Going beyond green initiatives: Why the energy utilities sector needs to better support local communities

The energy utilities sector knew what it had to do to improve satisfaction. The people made that very clear.

Last year, when customer satisfaction fell 2.7%, we observed a strong desire for green initiatives. While fixing this area wouldn’t automatically repair the strained relationship between customers and utilities, it would go a long way toward showing that providers not only hear their customers’ concerns but are actively making concerted efforts to improve.

Unfortunately, it appears little has changed.

The grass still isn’t greener

Once again, energy utilities sustained a sector-wide drop in customer satisfaction, falling 1.5% to an American Customer Satisfaction Index score of 72.1 (on a scale of 0 to 100), according to our most recent Energy Utilities Report. And that “green” problem? It’s still there.

In the three categories of energy utilities – investor-owned (down 1.4% overall to 72), municipal (down 1.4% overall to 72), and cooperative (down 2.7% overall to 73) – efforts to support green programs is either the worst or tied for the worst customer experience benchmark.

Overall, investor-owned utilities earned a 70, municipal utilities took home a 69, and cooperative utilities, while finishing with the highest mark at 71, still saw customer satisfaction plummet 4%.

Providers like National Grid, American Electric Power, and PG&E score well below the investor-owned utilities average for green initiatives. The same goes for the group of smaller cooperatives and smaller municipal utilities, which score in the mid-to-high 60s.

Unfortunately, a lack of support for green programs isn’t the only thing hindering customer satisfaction.

Missing out on a sense of community (support)

Customers believe utilities providers could be doing more to support local communities – much more.

Within the investor-owned utilities category, efforts to support the local community is the lowest customer satisfaction benchmark – tied with efforts to support green programs – at 70. National Grid, American Electric Power, and PG&E struggle in this area too. But they’re not alone.

Eversource Energy and FirstEnergy also have plenty of room for improvement among investor-owned utilities.

Municipal utilities providers perform better than investor-owned utilities in this area – but not by much. The industry scores a 72, down 3% from the previous year.

While cooperatives remain the sector leaders for supporting their local communities, they’re doing worse than they did a year ago, dropping 3% to an Index score of 74. Smaller cooperatives have the most room for improvement here as well.

Change in business values

Although the energy utilities sector isn’t offering customers the sort of support they crave for green initiatives or local communities, many of America’s top business leaders are starting to see the light.

Fortune 500 CEOs – 181 of them to be exact – signed a letter showing these very things are important to business. Instead of prioritizing shareholders and maximizing profits, the “purpose of a corporation” needs to center on investing in employees, delivering value to customers, and supporting outside communities through sustainable endeavors.

“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” said Jamie Dixon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase and chairman of Business Roundtable, the group of CEOs from major U.S. corporations who released this statement.

While profits will always be part of the equation, top American business leaders recognize how important it is to do right by their customers.

It’s time to listen and act

For the second consecutive year, there’s widespread customer satisfaction decline across the entire energy utilities sector.

All three categories of energy utilities saw their overall scores drop and every aspect of customer experience either declines or remains unchanged. And at or near the bottom of it all is support for green programs and local community.

Once again, energy utility providers know what they must do. Not only are their customers telling them their needs, but other U.S. corporations are preaching a change in values and business practices.

Retail wars: How does brick and mortar stack up in a battle against its online retailer?

If the Retail Trade sector were a kingdom, then online would sit firmly on the throne.

According to our most recent Retail and Consumer Shipping Report, while the sector evens out following two years of decline, only one industry sees its customer satisfaction soar: internet retail, up 1.3% to a score of 81.

Customers continue to chase the best, most convenient shopping experience available, and right now online is king. Customers can find what they need more easily and aren’t pestered by salespeople. When you look at online versus brick and mortar head-to-head, online wins every time.

Given this idea that “online wins every time,” we decided to compare three online retailers with their brick-and-mortar counterparts to see how well this held up. Here’s what we found.

Target.com vs. Target: Same score, different story

Despite dropping 3% year over year, Target.com maintains the same score as its counterpart in the department and discount category, both at 78.

Among internet retailers, ease of checkout and payment process (86) is the highest individual benchmark. On the contrary, this metric finishes dead last among department and discount stores with a score of 71. This trend holds true when comparing Target.com and Target.

Target.com is near the high end of internet retailers in store speed. The physical store, however, while among the better performers in the department and discount store space, still trails its online counterpart by a wide margin.

Although customers agree that online retailers possess a stronger variety of merchandise (84 to 77) and availability of inventory (82 to 75) than department and discount stores, Target.com and Target buck the trend, sharing the same score in both respects.

In the end, despite trailing internet retail leader Amazon (83), Target is making a concerted effort to boost its online presence. Target.com is expanding its same-day delivery service and creating its own “Deal Days” online event in the vein of Amazon Prime Day.

Nordstrom.com vs. Nordstrom: Traditional retail gets online bump

Only three companies boast scores above the internet retail industry average. The one traditional retailer? Nordstrom.

Nordstrom.com improves 1% to a score of 82, besting its brick-and-mortar counterpart, which remains unchanged at 79. Nordstrom.com outpaces Nordstrom in most individual benchmarks, including variety and inventory.

One of the biggest disparities between the physical store and its online counterpart is the ease and speed of the checkout process. Both thrive within their respective categories, but Nordstrom.com is significantly better than Nordstrom. In fact, Nordstrom.com is tied for the top score among all internet retailers.

Sears.com vs. Sears: Started at the bottom …

… and they’re both still there. Sears.com and Sears each have the lowest customer satisfaction scores in their respective categories.

Although Sears rose 1% among department and discount stores to a score of 71, it still sits below internet retail bottom dweller, Sears.com, which stayed put at 73. Sears.com also remains higher than Walmart’s department and discount store, which dropped 1% to 71 as well.

Sears.com offers slightly better variety than the brick-and-mortar store and stocks a greater inventory. Customers also give Sears.com the edge in speed and ease of checkout.

One area where Sears outshines its online brethren is with its support. Customers find Sears’ in-store staff more helpful and courteous than that of online customer support. This is interesting considering the opposite holds true for the two categories – internet retail and department and discount stores – as a whole.

The big picture is clear

The Retail sector experienced widespread declines last year. Just one year later, the message is crystal clear: Online shopping is the focus.

While traditional retailers aren’t falling by the wayside, more and more companies recognize their customers continue to shift toward the internet. The online shopping experience is easy, convenient, fast, and there’s no salesperson physically chasing you around the store trying to get you to buy something.

The retail battle may wage on as brick and mortar isn’t going away. But as it stands, this is a pretty one-sided affair.

Good for business, bad for customers? The double-edged sword of M&A

There were 43 mergers and acquisitions (M&A) of over $10 billion in 2019 – an 8% increase from 2018. There were another 21 deals worth more than $20 billion a piece.

This is just the start.

The worldwide value of M&A transactions reached a total value of $3.9 trillion in 2019. While that’s 3% less than 2018, it’s the fourth-strongest year ever recorded.

This is good news for investors. The same cannot be said for customers.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that large M&A deals commonly have a negative effect on customer satisfaction. On average, the acquiring company experiences a 3% drop in customer satisfaction over the initial two-year period post-merger.

Why is that? There are a few major reasons – but sometimes it depends on the industry.

1. It’s not about customers

M&A often has a negative effect on customer satisfaction because it isn’t done on behalf of customers; it’s done on behalf of shareholders.

Typically, in an acquisition, companies aren’t trying to grow their customer base by improving how they provide goods and quality services. They’re literally buying another customer base.

The goal for these companies is delivering value to shareholders. In the process, they can alienate consumers, ultimately working against their own goal.

2. Customers in service-related industries suffer the most

Customers of manufacturing-related industries usually don’t notice a difference following M&A. If a company buys a line of canned food, for example, and keeps putting it out with the same label and the same quality, the customers who purchase that product aren’t really affected. They still receive the same product, made the same way. The only difference is the organization behind the scenes that now owns the brand – and customers might not even know that’s changed.

For customers of service-related industries, however, the change in ownership is felt in a big way.

Banking, retail, airlines, utilities, and anything else involving services, is where you typically see a significant customer satisfaction drop in the wake of a merger up through the first two years of the union.

For example, back in 2005, US Airways fell 8% to an industry low after merging with America West. And just one year after purchasing Northwest, Delta Airlines’ customer satisfaction plummeted 10%.

When two companies merge, both sides begin shedding costs. These costs are usually customer-service focused. For example, a handful of branches might close following one bank’s purchase of another. In this event, customers may no longer receive the same level of service they’re used to.

There’s also the possibility of unexpected snafus. Maybe your frequent flyer miles get lost when two airlines merge and you’re arguing with customer service over how to get them back. Or maybe you get double-billed for cable services or wireless networks.

T-Mobile and Sprint are suggesting their merger will benefit customers. But a lot can go wrong when you combine large customer bases.

Perhaps Sprint customers will experience an uptick in customer service if the provider merges with T-Mobile, as they’ll move from an organization with the lowest American Customer Satisfaction Index score (65) among mobile network operators to the one with the highest mark (76) in the same sector. Then again, customers may have such high expectations for T-Mobile that the service they receive fails to live up to it.

3. The bargain basement

The best companies aren’t typically going out and acquiring other top companies. What usually happens is that subpar companies go out and purchase even worse companies. It’s a weird strategy.

Sure, they can acquire these low-end companies on the cheap, but is it really in their best interest to purchase another bottom-dweller? Probably not.

These companies already have dissatisfied customer bases. If the purchaser is not interested in improving satisfaction levels, then those customers might end up even less satisfied than they were before the merger – especially if they had high expectations for this union.

A lesson for the age of the large acquisition

The numbers don’t lie: Major M&A deals were on the rise in 2019. Global Payments bought TSYS for $21.5 billion. London Stock Exchange Group acquired Refinitiv for $27 billion. United Technologies agreed to purchase Raytheon for $86 billion. These are just a few of the transactions over $20 billion.

While the total number of global mergers was down in 2019, M&A value still exceeded $3 trillion every year since 2014. The merger market is expected to thrive in 2020 thanks to low interest rates and a better economic environment.

But before these organizations – particularly service-related companies – make decisions that are clearly geared toward influencing their balance sheet and adding to their portfolio, they might want to think about what this decision means for their customers.

You might be able to buy a customer base, but that doesn’t mean you’re buying its loyalty or you’re able to improve its satisfaction.

Do these automakers’ Super Bowl ads leave customers satisfied for the right reasons?

People tune into the Super Bowl for all sorts of reasons.

For some, it’s all about the big game itself. For others, it’s the extravagant halftime show.

But one thing that gets everyone hyped on Super Bowl Sunday is the commercials. This is the day brands break the bank and go all out.

According to AdAge, 30 seconds of airtime during this year’s game cost $5.6 million. While this seems like a ridiculous amount of money – and it is – this is a price companies were more than happy to pay.

One industry usually well-represented in Super Bowl commercials is the automobile industry. This year was no exception, as millions of screens across the world were plastered with funny, nostalgic, and inspirational auto commercials.

But you have to wonder, did automakers take full advantage of their airtime?

It’s one thing for the commercials to be entertaining – most usually are – but are they also informative? Are automakers listening to what their customers want and appealing to these needs?

Using our Automobile Report as a guide, we examined the commercials of three major automakers to find out.

Hyundai gets ‘smaht’

With the help of Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch, and John Krasinski, Hyundai used its Super Bowl airtime to plug its new Smart Park self-parking system. While these Bostonites laid the love on a little thick (and we’re not just talking about their accents), the move by Hyundai was wicked “smaht.”

Customers care about in-car technology, and the automobile industry is not meeting their high standards.

According to our report, satisfaction with technology is down 3% year over year and is toward the bottom of all industry benchmarks – tied with warranties for second-to-last place – with a score of 78.

Hyundai, for its part, also has room for improvement in this area. It scores above industry average, but compared to individual automakers, it’s merely middle of the road. By drawing attention to the new Sonata’s “Smaht Pahk” capability, Hyundai shows it understands customer needs and that it’s making a concerted effort to meet them. Like we said: smaht.

Toyota has room for all heroes

Cobie Smulders of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Avengers” fame is a super mom speeding around rescuing selfless superheroes who chose to stay behind after saving others from various catastrophes.

How does she save these heroic individuals? She picks them up in her roomy Toyota Highlander.

Interior design isn’t on the bottom rung of industry benchmarks, but it falls 1.2% over the past year to 82. Toyota scores just above average, so it too has plenty of room (pun intended) for growth.

Toyota uses alien attacks, chemical disasters, and a wild west showdown as backdrops to point out a simple fact that most car owners can agree on: Space matters. Bonus points for the final shot on the dashboard navigation screen. As we mentioned, customers crave enhanced technology.

Jeep shows there’s nothing mundane about ‘Groundhog Day’

Unlike in the cinematic classic, Bill Murray didn’t go down a rabbit hole of despair in Jeep’s commercial reenactment of “Groundhog Day.” This time, he had a Jeep Gladiator at his disposal.

Although driving performance (tied for first at 84) and exterior (82) rank highly among customer experience benchmarks, Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep struggles to keep up with the competition. The automaker falls below industry average in both areas.

With a commercial featuring Murray and Punxsutawney Phil tackling tough terrains in a sleek Gladiator, Jeep shows this vehicle is easy on the eyes and can handle any adventure life throws at you. Not only that, you look forward to it.

This ad played well with the press. Jeep can only hope it has the same effect on its customer base.

Commercials can offer more than just commercial appeal

As entertaining as these ads can be, remember that commercials and customer satisfaction are not the same thing.

Super Bowl commercials aren’t going to be successful if they’re not creative and memorable. But that doesn’t mean automakers should skip out on a golden opportunity to show they’re paying attention to things their customers want.

Customer satisfaction in the automobile industry fell 3.7% to a score of 79 over the last year. If automakers want to see those scores climb, they might want to take a page out of playbook of the companies tailoring their message to what’s really driving their customers.

Debunking the myths of political party affiliation and citizen satisfaction in government

These days, it feels like everything in our lives is politicized. But satisfaction in U.S. federal government services surprisingly isn’t.

Following significant gains between 2015 and 2017, satisfaction in the federal government is down for the second straight year, dropping 1.2% to an American Customer Satisfaction Index score of 68.1. It’s easy to mistake this as a reflection on the administration and Congress at the helm. While an individual’s political affiliation may influence their perception of the government services they receive, politics is not the driving force.

Why not? Let’s set the record straight by answering some frequently asked questions about the role of political party preference in citizen satisfaction scores.

  1. Are citizens generally more satisfied if their political party is in the White House?

The trends from 2017 – the first full year of the Trump administration – to 2019 support this theory.

In that span, only citizens who identify as Republicans report improved satisfaction, up 1% to 70. Democrats (down 3% to 71), Independents (down 3% to 65), and those associated with an “Other Party” (down 11% percent to 58) all experience declining satisfaction.

However, that’s not the whole story. Over the last year, Democrats, not Republicans, Independents, or “Other Party” affiliates, show increased satisfaction, rising almost 3% to 71.

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Could this rise stem from the Democratic Party taking back the House? Psychologically, maybe. It could provide a tiny “glow effect.” The reality is that this development doesn’t have a bearing on how government services are delivered.

The scores are based on interviews with individuals who’ve experienced a federal government service firsthand. You’re not thinking about who’s in the White House when you’re filing your taxes. You’re not thinking about the administration when you’re applying for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan with Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has the lowest Satisfaction Index score among federal departments at 56.

Administrations change. The individuals making sure your services are delivered regularly – the ones working day-to-day in the trenches – don’t.

  1. Did the government shutdown have anything to do with 2019’s decline?

The government shutdown likely played a role in declining citizen satisfaction last year because it impacted people’s everyday lives.

Of the four main drivers of citizen satisfaction – process, customer service, website, and information – all of them fell except the perception of the quality of information provided by the government, which remained unchanged at 71.

Timeliness and ease of government processes (down 3% to 68), courtesy and professionalism of customer service (down 3% to 74), and perception of website quality (down 1% to 75) all took a hit.

The government shutdown is a likely culprit for the drop, since it affected everything from the processing time of government forms to the response time of agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Given that interactions with the IRS are already less than pleasant – most IRS programs scored in the 60s, and the Treasury Department as a whole had a satisfaction score of 60 – additional inconveniences aren’t going to sit well with the public.

  1. Does an election year affect satisfaction?

Citizen satisfaction tends to go up in an election year. It happened in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016.

However, there’s no pattern in the year following an election. Citizen satisfaction went down in 2005, 2009, and 2013, but it rose in 2017.

The biggest misconception of all

The American Customer Satisfaction Index Federal Government report is not an opinion poll like the presidential poll. That’s the big misconception.

Our report assesses the service quality of the federal government as if it were a private entity, focusing on people who’ve had direct contact and interactions with the government. And while a person’s politics may seep into their thought process, it’s not driving their decisions.

Think of the report as an efficiency check for the government. Right now, the federal government could use an infusion of efficiency. That’s at least one thing citizens – regardless of political party – seem to agree on.

Holiday travel: The good, the bad, and the frustrating

There’s something nice about going home for the holidays. That warm feeling of knowing you’ll get to celebrate the occasion with friends and family. It’s something we look forward to.

But you know what we’re not looking forward to? The travel. 

It would be so much simpler if you could just snap your fingers and be home for the holidays. But that’s not the case. Not even close.

For many – especially those who need to fly home – traveling is one of the most stressful parts of the season. But some parts are better than others.

Here’s what consumers report are the highs and lows of airline travel, according to our 2018-2019 Travel Report.

1. Internet travel services make booking easy

There are usually two categories of travelers: those who book their arrangements well in advance, and those who wait until the last moment to finalize their plans. While these groups have differing opinions on the “when,” here’s how they feel about the “how.” 

ACSI data show customer satisfaction with travel websites for booking flights, hotels, and car rentals is up 1.3% to a score of 79 (out of 100) per the 2018-2019 report. Customers appreciate how easy it is to book and make payments on these websites, and they notice improvements in both navigation and site performance since last year.

As far as individual companies, TripAdvisor debuts in the lead with an ACSI score of 82. The company is a trusted source of user-generated reviews. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Expedia’s Travelocity takes the biggest hit, down 4% to 77, while Priceline falls 3% to the bottom of the category at 76.

On the whole, internet travel services offer a wider variety of travel options, much-desired comparison and filter tools, and improved customer support. Even more impressive, with an ACSI score of 85, travel website mobile apps have the highest satisfaction in any industry. 

Customers are also quite satisfied with the airlines’ mobile apps. In fact, with an ACSI score of 82, this is the best part of the industry, tied with checking in. 

This makes sense considering these two elements go hand in hand. Customers can conveniently use mobile apps to book travel, check the status of their upcoming flight, and check in prior to boarding.

Among the three aspects of air travel that show improvement, the boarding experience leads the way with an ACSI score of 79. In the same vein, travelers continue to find airline staff – both at the gate and in-flight – courteous and helpful. During the stressful travel season, every touchpoint matters

2. To check a bag or not check a bag

That question has plagued travelers since the beginning of time. (We admit, we’re being a bit dramatic, but you know what we mean.) Customers face myriad problems regardless of what they choose.

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In this year’s Travel Report, “overhead storage” is among four new metrics tracked. The response is less than ideal.

As evidenced by the ACSI score of 73, customers are largely unhappy with the availability and size of overhead storage.  

Unfortunately, things aren’t much better for travelers who check bags. 

Checking a bag isn’t cheap. It’s even worse – for your wallet and customer satisfaction as a whole – if you’re required to pay for both your checked bags and carry-ons. It also doesn’t help that airlines are constantly hiking prices. But considering airlines have pulled in a little over $2.8 billion in baggage fees through the first half of 2019, don’t expect this to change anytime soon. 

Leisure travelers are much more frustrated with luggage fees than business travelers, who are able to expense the charges. But the fact is unless you’re planning to travel light, you should expect your baggage to be another form of “baggage.

3. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s time to take off

The turbulence doesn’t stop once you get on the plane.

Besides being frustrated with the lack of available overhead space, customers are less than enthusiastic about the in-flight food and beverage options, with complimentary and premium (purchased) options each earning an ACSI score of 73. 

Customers are even less satisfied with in-flight entertainment (71). But the worst part of flying remains seat comfort – with an ACSI mark of 69 – as passengers note legroom has not improved.

Of course, when it comes to the in-flight amenities, it’s worth mentioning that scores vary based on the individual airline. Delta, for example, is number one among legacy airlines, rising 1% to an ACSI score of 75. Most Delta flights offer USB ports and Wi-Fi and have seatback screens. 

Delta isn’t the only airline upgrading the in-flight experience. As of Jan. 30, 2019, all passengers on United Airlines flights have free access to DirecTV. American Airlines, for its part, is making it simpler for passengers to listen to their Apple Music by allowing access to their music on all domestic flights using complimentary Wi-Fi. 

Better to be safe than sorry

If you’re flying home for the holidays, and if you’re lucky, you might get to experience the perfect flight. It will take off on time, there will be plenty of overhead space, you’ll have ample legroom, the food will be delicious, and your choice of in-flight entertainment will be exceptional.

This is the dream. But it’s highly unlikely. The most likely scenario is that you’ll experience some combination of good and bad.

The best thing you can hope for is that airlines heed consumer concerns, make adjustments to improve satisfaction, and maintain the elements of travel that consumers appreciate the most. 

Happy holidays, and happy travels!

Health insurance satisfaction hasn’t been this high in a decade

Health insurance is a contentious topic, and everyone seems to have an opinion. The constant fear of rising premium costs doesn’t help matters.

So the fact that health insurance has an ACSI score of 74 – placing it in the bottom 10% of all industries measured – makes sense. However, what’s surprising this year is the score represents a rise of 1.4% to its highest level in a decade.

How did this happen, and what are some insurance companies doing to separate themselves from the pack? Let’s look.

Health care above all else

The lines between providing insurance and providing health care are beginning to blur. Insurers are prioritizing preventative care over emergent care. Companies like Humana are really taking this idea to heart.

Humana has a mail-order pharmacy, over 230 owned or alliance primary care operations, and a large home health care provider in Kindred at Home. Humana is also investing in digital technologies, including a multiyear partnership with Microsoft that’s all about “making health care experiences simpler to navigate” for its members.

Policyholders are taking notice of Humana’s efforts. Not only does the company lead all health insurers with an ACSI score of 79 (up 1%), but it also rates best in class for half of all industry benchmarks.

Like Humana, CVS Health’s Aetna, which inches up 1% to 76, is also embracing the use of technology to enhance health care. Aetna launched Attain, an Apple Watch app that lets Aetna members track their daily activity levels, offers personalized goals, suggests healthy actions, and rewards members for taking steps to improve their health.

The success of these companies’ digital initiatives is clear in the industry-wide customer experience benchmarks, where two elements stand above the rest: quality of mobile app (up 4% to 81) and reliability of mobile app (up 1% to 80).

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Companies struggling to keep up

Unfortunately, not all insurance companies are keeping up with patients’ growing technological demands.

Cigna, which drops 1% to 72, ranks near the bottom of the industry for both mobile quality and reliability. Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) rises 1% to an ACSI score of 71 yet finishes with the lowest score among health insurance companies. That’s due in part to poor scores for mobile reliability, perceived value, and billing.

Significant room for improvement

When it comes to the quality and reliability of mobile apps, Cigna and BCBS are anomalies. At the industry level, these benchmarks are distinguished among customer experiences.

Benchmarks like access to primary care doctors (79), access to specialty care doctors (78), standard medical services coverage (78) and expanded prescription drug coverage (77) are also contributing to the slight satisfaction rise in the industry.

However, while health insurance satisfaction is the highest it’s been in 10 years, in terms of ACSI standards, it remains much closer to the bottom of all industries measured. Suffice to say, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the insurance industry.

Insurance statements are still difficult to understand (75), the variety of available plans (75) could be better, and the timeliness of claims processing (75) still leaves much to be desired. And despite a 3% bump, call centers continue to be the worst aspect of policyholder experience with an ACSI score of 73.

So while customer satisfaction with health insurers is on a slight upswing, it has a long way to go.

The simple fact remains: The health insurance market is transforming, and companies that make patient health their main priority will succeed. Personalized plans, easier access to primary and specialty care doctors, and a focus on enhancing digital methods are good places to start.

Why you can’t always bank on your bank

Mobile apps are a critical factor in customer satisfaction. The data we’ve gathered at the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) proves its impact. 

But while brands are dedicating a lot of time and resources to the reliability and quality of their mobile apps, they have to remember that mobile is far from the only component that influences customer satisfaction. Just because people have their noses in their phones all the time doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate a good face-to-face experience.

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Banks are pivoting more toward digital, but are they going too far? Let’s dig into some of the data.

Shifting to digital too much?

As banks go increasingly mobile, elements linked to in-person customer satisfaction are taking a hit. 

For example, in 2018, Capital One sat near the top of the industry with an ACSI score of 81 (out of 100). This year, the bank sits among the leaders in customer satisfaction in mobile quality and mobile reliability. However, it’s near the middle of the pack in courtesy, branch speed, and wait time. 

The same goes for Chase and Citibank. Both scored well in mobile quality and mobile ease of use but ranked in the middle – albeit a bit higher than Capital One – in most in-person satisfaction benchmarks. 

The story is a bit different for Bank of America. It ranks toward the top for mobile reliability and range of mobile plan options, yet unlike Capital One, Citibank, and Chase, Bank of America is at the tail end of the spectrum for in-person customer satisfaction elements, including wait time, where it sits at the bottom of the industry by a wide margin. And unfortunately, unlike the other three banks, Bank of America had one of the industry’s lowest overall customer satisfaction scores last year at 76. 

Wells Fargo was the only national bank to fall below Bank of America, with a 2018 ACSI score of 74. Customers ranked the bank poorly across the board, particularly for its lack of policy options and competitive interest rates.

The in-bank experience is necessary

According to Mobile Ecosystem Forum’s 2016 Mobile Money Report, 61% of people surveyed use their mobile phones to perform banking activities and 48% use a dedicated app. And yet, 28% prefer bank branches for daily banking compared to the 26% who chose mobile.

You can use your mobile phone for nearly every kind of banking activity. You can check your account balance, deposit checks, transfer money, and even open credit, savings, and checking accounts. And yet, customers still feel inclined to visit their banks.

Industry executives recognize the importance of maintaining a brick-and-mortar presence despite an increased push toward digital. 

In 2018, Chase said it plans to open as many as 400 new branches, while Bank of America intends to open nearly 500. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan even noted that 800,000 customers visit their banks every day, and 70% of the bank’s sales are done in person. 

And yet, given the importance of brick-and-mortar branches to Bank of America’s bottom dollar, the bank’s ACSI scores for in-person customer satisfaction are notably low. If Bank of America is betting on physical branches, it should do more to improve its scores.

Is the traditional bank model finished?

Some 49% of bank executives feel that the traditional branch-based model is done, according to a survey by The Economist. The reason? Digital.

Mobile offers customers speed, constant connection, and 24/7 access – everything they could hope for. Until, of course, it’s not.

But this is only a small piece of the puzzle. Retail branches are more than just a last resort for when customers are having technical issues with their devices. 

Face-to-face interactions are the biggest revenue drivers for banks. That’s why some of these banks are opening up new branches – especially in areas where they currently have little to no presence. Offering a sub-par customer experience would be counterproductive to this business model. 

Sure, other banks are closing branches and mobile is the major driver of high customer satisfaction. But as Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsberry said, “branches play an important part in serving our customers and we will have as many branches as our customers want, for as long as they want them.”

Consumers might not always go to the bank, but they still like having the option. And they expect to have a quality experience while they’re there. Banks would be wise not to forget it.

A lesson from nondurable products: Bigger isn’t always better

Let’s raise a glass to the makers of nondurable products. A toast is definitely in order.

According to our most recent Nondurable Products Report, customer satisfaction remains high for almost every industry in the sector, with four of the six industries in the category scoring among the top five industries measured by ACSI.

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Breweries lead the way with a score of 84 despite a slight 1.2% drop. Personal care and cleaning products are next at 83 (unchanged), followed by food manufacturing and soft drinks, each steady at 82.

Athletic shoes and apparel – the two industries that fell outside the top five – still fare well among customers, with the former steady at 79 and the latter dipping 2.5% to 77.

If history tells us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t be all that surprised by these marks; high customer satisfaction with nondurable industries isn’t unusual. However, what makes this year different than years past is how we got here. This year it wasn’t the big brands leading the way.

Craft beers continue to shine

While craft breweries aren’t growing like in past years, they continue to keep customers satisfied.

Craft beers made up 13% of the U.S. beer market as of 2018, and according to ACSI, the smaller breweries – brands like Heineken, Sam Adams, and other craft labels – lead the industry with a score of 85.

Smaller brands beat big beermakers like Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors in customer expectations, perceived value, and perceived quality.

Given these perceptions, it’s no wonder that 76% of beer drinkers said they’d pay more for their craft beer of choice.

That doesn’t mean large brewers are struggling. They’re doing especially well with light beers that fit consumers’ desire for healthier options. However, smaller beermakers are pursuing the same strategy.

Non-beer drinks like hard cider, hard tea, and hard seltzer are the most popular alcoholic beverages right now. Craft brewers are also making “better-for-you brews” that contain less alcohol. While bigger brands try to capitalize on what the consumer wants, the little guys are delivering it, attuned to customer preferences.

Big cleaners can’t keep their noses clean

Last year, Clorox set the bar for personal care and cleaning products. This year, not so much.

Clorox drops 4% to 82, as customers question the brand’s value and quality.

Other large brands like Henkel and Johnson & Johnson also falter, each plummeting 6% to the bottom of the category at 77. The latter two companies both dealt with well-publicized lawsuits over the past year.

Meanwhile, the group of smaller manufacturers climbs to the top of the category. The combined score of companies like Arm & Hammer, Sensodyne, Biotene, and store labels rises 1% to 85.

Questions of quality and value plague the big companies. That, along with customers’ growing push for organic products often delivered by smaller brands, and it’s easy to see how the smaller companies were able to sneak to the top of the field.

Small hit to Hershey helps ‘others’

All of the measured food manufacturers have ACSI scores of 80 or better. But there were changes among the individual brands – especially at the top of the leaderboard.

Hershey’s customer expectations and perceived quality were the highest in the entire category (the latter was a tie). Unfortunately, customer satisfaction took a hit.

2018’s industry leader falls 2% to 84, placing it in a tie for first place with PepsiCo’s Quaker (unchanged), and the group of smaller brands (up 1%).

That group – including Walmart’s Great Value and Kroger’s namesake label – were middle of the road in terms of customer expectations. Yet, per ACSI data, this group bests the other food manufacturers in quality, value, and customer loyalty, while tying Hershey and Campbell Soup for the lead in customer retention. Smaller companies are also competitive in their pricing.

Food manufacturers believe technology can help increase efficiencies, meet growing demand, and improve shelf life and food safety. They also seem to recognize that customers are paying attention to what they put in their bodies.

Healthier options, organic products, and “functional foods” are becoming more mainstream. Smaller companies and store brands are clearly giving the people what they want.

The message is clear

Not all big name brands are losing ground to their smaller competitors in the nondurable products market. Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo tie the smaller companies at the top of the soft drinks category. Premier Brands Group leads the way in apparel, and Adidas and Nike both outpace the smaller shoemakers in the athletic shoe category.

But, the fact is, these are the outliers.

Nondurables are thriving as a whole, but it’s the smaller companies that are leaving the biggest impression. They’re better at connecting with consumers, delivering on quality, and offering greater value. These smaller groups of companies understand what’s important to their customers – healthier options, sustainability, the chance to support local businesses – and they’re winning because of it.

It’s true what they say: Bigger isn’t always better.

Keeping it “personal” is the key to succeeding in the PC market

At first glance, the personal computer (PC) market has had a string of good news.

Following a steady score in 2018, customer satisfaction in PCs – including desktops, laptops, and tablets – rises 1.3% to an ACSI score of 78 (on a scale of 0 to 100), per our latest Household Appliance and Electronics Report.

While U.S. PC sales remain mostly flat, there was a slight gain in global demand for PCs in the second quarter in 2019, and the majority of PC customer experience benchmarks improved over the last year, with device design (82) and graphics and sound quality (81) leading the way.

Yet, the big picture doesn’t tell the whole story – not as far as customer value is concerned.

To truly understand what’s driving satisfaction in the PC industry, we need to look a little closer. We have to examine what customers say is important to them and which brands are actually listening. As you’ll see, to succeed in the personal computer market, you have to get, well, personal.

Not always by ‘design’

Consistent with previous reports, customers continue to be most satisfied with device design. And just like last year, Apple holds the highest mark for design and the highest score overall at 83.

Given the importance of device design, this may lead you to believe that manufacturers with the top design marks are also making the biggest gains. That’s not exactly the case.

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Toshiba had the lowest ACSI score in 2018. It also places in the bottom of the industry in device design this year. Yet, in 2019, Toshiba experienced the greatest jump in customer satisfaction among manufacturers, climbing 8% to 77. How is this possible? Toshiba listened to its consumers.

Last year, according to users, Toshiba’s models struggled with processor speed reliability, failing to keep crashes to a minimum. This year, it’s the exact opposite. Toshiba’s devices are faster and have had fewer crashes. And it’s not the only manufacturer to make necessary changes.

Dell fell 4% in 2018, with customers complaining about its unimpressive design. This year, Dell added a new top-mounted webcam and a new frost color option to its XPS 13 model. Its design score rose, as did its reliability marks. In turn, Dell’s overall ACSI score increased 5% to 77 this year.

Acer has been working to turn things around for the last few years. In 2019, customers took notice. The manufacturer improved in nearly every customer satisfaction benchmark and ultimately climbed 3% to an ACSI score of 77.

Step in the wrong direction

Despite a 3% drop in customer satisfaction 2018, ASUS still rested among the industry leaders. A year later, that’s no longer the case.

According to last year’s report, ASUS was targeting the higher end of the market, yet its main users – gamers – weren’t thrilled about the higher price point. Whatever ASUS did in the last year, it didn’t quell the concern of its customers.

Customer satisfaction in audio and visual quality and processor speed is also down, according to ASUS customers, and its overall score is down another 3% to 76 – ranking it second to last in the industry.

Meanwhile, things are even worse for Lenovo. Following a 1% bump last year, the manufacturer fell to the bottom of the industry at 74. Lenovo customers’ two biggest complaints center around processor speed and features like operating system and preloaded software. In 2018, the company was in the middle of the pack in each of those benchmarks. One year later, Lenovo is now at the bottom of the industry in both.

Stay true to your customers

Customer satisfaction in the PC market took a step in the right direction in 2019. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement – especially for certain manufacturers.

While features like design, graphics and sound quality, availability of software or apps, ease of operation, and website satisfaction score the highest marks among satisfaction benchmarks, scoring high in these categories doesn’t necessarily reflect high satisfaction marks overall.

The key to customer value is recognizing what matters most to your customers and working to improve those areas. Design quality is great if you’re Apple – it’s what your users expect. But for companies like Toshiba, Dell, and Acer, addressing concerns like reliability, speed, and frequent crashes is more relevant to their customer base.

Companies may hear the concerns of their customers but fail to listen and act upon those concerns. As we’ve seen, that can quickly sever any “personal” connection they once had.