A near-consensus among business and marketing professionals seems to have emerged: the expectations of consumers are rising rapidly, dramatically, and across the board. The specter of “sky-rocketing customer expectations” is often referenced as a warning to marketing professionals and companies as a whole: fail to meet these lofty and ever-increasing consumer demands, and it could mean financial doom.
“To understand more fully the modern economy, and the firms that compete in it, we must measure the quality of economic output, as well as its quantity.” Claes Fornell, Chair of the Board and Founder, American Customer Satisfaction Index, 1996
This ACSI Matters Blog is a modified excerpt from the ACSI expert team‘s 2020 book – The Reign of the Customer: Customer-Centric Approaches to Improving Satisfaction – covering 25 years of data, insights, tools, and managerial implications related to customer satisfaction and customer asset management.
So how and why did the ACSI project emerge?
How and why was the ACSI project created? How does ACSI measure consumer satisfaction with individual companies, industries, and economic sectors? How has it evolved over the course of a quarter of a century since its beginnings in 1993-1994?
A clear notion of how and why the ACSI was created and how it measures satisfaction across the U.S. economy and around the world provides the foundation for a deeper understanding of important and enduring purposes of consumer insights and customer satisfaction measurement. In turn, this information will enhance the insights and lessons derived from 25 years of ACSI data that is so widespread in the popular press (e.g., Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek) and myriad academic journals (per Google Scholar, more than 13,000 articles have referenced the ACSI).
In the early 1990s, researchers at the American Society for Quality (ASQ) – a prominent professional association founded shortly after World War II with the goal of advancing quality improvement principles and practices within economies around the world – recognized the need for a comprehensive, national measure of quality for the U.S. economy. Only with such a measure, so it was thought, could a clear understanding of how well the U.S. economy was performing be achieved. ASQ began by investigating whether a national, cross-company, cross-industry measure of quality already existed, and if not, whether its development was feasible.
With the help of a team of experts on the topic, ASQ examined numerous approaches to quality measurement and determined that no standardized measure of quality existed that could be applied to the multitude of diverse products and services offered within a modern economy. More specifically, while many different quality measures existed, none was designed to effectively compare and benchmark these measures across distinct industries and categories (e.g., goods vs. services, cars vs. consumer-packaged goods, or to aggregate them into a national index of quality (i.e., an economy-wide, macroeconomic view of quality). However, one potentially useful model that was being implemented outside the U.S. at the time was brought to the attention of ASQ: the Swedish Customer Satisfaction Barometer (SCSB).
A few years before ASQ began its search, in 1989, Swedish economist and professor at the University of Michigan in the United States named Claes Fornell had designed and launched a national index of customer satisfaction for the Swedish economy, a project called the Swedish Customer Satisfaction Barometer (SCSB).
The ACSI Matters has an interview with Claes Fornell.
Fornell had spent the first decade of his academic career writing extensively on the topics of customer satisfaction, consumer complaint behavior, the economic impacts of customer relationship management, and advanced statistical analysis of consumer survey data. It was this expertise that had led him to conceive and create the SCSB.
With support from the Swedish government, which had seen its economy struggle with increased competition and slower growth throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s as the effects of the European Common Market became fully apparent, the SCSB was the first project to apply a single, standardized statistical model for measuring both quality and customer satisfaction across the diverse sectors of a large national economy. In its first year, the SCSB successfully measured satisfaction with nearly 100 Swedish companies across 28 distinct consumer industries, interviewing approximately 25,000 customers of these companies in the process. Ultimately, it was this model that would attract the attention of ASQ, be chosen as the best alternative for measuring quality and satisfaction in the U.S., and be transported across the Atlantic to be applied to the larger U.S. economy as the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).
It was on the basis of the SCSB project that the ACSI was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by a group of professors at the University of Michigan’s Business School (now the Stephen M. Ross School of Business), under the direction of Fornell. With funding from ASQ, the University of Michigan, and several other organizations, an extensive “first wave” pretest of the ACSI was conducted in 1993. Analysis of these results confirmed what had previously been discovered in Sweden: that a cross-industry, cross-sector measure of the quality and satisfaction of a nation’s economic output was indeed possible, providing highly informative results about the conditions of the economy.
One year later, in 1994, the baseline ACSI study was produced. This first wave of the ACSI study measured satisfaction with seven sectors of the U.S. economy, 30 industries, and approximately 180 large business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. The study has been replicated each year since, with fresh results collected and released throughout each calendar year. And as we show in our recently released book in 2020 – The Reign of the Customer: Customer-Centric Approaches to Improving Satisfaction – when reviewing the methods and models of the ACSI, the study has grown significantly in the intervening 25 years.
The central purpose motivating Fornell to create the ACSI was simple and relates to the mission that originally sent the American Society for Quality (ASQ) on its search for a national index of quality. This objective remains important to better understanding the modern economy. While nations had for many years (since at least the 1940s, and in some cases earlier) measured the quantity of output produced within their economies through a variety of different metrics (and continue to do so today), they had up until the 1990s predominantly ignored a more elusive, but arguably more important feature of sustainable economic growth – the quality of output.
In Sweden, for example, the SCSB was created with the explicit goal of increasing the quantity of economic output in that country, and thus its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, but doing so by measuring, monitoring and improving the quality of that output as perceived by consumers. This would, it was hoped, increase consumer demand. The quality improvements were thus intended to make struggling Swedish firms more competitive both domestically and internationally by better pleasing consumers and inspiring them to spend more with domestic firms.
By the 1980s and 1990s many companies had begun to measure customer satisfaction internally (along with related “consumer insights” and the “voice of the customer” (VOC)). However, lack of access to this data and the disparate research methods (e.g. different survey items, samples, timeframes, statistical methods) used to conduct measurement across these companies, coupled with divergent quality of the resulting output, made comparison and aggregation of the data to the macro level impossible. In short, new economic realities were increasing competition dramatically and making quality and innovation more important than ever, but standardized data permitting a clear understanding of the quality of goods and services being produced were largely unavailable.
It was from within this context that Fornell recognized that growing domestic and global competition demanded a clearer idea of the factors that satisfied increasingly powerful consumers. What motivated these consumers to open their wallets to spend money on certain brands of goods and services more so than others? Measuring satisfaction (alongside its drivers and outcomes) in a systematic, standardized fashion across the entirety of a national economy would provide vital information for fully understanding the health of companies, industries, and entire economies from the perspective of the ultimate and most important judge, the individual consumer. Clearly this perspective is more relevant than ever today, and will likely become even more so in the future as ongoing changes in the global marketplace appear to be dictating.
As the Information Age has evolved from science fiction to a fully developed reality over the last few decades, consumers now have more choice and greater power than ever before. The internet revolution has profoundly changed how buyers and sellers relate to one another, and in the amount of leverage and power held by consumers. The changes ushered in as part of the Information Age have given consumers many new advantages. These include: greater access to information about specific products and services prior to purchase and consumption; greater access to information about alternative suppliers (sellers) of goods and services; an increased ability to punish sellers through more impactful complaint behavior and word-of-mouth; and an increased ability to more directly influence new product/service offerings (i.e. co-production of goods and services). These changes have forced companies to reconsider how they measure and manage their performance, and to focus more on the voice of the customer.
Whereas companies – and national economies in their entirety – once relied almost exclusively on measures like labor productivity, market share, revenue growth, profitability, stock market valuation, and gross domestic product as performance indicators, these days in a more state-of-the-art analysis companies rely on external, customer-facing measures and the linkages between these measures and financial performance.
Indeed, practices like customer relationship management, customer asset management, and concepts like “customer-centricity” today occupy a central place in the discourse of performance precisely because of this changed landscape. More and more, measuring consumer satisfaction and related consumer perceptions and insights is viewed as a vital, necessary activity for the firm hoping to adequately compete for buyers in increasingly-competitive free markets. The same imperative holds for the national economy looking to compete in an environment with fewer boundaries and obstacles to free trade.
As an excerpt from Chapter 1 (Defining Customer Satisfaction: A Strategic Company Asset?) of our book – The Reign of the Customer: Customer-Centric Approaches to Improving Satisfaction – this ACSI Matters Blog provides a brief history of the ACSI. The findings and lessons in the book delve deeper into the ACSI and the half a century of results and implications. These findings reinforce the continued and growing importance of customer satisfaction and its measurement in the global marketplace.
The restaurant industry is facing unsettling times.
Customer satisfaction with full-service and limited-service restaurants dropped 2.5% and 1.3% respectively this year, and the Accommodation and Food Services sector overall diminished 1.3% to a score of 77.9 (out of 100), per our most recent Restaurant Report.
This was all before COVID-19. Now, the situation is even more dire.
From March to May 2020, the industry lost $120 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association. This figure could double by the end of the year.
Yet, while sit-down chains remain slightly ahead of fast food restaurants (79 to 78) from a customer satisfaction standpoint, this might not be the case next year.
The delivery paradox
Since COVID-19, takeout and delivery options have become a full-blown necessity. But customers were turning to delivery even before the pandemic arrived, and full-service restaurants have been trying to adapt. By mid-2019, nearly four in five brands used an online ordering platform.
Unfortunately, online ordering from full-service restaurants hadn’t caught on before the pandemic hit.
According to our survey, completed between April 2019 and March 2020, 92% of respondents reported dining in at sit-down establishments, compared to 6% ordering carryout and 2% choosing delivery. Furthermore, customers are more satisfied when dining in (78) at full-service restaurants than getting takeout (75) or delivery (77).
When customers were forced to choose between takeout and delivery, full-service restaurants’ apps might not have lived up to expectations. While diners agree that overall quality of mobile apps from full-service restaurants is better than those of fast-food chains (85 to 81), the reliability of those apps tells a different story.
Although the segments share the same score for mobile app reliability (81), full-service chains plummeted 6% while fast-food chains improved. As our data consistently show, the more satisfied customers are, the more willing they are to increase their restaurant spending in the future.
Many fast food restaurants had the technology and the habits in place before the pandemic. Subway, whose overall score remained unchanged overall, had the top-rated mobile app for quality. This is good news in its efforts to adapt to consumer preferences, especially after the company closed more than 1,000 U.S. locations in 2019.
Domino’s is reaping the rewards of having its own digital platform for ordering and delivery. The new pizza segment leader, at an ACSI score of 79, earned 70% of its total U.S. sales in 2019 via digital. It also boasts a database of over 85 million customers.
If full-service restaurants can’t follow suit to fulfill customer’s delivery needs during the pandemic, they may struggle to regain trust down the road.
Takeout is the bread and butter for fast-food chains. Nearly 70% of their business comes from drive-thru lanes, which are built for quick, contactless meal distribution.
Without drive-thru in their arsenal, full-service restaurants have been trying alternative takeout methods. Unfortunately, save for Applebee’s, many full-service restaurants didn’t have designated curbside pickup programs in place prior to the pandemic.
Some were unprepared for the influx of orders. TGI Friday’s had to convert its headquarters into a call center because it lacked a sufficient number of phone lines to handle demand.
On top of that, many customers have been less satisfied with full-service restaurants in many of the customer experience benchmarks that apply to both dining in and takeout. The courtesy and helpfulness of staff was down 3.4% to 84, and the speed in which food is received was down 2.4% to 80.
Full-service has no time to waste
The full-service restaurant industry was having trouble before COVID-19. But the pandemic may have exacerbated the segment’s shortcomings, from its falling mobile app reliability to its relative lack of experience with takeout and delivery.
Customer satisfaction with limited-service chains was also deteriorating, but these chains are built for contactless delivery and pickup.
Even as restaurants open for in-person dining, the need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other safety precautions will make it so the dining-in experience will never be the same. This will make efficient delivery and takeout even more critical.
The writing’s been on the wall for the restaurant industry for a while now. Those that truly embrace the power of digital for delivery and takeout are more likely to weather the storm.
The angry restaurant patron. The irritated airline passenger. The retail customer screaming about a return or refund. Every company worries about complaining customers. They can be loud, disruptive, bad for employee morale, and have a huge impact on companies. But are customer complaints as damaging as they seem? A new study in the Journal of Marketing (JM) turns its lens on customer complaints, performing the largest scientific study ever to understand how they affect companies’ performance (JM is published by the American Marketing Association and AMA is cross-promoting the research as Learning to Love Your Complaining Customers).
A few years ago, Snapchat lost $1.3 billion in market value in a single day after a Kylie Jenner tweet about unhappiness with the app’s new layout. She simply said: “Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.” Jenner had long been one of Snapchat’s most influential users and her words had immediate consequences. While Jenner has a larger audience than most users, social media gives all complaining customers a chance to be influencers. In our social media era, even one unhappy customer can damage brand reputation, slow sales, and harm a company’s market value
But are complaining customers always a drain on sales and damaging for employees’ morale? As it turns out, customers who lodge complaints are not a lost cause. They can still be satisfied and remain loyal if their complaints are handled well. Regrettably, companies rarely handle complaints consistently, partly because they don’t know how.
Our research team analyzed relationships between customer complaints, complaint handling by companies, and customer loyalty to inform companies how to manage customer complaints much better and more consistently. We studied data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) regarding behaviors of 35,597 complaining customers over a 10-year period across 41 industries.
Our study finds that the relationship between a company’s complaint recovery and customer loyalty is stronger during periods of faster economic growth, in more competitive industries, for customers of luxury products, and for customers with higher overall satisfaction and higher expectations of customization. On the other hand, we also find that the recovery–loyalty relationship is weaker when customers’ expectations of product/service reliability are higher, for manufactured goods, and for males compared to females.
From these results, we draw two key conclusions. First, companies need to recognize not only that industries vary widely in the percentage of customers who complain (on average, about 11.1 percent), but also that economic, industry, customer-firm, product/service, and customer segment factors dictate the importance of complaint recovery to customers and their future loyalty. Companies should develop complaint management strategies accordingly.
Secondly, the financial benefits of complaint management efforts differ significantly across companies. Since complaint management’s effect on customer loyalty varies across industries and companies offering different kinds of goods, the economic benefit from seeking to reaffirm customer loyalty via complaint recovery varies as well. Through this study, these performance factors can be identified and considered when designing a company’s complaint management system.
Without context, our conclusions suggest that a profit-maximizing strategy simply requires that managers understand the impact of complaint recovery on customer loyalty in their industry. Added to this complexity, however, is the reality that profitability is not evenly distributed throughout the customer base. Companies need to implement complaint management systems that make it easier for front-line employees to respond to complaining customers in ways that optimize customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and the economic contribution of customers.
Without a deeper understanding of the boundaries of the complaint handling–customer loyalty relationship and the effects of economic, industry, customer-firm, product/service, and customer segment factors, companies will likely allocate cost estimates to complaint management that are too low for the required recovery actions or customer loyalty estimates that are too high, or both, instead of achieving an optimal point of recovery-loyalty yield.
Achieving an optimal recovery-loyalty yield is more advantageous than adopting the mantra that the customer is always right. It is a folly to believe that the customer is always right. Economically speaking, the customer is only “right” if there is an economic gain for the company to keep that customer. In reality, some complaining customers are very costly and not worth keeping.
Forrest V. Morgeson III, G. Tomas M. Hult, Sunil Mithas, Timothy Keiningham, and Claes Fornell, “Turning Complaining Customers into Loyal Customers: Moderators of the Complaint Handling – Customer Loyalty Relationship,” Journal of Marketing (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0022242920929029).
Since 1994, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) has conducted millions of interviews with American consumers regarding their experiences with major consumer goods and services companies. As we commemorate ACSI’s 25th anniversary, the expert team at the ACSI (Claes Fornell, Forrest Morgeson, Tomas Hult, and David VanAmburg) published a book – The Reign of the Customer: Customer-Centric Approaches to Improving Satisfaction – that takes a look back and examines the major findings from the invaluable, incomparable ACSI source of consumer insights and information.
Rather than the book being a mere retrospective, the authors use 25 years of ACSI findings to inform best practices for improving the consumer experience, better satisfying customers, and achieving profitable customer loyalty – today and into the rapidly changing future. The Reign of the Customer helps managers understand where we were, where we are today, and where we are heading tomorrow in providing exceptional customer experiences.
As a part of the book, we included an interview with Professor Claes Fornell, one of the book’s coauthors and the Founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The question and answer session with Dr. Fornell is included here.
Question: When you founded the ACSI more than 25 years ago, what was your primary goal? What did you hope the project would provide that didn’t already exist (to researchers, companies, policymakers, etc.)?
Claes Fornell: It was about that time 25 years ago when three big trends were beginning to become evident. The first was global competition, the second was the growth of services in most advanced economies, and the third was that consumers were beginning to be better armed with information (about purchase alternatives, prices, quality, etc.). These trends led to more buyer power and fewer monopolies in the overall economy. In other words, there was a major shift in power away from producers to consumers. It also meant that the conventional measures about the performance of firms and economies needed updating and change. At the company level, it was clear that the more we knew about how satisfied customers were, the better we could predict future revenue from repeat buyers. At the macro level, we could also infer what an increase (or decrease) in aggregate customer satisfaction meant for aggregate consumer spending. This was very important since consumers account for about 70% of gross domestic product in the U.S. It is not possible to have strong economic growth without robust growth in consumer spending.
Question: Have changes in the economy over the past 25 years impacted how customer satisfaction is measured?
Fornell: Yes. Just about every company now measures customer satisfaction in one way or another. That’s an important first step. The problem is that most companies still do not have enough quality in their measurements. Very little attention is paid to the integrity and properties of the measures. The concepts of reliability and validity seem foreign to many companies, which have led to measures that don’t reflect what they purport to measure and contain more random noise than authentic variation. Over the long run, this is, of course, untenable.
Question: Can you give us some idea of the economic and financial importance of customer satisfaction, both to companies and to national economies?
Fornell: Most companies depend heavily on repeat business. There are only a few things we consume only once. In a competitive market, where consumers have a great deal of choice, it is therefore necessary to make sure one has satisfied customers. Otherwise, they will go elsewhere. We can see the financial impact not only in revenue and profitability, but also in stock returns. For more than 15 years now, we have had a stock fund that invests in companies with superior customer satisfaction (as measured by the ACSI), with very good results. The stock portfolio of these companies had a return of 518% between March 2000 and March 2014. This is much better than the market. The S&P 500 went up only by 31% over the same period of time.
Question: Given that the ACSI has existed for 25 years, and that satisfaction measurement in general is more popular than ever, why do some companies (and even entire industries) continue to treat their customers so poorly (cable TV companies perhaps being an example here)?
Fornell: The major reason for this is some form of monopoly power. Despite what I said about the increase of competition in general, there are exceptions. There are markets where purchase alternatives are few and/or where the cost of leaving a company can be substantial. I would put cable companies in that category. In industries with few product and service options, customers have limited powers to punish offending companies.
Question: Finally, if you had one lesson or piece of advice from all of your research and all of your experience that you think would help companies most, what would that advice be?
Fornell: Let me answer by first saying what advice I would not give. For example, it is a folly to believe that the customer is always right. Economically speaking, the customer is only “right” if there is an economic gain for the company in keeping that customer. Some customers are very costly and not worth keeping. It is also not helpful to believe that customer loyalty is priceless and customer satisfaction worthless. Unless the company has a monopoly, loyalty can be very costly unless it is produced by customer satisfaction. If loyalty is gained by price discounts instead of having satisfied customers, for example, it is usually a path to failure rather than to healthy profits.
Book Author Biographies
Dr. Claes Fornell is D.C. Cook Distinguished Professor in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (Emeritus). He founded the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 1994 and is hailed globally as “The Father of Customer Satisfaction.” Fornell’s work on systems for managing customer satisfaction has led to two U.S. patents. He has also founded several other customer-centric companies (CFI Group, ForeSee Results, Detroit Vineyards, and Exponential ETFs).
Dr. Forrest V. Morgeson III is a member of the faculty of Marketing in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University and Director of Research at the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Morgeson’s first book, titled Citizen Satisfaction: Improving Government Performance, Efficiency, and Citizen Trust, was released in 2014 (Palgrave Macmillan). He has consulted with numerous corporations and governments in more than 30 countries.
Dr. G. Tomas M. Hult is Professor and Byington Endowed Chair in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University and a researcher at the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Hult is a member of the Expert Networks of the World Economic Forum and United Nations / UNCTAD’s World Investment Forum. He is a Fellow of Academy of International Business and the 2016 Academy of Marketing Science Distinguished Marketing Educator.
David VanAmburg is Managing Director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. As an expert in customer satisfaction, VanAmburg has lectured at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and numerous venues internationally, addressing the relationships among satisfaction, quality, customer service, loyalty, and shareholder value. VanAmburg is regularly quoted and featured in numerous print and radio media, including Bloomberg, CNN, TIME, Wall Street Journal.
Internet service providers (ISPs) are at the bottom no more.
A year after tying for the lowest score in the American Customer Satisfaction (ACSI) rankings, customer satisfaction with ISPs soared 4.8% to a score of 65 (on a scale of 0 to 100), according to our most recent Telecommunications Report.
Eight of 11 providers improved. Verizon’s Fios led the industry with a 4% jump to 73, while Comcast’s Xfinity made the biggest leap, moving into third place with an 8% surge to 66 – and almost every facet of the customer experience improved compared to last year.
That’s the good news. The bad news?
ISPs, which have historically ranked low on the ACSI scale, only climbed into second-to-last place, and except for mobile app quality (79) and reliability (77), most benchmark scores remain low, ranging from the upper 60s to the lower 70s.
The data are a blueprint for how ISPs can address a pressing customer need right now. The question is, will they use it?
ISP-provided equipment is no match for hardware from third parties
For the first time, we measured the in-home Wi-Fi experience, comparing customers’ experience with ISP-provided equipment with those who use third-party equipment.
For the most part, it was no contest.
While ACSI scores for Wi-Fi security were comparable (75 for third parties versus 74 for ISPs), customers using third-party equipment were far more satisfied across the board.
They were happier with the range (75 versus 72 for ISPs), reliability of service (75 versus 71 for ISPs), how quickly equipment restarted (74 versus 69 for ISPs), and most notably, cost (72 versus 66 for ISPs).
This is hardly unexpected. After all, equipment is the bread and butter for these third-party companies.
However, if there was ever a time for ISPs to put resources into improving in-home equipment, it’s now.
Quality in-home Wi-Fi has never been more important
In-home high-speed internet service, once deemed a luxury, is now in nearly three-quarters of American households. But it’s often taken for granted.
That changed when COVID-19 relegated workers and students to their homes, switching quality high-speed in-home internet from a luxury to a necessity. ISPs have room to grow in this area as well.
This year, we also measured overall Wi-Fi quality for the first time. We based the scores on seven benchmarks: security, multiple device connections, range, avoiding service loss, service restart, upload/download speed, and price paid.
Verizon Fios had the highest score overall (77) but was the only ISP to outperform the top third-party leaders, Netgear and TP-Link, both at 75. LinkSys (73) outpaced the remaining ISPs as well, while Xfinity (72) was the only other ISP to beat a third-party company, narrowly besting ASUS (71).
Although the numbers don’t bode well for ISPs, there are bright spots. For example, ISP customers were happier with the variety of available internet plans this year, and they found internet service more reliable.
If ISPs can make progress in those areas, then there’s no reason why they can’t make similar gains in the hardware department by offering more reasonable equipment rental prices and improving the reliability of in-home Wi-Fi.
It starts at home
ISPs are no longer resigned to the cellar of the ACSI rankings. They’re not exactly a fan favorite, either.
But, with more people working from home, more students studying from home, and more people simply forced to be home, they’re going to require – and expect – a reliable in-home connection like never before.
ISPs shouldn’t expect to wipe away years of customer satisfaction woes overnight by solely improving the equipment they provide. But it’s an opening that could slowly bridge the gap. Will they take it?
Recently my colleagues from the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University and I were discussing the coronavirus’ impact on consumer spending. We were curious how the shutdowns would impact the economy and how consumer attitudes and beliefs might shape spending in the months to come.
So, as self-described data geeks, we set out to find some answers. Here’s what we discovered.
Few respondents have been able to escape the economic impacts of the coronavirus
At the time of surveying (early May), nearly all respondents (95%) were under lockdown orders, and 16% had been laid off, furloughed, or were unemployed. Nearly 42% reported that their income had decreased since the pandemic began.
Furthermore, about 78% were working from home, compared to 37% before the pandemic.
Republicans express greater anxiety, stress, and powerlessness than Democrats
- 38% of Republicans reported being either “quite a bit” or “extremely” anxious, compared to 29% of Democrats
- 41% of Republicans reported being either “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressed, compared to 32% of Democrats
- 37% of Republicans reported feeling either “quite a bit” or “extremely” powerless, compared to 28% of Democrats
Furthermore, when asked how much they agree with the statement “I am very afraid to die of COVID-19,” 56% of Republicans somewhat or strongly agreed, compared to 53% of Democrats.
Yet, Republicans are more optimistic about the future
Although they’re more negatively impacted emotionally, Republicans express greater positivity about the future.
While 34% of Democrats reported being either “quite a bit” or “extremely” hopeful, this number leapt to 49% among Republicans. Similarly, only 40% of Democrats reported being either “quite a bit” or “extremely” optimistic, compared to 50% of Republicans.
Republicans more likely to jumpstart the economy post-pandemic
How do these attitudes translate into consumer behavior and spending? To find out, we asked respondents what they would spend the money on were they to receive $1,000 “unexpectedly.”
Democrats told us they would put just over half ($514) into savings or paying down debts and bills. Republicans said they would use nearly two thirds ($613) for purchases and spending.
Next, we asked each respondent the first thing they plan to “buy or do” when the pandemic begins to slow or ends. Responses were open-ended and therefore varied, but the two most common goods mentioned by Democrats were “restaurant” and “vacation.” By contrast, the two most common goods mentioned by Republicans were “food” and “clothes.”
Breaking spending habits down further, our data reveal Republicans appear eager to spend more than Democrats on:
- household items (39% vs. 29%)
- health and personal care items (36% vs. 23%)
- food to consume at home (39% vs. 30%)
- utilities (32% vs. 21%)
- telecommunication goods (33% vs. 21%)
- luxury goods, like jewelry and electronics (44% vs. 28%)
Members of the two parties share some common ground, though. Republicans and Democrats expect to spend at roughly equal levels on restaurants and bars, clothing and apparel, travel and leisure, and entertainment and events (concerts, sports events).
Political partisanship helps explain both how consumers are feeling during the pandemic and how they plan to behave after it
With local economies just now starting to open back up, a lot can certainly change. But current indications are that while politicized consumerism does exist, it’ll be less active in industries like restaurants. This could bode well for local establishments looking to regain their clientele as restrictions are lifted.
As the months progress, we plan to survey the same respondents to gauge changes in attitudes and spending behavior. We’ll report back on our findings.
In early May 2020, we collected data from a nationwide sample of 1,151 American consumers (margin of error = +/- 3%). The sample was roughly balanced between male (48%) and female (52%) respondents. About 74% of the sample identified their race as white. More than half (55%) have household income of $60,000 or less per year. Fifty-four percent are married and 38% are either single (never married) or divorced.
Special thanks to my colleagues, Ayalla A. Ruvio, PhD and G. Tomas M. Hult, PhD, who assisted in the research.
Customer satisfaction with cell phones has grown steadily over the past 15 years. During that time, the industry’s made a 16% net gain.
That upward trend continued throughout 2019 and in the early parts of 2020. Although global cell phone sales dropped 1% in 2019 and the pandemic hasn’t helped in 2020, customers have never been more pleased with their cellphones.
Per our most recent Wireless Service and Cellular Telephone Report, customer satisfaction with the industry improved 1.3% to an all-time high of 80, and most of the manufacturers showed gains.
Apple surged to the top spot in the category with a 1% jump to 82. LG also improved, climbing 1% to 79. Even the group of smaller manufacturers rose 4% to a score of 75.
The key to this success? Making incremental improvements across the board.
Focusing on multiple areas pays off
The industry scored well across almost every element of the customer experience last year, but this year it did even better.
Cell phone users agreed that their devices were better in most ways. While the ease of texting (85) and calling (84), and phone design (84) remained steady and enjoyable for customers, websites climbed 2% to 84.
And it didn’t stop there. Customers were increasingly pleased with the operating systems and software (up 2% to 83) and found navigating menus and settings much easier (up 2% to 83). Phone features (up 1% to 83), video quality (up 1% to 83), and audio quality (up 2% to 82) were all better. And, while battery life still sits at the bottom of the customer experience benchmarks, it’s no longer a glaring weakness after climbing 3% to a score of 80.
Cell phone manufacturers showed the power of improving multiple areas. Apple, which consistently gets chastised for poor battery life, took that criticism to heart and made serious improvements with the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max. But Apple didn’t stop with the battery – it also enhanced the camera system, displays, and processors. And folks took notice.
Apple customers were happier with their device’s battery life, audio quality, and video quality, as well as ease of using the operating system and navigating menus and settings.
LG customers were also more satisfied this year. They found texting and navigation easier compared to last year, along with more phone feature varieties, and better audio and video quality, which has become a staple of LG phones.
The smaller group of cell phone manufacturers made customers happier in nearly every aspect, including improving battery life and making texting and calling easier.
As effective as this strategy proved to be, it wasn’t adopted by everyone in the industry.
Motorola misses the mark
While cell phone users have never been happier with their devices, Lenovo’s Motorola customers were the exception.
The manufacturer fell to fourth place as satisfaction plummeted 4% to score of 77.
Not a single customer experience benchmark improved year over year. In fact, they all decreased – with significant falls in terms of battery life satisfaction and ease of calling and texting. Putting so much emphasis on the design element (flip phones, anyone?) was clearly not an ideal strategy.
Motorola has work to do in the eyes of its customers. The good news is its competitors have shown the way.
There’s no silver bullet to customer satisfaction success
Cell phone manufacturers reached an all-time customer satisfaction high score because they didn’t just focus on one element – they looked at the entire user experience. Users care about battery life and phone design, but they also care about what these products were made for in the first place (i.e., calling and texting). All of these elements need attention.
For the most part, manufacturers saw what their customers wanted — all of it — and made concerted efforts to improve. And, according to the data, they succeeded.
There’s an insatiable appetite for streaming – especially now.
According to a recent Nielsen report, Americans streamed 85% more minutes of video in March 2020 than they did in March 2019. During the last week in March, Netflix owned the largest share of streaming minutes at 29%, followed by YouTube (20%), Hulu (10%), and Amazon (9%).
New streamers are also entering the space, even in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Quibi, the short form, mobile-only video platform, launched April 6 and had 1.7 million downloads in its first week. HBO Max remains on schedule for its May release. Peacock, NBC Universal’s new streaming service, soft launched on April 15 and is still committed to its July 15 national rollout.
These new entrants are jumping into a competitive streaming service industry, where customers are already relatively satisfied with existing options and features, according to our data.
So where are the opportunities for streaming companies – especially the new entrants – to stand out from an increasingly crowded pack? And more importantly, what do viewers want more of from their streaming services?
Here are two ways streaming services can get in with the binge watchers of the world.
More current offerings, please
Customers like what they’re getting from streaming providers. According to our data, they’re satisfied with the number of TV shows (scoring 76 on a 0-100 scale), the variety of TV shows and movies (both 75), the availability of the past season’s TV shows (74), and the number of movies (74).
So, what’s missing from the queue? Current programming.
When it comes to the availability of the current season’s TV programs and new movie titles, today’s streamers have room for improvement. The former has an Index score of 72, while the latter sits at the bottom of the industry at 70.
By offering customers the latest and greatest of film and television, new players can distinguish themselves.
Keep the original content flowing
Customers appreciate originality.
Over the last year, customer satisfaction with the quality of original content has climbed 3% to a score of 76. And no streamer offers original content like Netflix.
Not only did Netflix top all streaming services in satisfaction with its original content, but it has no intention of slowing down. Analysts predict the streaming giant will spend $17.3 billion on original content in 2020 alone.
Although other streamers like Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube are producing original work, there’s a legitimate gap between Netflix and the rest.
While Peacock’s original content may be a bit delayed due to the coronavirus, other incoming streaming services can fill the void – even Quibi, whose shorter content might be a nice change of pace if you’re looking to sneak in a quick episode before bedtime, while cooking dinner, or during a lunch break.
Are you still watching?
The current situation has accelerated a trend that’s been happening for the past two years, with more consumers cutting the cord than ever before.
This is not going to change anytime soon. In fact, analysts predict that the adverse economic and social implications brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak is only going to speed up the process.
The streaming industry is a crowded space. Established players already have a leg up on the competition, but the race isn’t over yet. There’s plenty of opportunity to make up some ground. New competitors would be wise not to let it pass them by.
Stay tuned for our newest Telecommunications Report, coming in June, for more details on how streaming industry players are faring.
Business as usual has changed.
Some industries – and brands for that matter – are feeling the effects more than others. Travel, restaurant, and retail companies that rely heavily on in-person traffic are bracing for revenue shortfalls. Meanwhile, the federal government weighs stimulus packages to offer distressed businesses some relief.
In this environment, it’s tough to offer any substantive advice to businesses in survival mode. But history and experience offer three fundamental reminders on how businesses can serve customers and meet expectations in this difficult and unprecedented time.
1. Pivot to digital
Seemingly every day the number of people allowed to congregate in public shrinks in order to shield the public from COVID-19 exposure. States are requiring non-essential businesses to close their doors and advising citizens to shelter in place. “Social distancing” is our new reality, and it’s forcing many retailers to shift (or bolster) their digital strategies.
Our data has shown online is more satisfying than in person interactions in retail, and for at least the next several weeks it’ll be more important than ever for companies to maintain these channels. In the early days of the pandemic, restaurants and even some retailers began enabling customers to order items ahead from their digital apps for parking lot pick up. Others are using push notifications and other online channels to keep customers informed on the availability of products and services.
You’ll have to be nimble, of course, but make sure your customers know that, while they can’t necessarily go about business as usual, you still have the capabilities to offer them the services they’re used to.
2. Communicate frequently
Now more than ever, your employees and customers need to hear from you. They need to know they can reach you with questions and concerns.
Have customer service representatives available (remotely!). While customer support services like live chat, help pages, and cell centers haven’t always lived up to expectations, it’s certainly better to make these resources available rather than leave customers in the dark. If anything, use this as an opportunity to strengthen communications.
Send reassurance emails with key information to put your customers’ minds at ease. For example, make individuals who prefer going to a branch for their banking needs aware of your mobile app’s capabilities. Remind them that they can still access their banking information online and tell them what services are available.
These are unusual times in that many companies, by law, aren’t able to operate as usual. In the end, customers will likely understand this, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have questions. Be proactive and responsive to their concerns to maintain your customer relationships in the long run.
3. Don’t increase prices without increasing value
The coronavirus is negatively impacting the global economy. Businesses are losing money and the situation may get worse before it gets better. Yet, even if you’re among the industries suffering the most, don’t take advantage of the crisis.
This is not the time to raise prices – without offering better quality – just to offset predicted losses. If you must suspend service, ensure you have a plan to make up for this inconvenience, whether you prorate refunds, extend return policies, offer future credit, or waive change fees.
During this difficult time, we need to come together and do what’s best for the collective good. It’s one of the reasons why Amazon has been removing third-party sellers who are charging insane prices for cleaning products during the outbreak.
Adapt, overcome, and survive
The coronavirus outbreak is disrupting our lives in ways we never imagined, and we’ll feel its effects for some time. But we will get through this.
Keep your customers in mind, communicate frequently, and be flexible. If you have the means to do so, don’t be afraid to innovate to meet and help customers where you can.
While business has fundamentally changed in a couple short weeks, these three elements hold true and will help you weather whatever comes next.