable, and comparable across time periods, companies, and industries.

In May, the ACSI issued updated customer satisfaction scores across the cell phone industry—a category measured since 2004. The yearly study measures customer satisfaction at the company level and includes each manufacturer’s complete product line—smartphones and feature phones. While Apple and BlackBerry offer smart devices only, other manufacturers such as LG, Nokia, and Samsung sell a mix of phones—some smart and some feature.

For the cell phone industry overall, Apple retains its lead for a second year, perhaps benefiting from its smart-only product line. Meanwhile, Samsung at 76 trails Apple by 5 points. There is, however, a key difference. While Samsung’s customer satisfaction trajectory is on the upswing and the company gains 7% compared to the prior year, Apple’s score slips—down from 83 in 2012 to 81 in 2013.

Enter the ACSI’s smartphone-only brand study. When considering only smartphones—which display a sharp customer satisfaction advantage over feature phones in ACSI research—Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Note II lead the field according to consumers who own these particular smartphone models. The owners of Apple’s iPhone 5, 4S and 4 give their smartphone choices somewhat lower scores in the range of 81 to 82.

Read more later this week in the ACSI’s August 2013 newsletter »

ACSI Smartphone Brand Study in the News:
Engadget
Forbes
InformationWeek
The Huffington Post

Will Changes to Frequent Flyer Programs Help Airline Satisfaction?

Passenger satisfaction with airlines is one of the lowest-scoring industries measured in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (69 on a 0-100 scale), beating only subscription TV and Internet service. Out of 11 categories of airline customer experience benchmarks ranging from ease of the check-in process to handling of baggage, the quality of loyalty programs is third from the bottom (73), scoring above quality of in-flight services at 68 and seat comfort at a dismally low 63.

Airlines may now be seeking to improve their loyalty program satisfaction, as many have announced changes to or entire overhauls of their existing programs within the past few weeks, according to the New York Times.

Some changes may have the potential to change satisfaction scores for the better—for example, an ability to convert hotel reward points to airline miles, to earn miles from flights on partner airlines, and expanded access to airport lounges. Other changes including higher award ticket fees, establishment of minimum annual spending stipulations, and removal of elite mileage bonuses could be detrimental to passenger satisfaction.

ACSI data show that added fees lead to lower overall customer satisfaction. Looking at the past two years, overall satisfaction for passengers who did not pay a baggage fee was 73, while those who paid fees were much less satisfied with scores in the mid-to-low 60s. It is interesting to note, however, that those paying a baggage fee are somewhat more satisfied this year (65) compared to 2012 (62). If passengers are adjusting to these fees—or more likely, finding ways to avoid paying them—this could account for the small uptick.

Nevertheless, changes to loyalty programs that move in the direction of higher costs for travelers, either adding fees or removing benefits from existing programs, will undoubtedly take a toll on customer satisfaction in this already poor-performing industry.

Is Fast Food No Longer Just Fast?

On average, U.S. households dined at either full-service or fast food restaurants about twice per week in 2012, a rate expected to continue in 2013. Fast food shows an edge in being chosen somewhat more frequently, and its customer experience is looking surprisingly good in side-by-side comparison with full-service dining.fullservicefastfood

Customers are mostly pleased with their sit-down dining experiences. Restaurants have good layout and cleanliness (87). Staff are courteous, helpful (87), and accurate with orders (89). Benchmarks for menu variety, food quality, and beverage quality range from 86 to 87. Even the websites of full-service restaurants score significantly higher than the average for all restaurants (78.3). The weakest link in customer’s appraisal of their actual dining experience is the speed of service (83).

For fast food, order accuracy (85) and beverage quality (84) receive the highest marks. Layout and cleanliness, along with speed of check-out or delivery, score fairly high at 83. Courtesy and helpfulness of the staff is relatively satisfactory (82), as is satisfaction with websites (82). The lowest scores are for food and beverage variety and food quality, all 81.

While customers are somewhat happier with their experiences at full-service restaurants compared to fast food outlets, overall customer satisfaction between the two has been very close for the last two years. For 2013, the full-service category scores 81 (on a 0-100 scale), while fast food is stable at 80 for a second year. Because low cost continues to be a pull for many consumers, the relatively strong overall performance of fast food may be too close to comfort for full-service chains.

ACSI Attends EMACS 2012

In October, ACSI staff will travel to San Diego, California, to join 350+ energy utility professionals at the 15th annual  EMACS – The Customer Experience Conference, organized by Chartwell. The 2012 conference, set for October 9 to 12, will feature over 30 presentations on topics that shape the overall experience of residential energy utility customers.

The conference represents the flagship customer experience event for the energy utility industry. EMACS attendees are invited to stop by Booth 805 in the Exhibit Hall of the Manchester Grand Hyatt to meet with ACSI staff and learn about our services for energy utility clients.

For nearly two decades, the ACSI has benchmarked residential customer satisfaction for the largest investor-owned utilities in the United States. In 2013, the ACSI will complete its third year of measuring satisfaction with municipal and cooperative utilities.

In April of each year, the ACSI publicly releases first quarter scores for approximately 30 utilities, identified by independent ACSI researchers based on size of residential business. The first quarter scores, however, tell only a small fraction of the customer experience story. By engaging ACSI services, energy utility clients access confidential data four times each year, covering not only customer satisfaction itself, but also customers’ perceptions of power reliability and the ability to restore power after an outage.

The Social Media Experience: Dislike

With no end in sight to the social media explosion, high-profile players in the industry are counting their user bases—and their revenue streams—looking for a ways to increase both. ACSI’s July 2012 results show that the industry as a whole is missing the boat on one critical factor: the customer experience.

Social media earns an ACSI score of 69 in 2012—the lowest score among three e-business categories and near the bottom of the Index overall. In contrast, user satisfaction with portals & search engines is 79, while the news & information category scores 73.

Generally speaking, the road to higher user satisfaction for social media may never be that smooth considering challenges like privacy concerns or the sheer volume of advertising that comes with the territory for these sites. But ACSI data reveal just how poorly social media websites perform when it comes to their user interfaces.

The ACSI model for e-business includes a measure of “homepage” that is based on questions about completeness, accessibility, and organization. The three e-business categories line up in the same order as they do for user satisfaction, with portals & search engines showing a strong advantage over social media. While reducing advertising may not always be an option, improving user interfaces certainly would help make social media more appealing in the long run.

In the ACSI model, perceived quality is the key driver of customer satisfaction for most industries. Quality includes a measure of customization, which is how well the product or service meets an individual’s needs, and reliability, or how often things go wrong.

No surprises here: social media rates lowest in e-business for both customization and reliability. The sharpest contrast is for customization—an area where portals & search engines clearly excel with a score of 83 (compared to 72 for social media and 77 for news & information).

The happier users are with their online experiences, the more likely it is that they will continue to visit a particular site or recommend it to a friend. But simply adding more and more users is not necessarily the formula for success in social media, as Facebook’s weak IPO—and its stock’s failure to rebound in the weeks following—has shown. If a social media site could meet the needs of its users at the same level as the portal and search engine business does now, it would likely garner much greater user satisfaction as well.

Social Media Explosion: ACSI Adds Four Companies

Coming up on July 17, the ACSI will release 2012 results for e-business, including expanded coverage of Internet social media sites. This year, the industry roster more than doubles with the addition of four websites: Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Since 2010, the ACSI has measured three companies within the social media category: Facebook, Google-owned YouTube, and user-generated Wikipedia.

According to a recent survey, two-thirds of major corporations now use Web 2.0 tools such as social networks or blogs. While businesses scramble to make the most of their online resources, competition heats up among the social media sites themselves, whose revenue often depends on advertising dollars.

One year ago, ACSI results showed that social media overall had a long way to go to satisfy its users. Flat at 70 for a second straight year, social media was a below-average performer compared with all sectors and industries in the ACSI.

Among individual sites last year, Wikipedia alone beat the national ACSI average at 78, while Facebook lagged far behind at 66 in the bottom quartile of 225+ companies. Fresh off of its initial public offering, will Facebook improve user satisfaction in 2012?

Crave More Cell Phone Features? You May End Up Being Less Satisfied.

Smartphones have radically altered the landscape of the cellular telephone industry, offering a startling array of apps that reach well beyond sending and receiving phone calls. But, more functionality makes for increasingly complex devices. With smartphones, it’s like you’re carrying a pocket-sized personal computer, and ACSI results show that PCs earn lower customer satisfaction scores than other types of durable goods, in part because of their complexity.

So, how happy are customers who use their phone as a mobile computing device versus those who use their phone as—simply put—a phone? ACSI results released in May 2012 show that the more complex the use, the less satisfied the user is overall with their chosen cell phone.

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Respondents to the survey were asked “other than making or receiving phone calls, what do you use your cell phone service for the most?” For phone-only users, satisfaction is 74 (on a 0 to 100 scale). But, when users do more than phone calling, satisfaction tapers off—from 70 for text messaging all the way down to 65 for multimedia use (such as gaming and video streaming).

While all cell phone users expect about the same level of quality from their phone (77 for phone only versus 76 for multimedia), differences emerge when they consider their actual experiences. The ACSI measures quality as a combination of customization (meeting personal requirements) and reliability (how often things go wrong). Both measures decrease as complexity of use increases, especially reliability.

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According to ACSI research, satisfaction tends to decrease as the number of customer touchpoints increases. This is because there are more opportunities for customers to be disappointed. To put this in context for cell phones: The more functionality the phone has—and that the customer makes use of—the greater the chance that something will go wrong. This can be anything from data upload speed to hardware and software problems.

Indeed, the percentage of customers who have complained to the manufacturer or wireless provider about their cell phone is dramatically lower for phone-only users versus any of the other categories.

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ACSI Media Highlights – February, 2012

Here are just a few of the media clips discussing ACSI results in February: USA Today reviews the latest ACSI E-Commerce results, and in a second article focuses on Travelocity and the online travel website category. MSNBC.com writes on the latest ACSI data for the supermarkets industry. The Sun-Sentinel considers the strong, ACSI industry-leading satisfaction for the supermarket Publix. The Wall Street Journal mentions the ACSI online brokerage category.