The energy utilities sector should give the people what they want: More green initiatives

Do you know what the energy utilities sector needs? A spark. Badly.

Energy utilities suffered a sector-wide plunge in customer satisfaction, falling 2.7 percent to an ACSI score of 73.2 (out of 100), per our latest Energy Utilities Report.

Despite record-high U.S. natural gas production and exponential growth in electricity generation from renewable energy sources, all three categories of energy utilities took a significant hit in customer satisfaction. Cooperative dropped 2.6 percent to 75, and investor-owned and municipal both fell 2.7 percent into a tie at 73.

Prices are high, the weather has been extreme, and there’s been a decline in electric power reliability. Yet, as it turns out, if there’s one area that has truly hindered customer experience, it’s green initiatives. Specifically, a lack thereof.

Green programs are failing across the board

Efforts to support green programs are flat or falling in all three categories.

For those efforts, cooperative utilities received an ACSI score of 74 (unchanged), municipal utilities had a score of 70 (down 4 percent), and investor-owned utilities came in with a score of 70 (down 3 percent).

This is not good. In fact, it’s worse than not good – it’s bottom-of-the-barrel bad. The customer experience benchmark for green programs is the worst, or tied for the worst, individual benchmark in each of the three energy utility categories.

What’s the takeaway here? Customers are clamoring for eco-friendly solutions.

Some providers are taking these concerns more seriously than others.

Companies committing to green initiatives  

Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy, is dedicated to a “triple bottom line,” according to CEO Patti Poppe.

As part of its commitment to “people, planet, and prosperity,” the company became the first U.S. borrower to enter into “syndicated sustainability-linked revolving credit facilities.” By meeting certain sustainability goals, CMS can reduce the interest rate on its $1.4 billion loan from Barclays. Consumers Energy has a goal of 40 percent renewable energy by 2040 and recently announced plans to develop its third solar power plant.

Back in April, MidAmerican Energy, which is part of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, was named one of the U.S.’s top “environmental champion” utilities for the fourth straight year, based on a nationwide pre-Earth Day survey. Consumers look at the following five categories as part of the study: “promoting clean energy, enabling consumption management, facilitating environmental causes, encouraging environmentally friendly fleets and buildings, and consistently seeking ways to protect the environment.”

As much as we’d like to believe these providers are taking on these responsibilities out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s important not to overlook the obvious business implications. You see, there is a younger generation on the precipice of becoming the country’s largest living generation. And this group is not going to let the planet fall by the wayside.

Millennials in the market

When it comes to eco-friendly endeavors and green program initiatives, millennials definitely have something to say.

In its “2018 State of the Consumer” report, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) took a deep look at millennials’ interest in renewable energy. And let’s just say this generation is all about it.

While 41 percent of consumers said they’d be willing to pay an extra $15 a month for access to clean energy, over two-thirds of millennials were open to forking over the extra cash. Over half of millennials are intrigued by the concept of solar panels.

Clearly these consumers believe protecting the planet is worth the cost.

Go green or go home

We’d be remiss to claim that all utilities providers have to do to regain favor with their customers is to fix their “green” problem. However, what is clear is that the consumers have spoken – and they are in support of more green initiatives.

Some companies have heard the call and are taking action. Others would be wise to follow their lead.

Costco tops Amazon as the new king of internet retail

Amazon’s reign is officially over – for at least one year, anyway.

After leading customer satisfaction in the e-commerce space since 2010, Amazon dropped 4 percent to an ACSI score of 82 (out of 100), according to our latest Retail and Consumer Shipping Report. The new leader? Costco.

In its first year in the internet retail category, Costco posted an ACSI score of 83, matching its in-store mark for both the department/discount and supermarket categories.

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Costco wasn’t the only newcomer to score high in its first year in the internet retail category. Among the 21 new companies, Etsy, Kohl’s, Nike, and Nordstrom each debuted with an ACSI score of 81. Apple, HP Store, Macy’s, Target, and Wayfair also made strong impressions, scoring 80 a piece.

The expansion of this category makes Costco’s top-ranking performance all the more impressive. Costco has historically succeeded in categories linked to the in-store experience – especially when you consider the popularity of its pizza – so when you factor in the e-commerce experience, the results seem almost inevitable.

Costco’s recipe for success

Membership-based warehouse stores were the real winners in the retail trade sector in 2018, and none shined quite like Costco. According to CNN Business, Costco’s strategy to accomplish this was to “perfect what’s been working for four decades.”

Brick-and-mortar stores are the company’s bread and butter; that’s unlikely to change. Customers enjoy the experience of shopping at Costco, they remain unwaveringly loyal – 90 percent of Costco members renew their subscriptions – and perhaps most importantly, they appreciate the value they receive.

Costco offers cheaper products without sacrificing the quality. Look no further than its signature Kirkland brand, which offers less expensive alternatives and is considered by analysts to be “one of the most popular white labels across retail.”

How does all of this tie into Costco’s success in online retail? Perhaps it’s best to look at why Costco decided to go online in the first place.

What’s driving Costco online?

Costco had been reluctant to venture into online retail for two reasons. First, its winning formula has always been based around giving customers a great in-person experience, and second, it’s pricey to ship bulk items.

Costco may have been dubbed “Amazon-proof,” but there’s no guarantee the label lasts forever. One way Costco has staved off the competition is by cornering the food market. Per CNN, 93 percent of Costco members turn to the warehouse store for their groceries. But for how long?

Costco can’t afford to get complacent when other online retailers want a piece of the pie. The only way to defend itself against would-be assailants is to embrace internet retail.

And it has. Costco now offers same-day fresh delivery through Instacart and also launched CostcoGrocery.

With CostcoGrocery, members receive two-day delivery when they order “shelf-stable” products on the website. They also get free shipping if the purchase exceeds $75, according to The Wall Street Journal.

How Costco is reshaping the e-commerce and retail landscape

Costco’s biggest selling point is its in-store experience. It’s made a killing in that respect. But it also recognizes the importance of creating a presence in the e-commerce space.

Costco offers 10,000 products on its website and app. It lets you buy expensive items online, including furniture not previously sold in stores, and gives you the option to pick up your online purchases in the store. The result of Costco’s expanded online offerings has been a 21 percent increase in online sales since July 2018.

In a world where most customers are choosing to shop online, Costco has managed to keep its customers coming back to the warehouse. And yet, that hasn’t prevented it from dabbling in the e-commerce space. From the looks of it, Costco is clearly succeeding there as well.

Even if the Oscar Doesn’t Go to ‘Roma,’ Netflix Has Already Won

If you’re a film buff, a fan of A-list celebrities, or simply can’t turn down a full-fledged red carpet extravaganza, odds are you’ll be glued to your television on Sunday for the 91st Academy Awards.

While we can’t guarantee this year’s event will be any more (or less) exciting than years past, we already know it will feature something that’s never been seen before: a Netflix film nominated for Best Picture.

Sure, Netflix has earned a few Oscar nods over the past few years. But it’s never been up for Best Picture. With Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” – nominated for 10 awards – the streaming behemoth has a legitimate shot to take home the year’s most prestigious gold statue.

Winning the Academy Award for Best Picture would be big for Netflix – and for streaming services in general. It would represent proof that the “Davids” of the small screen can take down the “Goliaths” of the silver screen.

And yet, as much as coming away victorious in the Best Picture category might help Netflix’s credibility among the Hollywood elite who believe that awards season is all that matters, the truth is, Netflix has already won – and has been doing so for quite some time.

It’s Netflix’s world, and we’re all living in it

On the most recent episode of Recode Decode, IAC and Expedia Group chairman Barry Diller said, “Hollywood is now irrelevant.” While that’s a bold statement, there’s plenty of evidence consumers are flocking to streaming services for their original content. And in terms of customer satisfaction for that content, Netflix rules the roost.

According to our most recent data, as of February 7, 2019, Netflix boasts an ACSI score of 81 (out of 100) specifically for its original content. That’s a 2.5 percent bump in customer satisfaction since the May 2018 telecommunications report. The streaming giant has a two-point advantage on its closest competition, HBO Now, which rose 2.6 percent during that same time to 79, and has no intention of slowing down.

Netflix is reaping the rewards of its heavy investment in original content, according to The Motley Fool, and plans to continue with that strategy, with 85 percent of its new spending going toward original productions, per chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

“Netflix has won this game,” said Diller later in the podcast. “I mean, short of some existential event, it is Netflix’s. No one can get it, I believe, to their level of subscribers, which gives them real dominance.” With 245 original shows on its service and another 257 originals in the pipeline, it’s hard to argue with him.

Amazon and Hulu on the rise as well

Although Diller claimed, “those who chase Netflix are fools,” it’s not as if Netflix is the only streaming service seeing success.

Amazon Prime Video’s customer satisfaction with original content is up over 4 percent since May to an ACSI score of 76. The studio has a strategy for taking on Netflix, which includes putting out 30 movies a year, per Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke. Amazon also isn’t afraid to drop big money on the festival circuit, spending $47 million at Sundance this year – more than anyone else.

For its part, Hulu increases its original content satisfaction as well, jumping 1.3 percent to 75. The company has 34 original shows available for streaming and another 53 in the queue. Hulu’s main focus is on the comedy genre — 36 percent of its upcoming shows fall under that category.

Win or lose…

Amazon had a Best Picture nominee back in 2017 with “Manchester by the Sea,” but ultimately lost out to “Moonlight.” Now, we’ll wait to see if Netflix can do what Amazon could not.

You’ll have to tune in on Sunday to see it all happen live. Of course, even if “Roma” can’t beat out the competition, it’s clear Netflix is already a winner. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Online vs brick-and-mortar: How purchase-channel differences impact customer loyalty

Experts predicted high holiday sales — the best in years — and big-box retailers … missed the mark. This happened despite more retailers than ever concentrating on e-commerce to capitalize on predictions that consumers would spend more than ever online.

So, what happened? Part of the problem could be that retailers invested in the wrong aspects of their customers’ online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences, unintentionally hurting customer satisfaction and the likelihood a customer will repurchase.

Specific aspects of customer satisfaction matter more or less depending on where customers shop, and because better customer satisfaction leads to increased customer loyalty, retail executives who don’t understand these differences can miss opportunities to maximize their sales. Knowing how best to cultivate customer satisfaction in a multichannel marketplace is an important competitive advantage, especially for executives planning new campaigns that span online and offline channels. Strengthening customer loyalty can help companies expand their market share.

Previously, there had been little research verifying these differences, but we recently dove into our data and uncovered a few key differences in how customer satisfaction is generated in online and offline purchase channels.

One chance to get it right with online shoppers

To start, we found that customers are more sensitive to their satisfaction when shopping online. What do we mean by that? The likelihood a customer will never purchase a product again or will switch retailers following a single unsatisfactory brand experience is much higher online than offline.

This comes down to convenience. With virtually unlimited retailers at an online shopper’s fingertips, it doesn’t cost them much to switch to a competing brand. But the same customer might need to drive 15 minutes out of their way to find a brick-and-mortar substitute — something they might not be willing or able to do.

Moreover, while customer satisfaction can drop for any number of reasons, our research found that perceived value (a measure of quality relative to price paid) drives customer satisfaction more online than in person. This too is unsurprising, given that e-commerce has played a large role in driving down prices across the retail world.

Perceived value is impacted not only by the product’s quality, but also by any extra costs associated with the purchase, if a promotion is running on the product, if it was easy to find and purchase the product, how quickly the product will be delivered (if shopping online), and more. Because it’s easier for customers to conduct price and quality comparisons online than offline, customers hone in on and develop perceived value more so online than they do in stores.

To build customer satisfaction through perceived value, online retailers should have more efficient websites than their competitors, offer easier access to purchase and search history, and provide more product details, photos, and videos.

Online retailers can’t ignore other factors influencing customer satisfaction either, such as overall quality and expectations. By improving each part of the customer’s experience, online retailers can combat the hair-trigger tendencies e-commerce customers have to switch retailers.

Overall quality and customer expectations key for brick-and-mortar stores

Meanwhile, our data show that the customer satisfaction of offline customers is driven more strongly driven by overall quality and expectations. In brick-and-mortar stores, quality products and customer expectations are key to customer satisfaction. The advantage traditional retailers have is two-fold: face-to-face human interaction and a perceived reduction in shopping risk.

When interacting with an in-store sales representative, customers can ask every question they have and receive trustworthy answers in response. Customers can also handle the product they intend to purchase, receiving tactile feedback about its quality.

This finding validates current recommended practices to enhance customer experiences: Create a pressure-free environment to interact with high-quality products, and ensure knowledgeable staff is on hand. Additionally, offline retailers need to focus on sharing reliable product information and maintaining a trustworthy image.

However, brick-and-mortar retailers won’t be able to attract digital shoppers and compete with their online competitors just by focusing on these areas. Keeping in mind online shoppers’ emphasis on perceived value, brick-and-mortar stores must devise a way to one-up online competitors in this regard. That could start with more competitive pricing, though executives should be wary not to fall into the trap of price cutting.

Overall, retailers can develop better customer experiences and drive more purchasing by customizing their approaches to online and offline purchase channels. Even though retail executives face mounting pressure to consolidate channels and adopt omnichannel strategies, they can’t lose sight of the differences as they head into 2019. If they do, online and offline executives alike risk hurting customer satisfaction and losing out on market share because of decreased customer loyalty and repurchase intent.

The above findings generally persist across customer demographics and retail categories. For exceptions, details on methodology, and more results from the research, read the full paper in the Journal of Retailing.

Dip in federal government satisfaction is not just a ‘now’ problem

U.S. federal government services experienced a drop in customer satisfaction for the first time in two years, dipping 1.1 percent to an ACSI score of 68.9 (out of 100), per our latest Federal Government Report.

While this downturn is not a result of the government shutdown, make no mistake: The longest shutdown in U.S. history – at 35 days – has left an indelible mark on the American people – and not in a good way.

President Trump signed a bill to reopen the government for three weeks. However, the Feb. 15 deadline is going to be here before you know it, and the fear of another potential shutdown is most certainly on the minds of the 800,000 federal employees who returned to work on Jan. 28. But it won’t just be those federal workers feeling the impact.

The millions of everyday citizens that interact with the nine federal departments and agencies that closed their doors during the shutdown felt the effects too. And while data collection for our 2018 report ended before the shutdown began, we can expect the effects to be reflected in the satisfaction marks come 2019.

That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the federal government.

What did the government shutdown impact?

Thirty-five days doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things. But a lot can happen in that time.

Thanks to The New York Times’ government shutdown timeline, we have a running list of what took place between Dec. 22 and Jan. 25. Without getting into everything, it’s clear the effects of the shutdown are far-reaching, extending well beyond those experienced by federal government employees.

For example, the Department of Interior scored a 78 in our latest report. This ties for the highest among federal departments. However, national parks fall under Interior, and the shutdown has not been kind to these landmarks.

We’ve seen injuries at places like Big Bend National Park, where a man fell and broke his leg. He was carried to safety by fellow park visitors and a park ranger, but the park had limited rescue services because of the shutdown. Other services, like road maintenance and trash pickup, were suspended by the National Park Service back on Dec. 30, creating unsafe, unsanitary, and unpleasant conditions.

During the shutdown, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo were closed. As was the National Gallery of Art. And then, of course, there are the airports.

Many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers and controllers began calling in sick instead of working without pay. At best, the disruption caused inconveniences like longer lines at security checkpoints; worst, it caused chaos and safety violations. Miami International Airport closed a terminal on Jan. 12 because it didn’t have enough security screeners. On Jan. 25, New York’s La Guardia Airport ceased allowing inbound flights due to delays, causing air travel congestion along the Eastern Seaboard. And on Jan. 2, a passenger flew from Atlanta to Tokyo with a handgun.

These are merely some of the incidents that took place during the shutdown. And just because the government is back open – at least for the next three weeks – most people aren’t simply going to forgive and forget all the turbulence, especially with the lingering ramifications.

Future costs of the shutdown

The shutdown is over for now. The consequences of that shutdown, however, will be long-lasting.

The National Taxpayer Advocate, a government watchdog group, told House staffers that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will likely need 12 to 18 months to recover from the shutdown.

The IRS has millions of unanswered taxpayer questions to deal with. It needs to hire thousands of employees for this tax filing season, and it needs to make up lost time when it comes to training workers. But the IRS is just one department that’s feeling the pressure.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to issue grants to prevent food shortages and a health care crisis, and the National Park Service has an amenities problem on its hand. This is likely only the beginning.

The federal government shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Most of that loss will be recouped once the shutdown ends and folks return to work, but the CBO estimates that $3 billion is “permanently lost.”

Although our 2018 report was not influenced by the shutdown itself, satisfaction in the federal government was already heading south. Even with the government back up and running (for now, anyway), it’s almost impossible to look at all that’s happened without expecting a lingering ripple effect throughout the rest of 2019.

Think you know your customer? Maybe not.

Every manager knows that happy customers mean better business. But despite decades of in-depth research, elaborate customer satisfaction monitoring systems, and extensive customer service support teams, managers still struggle to understand their customers’ desires and needs, leading them to make misguided decisions that can hurt their business.

From misinterpreting data to undervaluing what drives purchasing decisions, our research shows managers get more wrong about customers than they get right.

Managers think they know their customers

Managers might want to think twice about how well they understand their customer. Even some highly confident managers don’t understand all the levels and drivers of customer satisfaction.

In the aggregate and on average, the managers we surveyed significantly underestimated their customer’s propensity to complain, and thereby failed to address the customer’s complaints. Additionally, they overestimate their customers’ satisfaction and loyalty while misunderstanding what drives both customer expectations and perceptions of value.

With the importance most companies place on customer feedback, how can these misunderstandings be so widespread? Managers should look to the type of feedback they’re measuring, to start. Not all feedback is useful (no matter how pretty those 5 stars on Yelp appear).

For example, what does having a high average review score tell you about your customer? Many managers make the mistake of blissfully accepting a positive review, but either don’t take the time or don’t have the data to understand why the customer gave them a particular rating. When implementing customer feedback monitoring systems, managers should emphasize specifically catered feedback that will provide relevant insights into their product and service decisions.

The data has the answers, but you still don’t

Implementing a customer satisfaction monitoring system – such as market research or consumer data collection and analysis — to evaluate customer feedback and communicate the data throughout the organization is a solid first step in understanding customer satisfaction and motivations. However, for many organizations, these systems often don’t live up to their potential. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Some managers aren’t exposed to the data these systems collect.
  2. Some managers receive the data, but they misinterpret and misunderstand it.

Both cases result in frustrated customers, falsely confident managers, and ultimately, the loss of business. Monitoring systems only work if managers have access and training to accurately interpret the data.

Additionally, to extract all the benefits from monitoring systems, managers should inspect the current extent and nature of their customer perception level to help minimize any manager-customer disconnects. This baseline will uncover the holes in understanding and facilitate more informed decisions to close them.

Once managers understand where lapses in data and interpretation are occurring, they can take corrective actions that make sense for their business, and ultimately, for their customers.

Going beyond what the customer wants

Understanding what your customer wants is the first step, but to truly bridge the gap in manager-customer misunderstanding, managers need to take it a step further. Beyond what your customer wants, why do they want what they do?

In many oversaturated and competitive markets, like retail, simply knowing what your customer wants isn’t enough anymore. There are five, 10, even 100 other firms selling the same exact product or service for a better price. And yet, the more expensive option might sell better and produce more satisfied customers.

Why? Lower prices are not the deciding factor in winning over the customer. Instead, quality drives customer satisfaction and loyalty, along with perceived value and customer expectations. So before scrambling to stay competitive in the short-term by reducing prices, managers need to take the time to find out why the customer feedback says what it says.

Learn from Netflix’s mistake. In 2011, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings pushed for a premature split between hard copy DVDs and the company’s new streaming service — a move that resulted in 800,000 fewer subscribers and more than a 25 percent stock plummet. The split not only divided customers, but required them to pay for both services separately. Turns out, the new business model combined with the price increase was enough to warrant a “no” from the “Are you still watching?” prompt.

Hastings apologized a few weeks later, admitting he was overconfident in the push to streaming and assumed that the divide had already been presented to customers via feedback platforms (clearly, it had not), and that the price increase wouldn’t come with backlash (wrong again).

Following this misinterpretation, Hastings made a swift recovery by focusing on why the remaining customers were interested in streaming services over DVDs, leading to an amazing comeback in 2012 that’s held up through today.

Making the change

Winning over customers is about more than implementing fancy monitoring systems and simply relying on the data without context; it’s also about understanding the customer’s desires and needs, and — as a manager — checking your ego at the door.

With the plethora of data available today, it’s easy to misinterpret information and direct precious resources to well-intentioned but needless tasks. To avoid making this mistake, it’s time for managers to reassess data, determine key drivers of customer satisfaction as well as complaints, and fix gaps in interpretation and information sharing. If managers make the effort now, they’ll have happier customers — and better bottom lines — in the long run.

Mobile apps help drive satisfaction with insurance and investment services

Every year we take stock of customer satisfaction in the financial and insurance sector. In recent years, we’ve noted digitalization is driving the success of retail banks, and technological advancements are improving satisfaction across the sector. Our latest report supports those points.

In particular, mobile apps – which we measured for the first time this year — are improving customer satisfaction even as other online resources, like websites, dip within the sector.

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Based on our 2018 finance and insurance report, here are a few ways mobile apps are already contributing to the finance and insurance sector’s success.

Nationwide most improved among insurers, thanks to cutting-edge mobile app

In early 2018, Nationwide became the first company to enhance its mobile capabilities with a new blockchain framework. Designed specifically for the risk management and insurance industry, the framework enables Nationwide to offer customers real-time policy verification and eliminates the need for hard-copy documentation—streamlining a historically cumbersome process.

The app, which also allows consumers to start and process claims from their mobile devices, scored exceptionally high marks in customer satisfaction in 2018 and propelled Nationwide’s 5 percent gain in overall satisfaction, which is the largest improvement by any property and casualty insurer this year.

Industry-wide, the quality and reliability of mobile apps, which can be used to pull up policies, document accidents, and easily reference claims, rank near the top of all benchmarks measured. Customers give mobile app quality an ACSI score of 87 and the reliability of mobile apps, defined by minimal downtime, crashes, and lags, an 85.

Life insurance leads in mobile app satisfaction

Life insurers are getting creative with mobile options, too. For instance, John Hancock has developed a program, available via its app, that encourages policyholders to be more proactive with their health. For every 10 workouts they record, policyholders earn the chance to spin a wheel of fortune in their mobile app and accrue points they can redeem for gift cards. These incentives are improving customer engagement, experience, and satisfaction.

Across all insurance industries ACSI measures, life insurance scores highest for both quality (90) and reliability (89) of mobile apps. Driven in part by these scores, satisfaction for the industry rises 2.6 percent to an ACSI score of 80.

The flip side: Technical glitches hurt satisfaction

While some companies are satisfying customers with mobile options, other companies can’t seem to master the basics. Vanguard, the previous customer satisfaction leader in the investment services industry, is one example. The company drops 4 percent to a score of 79 following system issues like phone and website connection problems that left customers fuming, as well as automated texts that incorrectly stated loans were being processed.

Vanguard’s technological hiccups weren’t enough to bring down the industry as a whole however. Reliability and quality of mobile apps (both 82) top the charts and life insurers continue to hold steady at a score of 79.

Digital technologies make strides

Mobile is high on customers’ priority lists, and with a few exceptions, insurance and investment companies are delivering. As our data shows, those companies investing in their customers’ digital experience and expectations are reaping the rewards in terms of customer satisfaction.

It’s a digital world, and whether policyholders are looking to file insurance claims or make changes to their investments, companies would do well to meet the demands of the on-the-go customer.

Health insurance continues to cause headaches for customers

There’s a correlation between lower customer satisfaction and the frequency of use or touchpoints with a product or service. The more often you interact with a specific product or service, the greater the chances that something is going to go wrong.

Few things encapsulate this concept more than customer satisfaction – or lack thereof – in health insurance.

Following two years of growth, customer satisfaction with health insurance is unchanged with an ACSI score of 73 (out of 100), according to our most recent Finance and Insurance Report. In fact, as it turns out, health insurance is far and away the least satisfying category in the entire sector.

Trending in the wrong direction

Humana and Kaiser Permanente continue to lead all insurance companies in customer satisfaction with an ACSI score of 78. Policyholders note that Humana has better access to primary and specialty care, while Kaiser Permanente offers the best prescription coverage and is the fastest to process claims. But these few positive marks aren’t enough to keep customers happy — both insurers fall 1 percent over last year

This downward trend plays out across much of the industry. Blue Cross and Blue Shield falls 1 percent to an industry-low 70, and “all others” also dip 1 percent to an ACSI score of 74. Only Cigna and Aetna saw gains in customer satisfaction. Meanwhile UnitedHealth stayed put with an ACSI score of 73.

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The industry as a whole saw no change in customer satisfaction in areas such prescription drug coverage, ease of submitting claims, the speed with which claims are processed, and access to specialty care.

A bright spot for insurers

The overall complicated nature and complexities of health insurance, makes it much more difficult to provide excellent customer satisfaction. Yet, some insurers are finding success, specifically through consolidation.

The only companies that experienced improvement in customer satisfaction also happened to be the only companies in the midst of separate mergers and acquisitions. Aetna, up 1 percent to 75, is in the midst of merging with CVS, and Cigna, up a staggering 11 percent to 73, is in the process of purchasing Express Scripts.

As a whole, the health insurance industry has seen customers more satisfied with access to primary care doctors and coverage of standard medical services.

Where health insurance can improve

The health insurance industry doesn’t have the best reputation. From the logistics of using it to questions surrounding what (or who) is covered, health insurance is known for causing ample amounts of unwanted stress.

Insurers would be wise to make it easier for customers to understand information on insurance statements, which ranks at 74. And most notably, companies need to improve the entire experience of interacting with a call center. This area sees the largest dip in customer satisfaction, dropping 5 percent to an ACSI score of 71.

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Health insurance is in the bottom 10 of all the industries we measure, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By simplifying the process, ensuring access to physicians, and upgrading websites, insurers can create a more seamless, satisfying experience and ultimately improve their long-term relationships with customers.

Beer lovers love their beer more than ever before

The beer industry is at a crossroads of sorts. Millennials just aren’t that into beer. According to a report from Berenberg Research, Generation Z feels the same way, opting instead to reach for spirits. As a result, beer consumption and sales are down. This, however, is only part of the story.

Beer might not be the libation of choice for everyone, but for those that do choose brew, one word best describes their feelings toward the beverage: Love.

According to our most recent Nondurable Products Report, customer satisfaction with breweries is at an all-time high, climbing 1.2 percent to an ACSI score of 85 (on a scale of 0 to 100). Interestingly enough, it’s the “little” guys leading the charge among beer aficionados.

Smaller breweries, big-time satisfaction

Beer lovers are a passionate bunch. And craft beer drinkers might be the most passionate of them all. With a 1 percent jump over the past year, small breweries and craft beers, which the ACSI categorizes under “other breweries,” have the highest customer satisfaction among industry manufacturers, with an ACSI score of 86.

This group also leads the competition in many other aspects of customer experience, including perceived overall quality and perceived value. It’s clear that while the microbrews and small breweries lack the size of the big brands, they’re benefiting from the strong reputation they’ve built with their customer base.

Competition is good for the beer market

Competition tends to breed competition. We’re seeing the positive effects that “other breweries” are having on the rest of the category, generally propelling higher satisfaction across the entire market. This is most notable in the higher customer satisfaction with Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The megabrewery is up 1 percent in customer satisfaction year over year, giving it an ACSI score of 85, good enough for second place in the category. Anheuser-Busch InBev is thriving because of high marks in website satisfaction, customer retention, and most importantly, customer loyalty.

Bottom of the barrel

Although breweries have high marks in customer satisfaction overall, not every manufacturer is improving. Molson Coors saw its customer satisfaction take a major dip, plummeting 4 percent to a score of 81.

In fact, following a 4.8 percent dip in first quarter 2018 sales, the megabrewery opted to cease production on its MillerCoors line of Two Hats, essentially giving up on the brand that was intended to appeal to the millennial crowd. The manufacturer hopes to rebound by turning its attention to Coors Light.

The future of the beer industry

Microbrews and craft beers aren’t a fad. These “other breweries” have a loyal following, and its customers are drawn to a quality product. Inauthenticity isn’t going to fly with this crowd. Hopefully, the bigger beer manufacturers take note, and make the necessary adjustments to keep up with beer lovers’ preferences.

Regardless of what the future holds, one thing is clear: customer satisfaction with breweries is the highest we’ve ever seen. We can all agree to raise a glass to that.

Amazon bites into Apple’s control in the PC market

If it feels like everyone is on their smartphone these days, it’s because they probably are.

Consumers are now using their mobile devices to complete tasks – such as web browsing, banking, shopping, entertainment, etc. – that were once reserved for computers. However, if you were under the impression customers would abandon personal computers (PCs) merely because of overall satisfaction with their phones, you’d be sorely mistaken.

According to our latest Household and Electronics Report, customer satisfaction with PCs remained stable at 77 (on a scale of 0 to 100).

Interestingly enough, in an industry consisting of desktops, tablets, and laptops, it’s the desktops that garner the most love among consumers (up 4 percent to 83), followed by tablets (up 4 percent to 80) and laptops (down 3 percent to 75).

Of course, when you take a closer look at individual PC makers, the picture becomes even clearer.

These brands are riding high

Any way you slice it, the story remains the same: Apple leads all PC makers in customer satisfaction. The brand has an ASCI score of 83 and has the highest marks in almost every aspect of customer experience, including features, apps, and design. Clearly, customers remain drawn to the clean, sleek look and feel of Apple products.

But Apple isn’t running away with the show.

After a 4 percent spike this year, Amazon leaps into a tie for second place at 82. You can chalk up Amazon’s rise to the strength of its tablet. Users give it high marks for design, sounds and graphics quality, and ease of operation.

Samsung joined Amazon with an ASCI score of 82, the same mark from a year ago. However, while customer satisfaction with Samsung remains high, it trails its competitors in most key features, including operating system, preloaded apps, and data storage.

These brands are playing catch up

While Amazon’s PCs are satisfying customers, other big-name brands are trending in the wrong direction. Which brings us to Dell and Toshiba, two companies that have a lot of work to do.

When your processor speed is an issue and your machines consistently experience system crashes, you’re going to struggle to win over the masses. These are the problems Toshiba faces, as it experienced a 5 percent drop — the largest among PC makers — to an ASCI score of 71. This is Toshiba’s lowest score to date, and unfortunately it’s not the only company that’s failing to impress consumers.

Dell is down 4 percent year over year to an ASCI score of 73. This is partially because where companies like Apple thrive from a design standpoint, Dell is struggling to keep up with competition. If this doesn’t change, Dell might have difficulty digging itself out of its current hole.

What PC customers want

Desktops continue to serve as the preferred devices of business users and gamers who require power and functionality. And with the gaming industry reaching broader popularity than ever before, it’s hard to imagine desktops ever becoming completely unnecessary.

Unfortunately, over the last year, the PC industry as a whole has experienced a decline in customer satisfaction in key areas. For example, customers care about the product’s design, where the ACSI score has dropped to 82. They care about accessories, software and apps, and graphics and sound quality, but customer satisfaction in all three categories has fallen to 80. Systems crashes have become more of a problem (down to 77), features aren’t exciting customers as much (down to 77), and processor speed has slowed, resulting in a 3 percent drop in the ASCI score to 76.

Worst of all, customer service took big hits. Website satisfaction dropped 5 percent to 78 while the accessibility and reliance of call centers suffered a staggering slump down 14 percent to 67.

There is a silver lining. Although most aspects of the PC industry have taken hits in the eyes of its consumers, these are still high marks overall. PCs continue to cater to specific use cases that phones aren’t yet capable of handling.

But if PC manufacturers hope to regain any of the ground they’ve lost in recent years, it’ll take more than just a better call center experience to satisfy customers’ needs.