Commentary

Consumer Satisfaction: Airlines Still 'Experiencing Weather'

How do you know when your interactions with the consumer are not quite up to snuff? When the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) issues the results of its latest survey and says things are better than they have been since 1996 but the press goes with the angle that your industry -– in this case, airlines –- scores a lower rating than the oft-maligned U.S. Postal Service.

In fact, “the findings … show that the airline industry ranks higher than only subscription TV and Internet service companies,” Hugo Martin points out in the Los Angeles Times.

“They're really just about as bad as it gets,” Forrest Morgeson, the index's director of research, says about the airlines in general.

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Jet Blue was at the top of the findings (83, +2%); Southwest Airlines (81, +4%), which had ruled the roost for many years, finished at No. 2. United garnered the worst score (69, 0%), but it’s trying harder.

“Jeff Smisek, CEO of United, said recently that United's in-house satisfaction scores ‘have gone up by a factor of five from where they were a year ago,’ and he vowed better service for passengers this summer compared with the problem-plagued travel season last year,” Gregory Karp writes in the Chicago Tribune.

Overall, “customers gave their lowest score to seat comfort ‘and virtually all in-flight services receive failing grades,’ while they were ‘quite pleased’ with reservations, check-in, on-time performance and courtesy of the flight crew,’ according to the ACSI’S announcement last week,” Terry Maxon reports in the Dallas News

“Crowded seating, rising ticket prices, extra fees and poor service all contribute to a rather dreary travel experience,” according to ACSI founder and chairman Claes Fornell.

“It's no mean feat to come in with a lower score than the industry that spawned the term ‘going postal,’ weighs in the Daily Mail’s Alex Grieg from across the pond, “but according to ACSI's report, it's not all bad news for the industry.” There was a 3% improvement on last year’s score and “the industry as a whole scored 69 out of a possible 100 points (USPS scored 77 points),” Grieg writes.

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business developed the index, which surveys about 70,000 consumers annually. ACSI LLC releases customer satisfaction benchmarks monthly that measure more than 230 top companies in 43 industries and more than 100 federal and local government services.

In other results, ACSI’s June report covers customer satisfaction with hotels, full-service restaurants, fast-food chains and consumer shipping. Hotels stayed flat at 77 for the third year in a row, but that’s a “reasonably high level,” according to the release. Marriott was No. 1 (82, +5%) while Hilton stayed unchanged at 80. Best Western, up 4% to 79, has risen 13% since 2008.
“Hotels continue to rely on perks like free Wi-Fi, breakfast buffets and loyalty discounts to encourage repeat business, but higher levels of customer satisfaction over the past few years also boost loyalty,” says David VanAmburg, ACSI director. 

Subway remained No. 1 in the quick-serve restaurant category (83, +1%). “Pizza makers Papa John's and Little Caesar hold all but steady at 82, with Pizza Hut somewhat lower at 80 (up 3%),” reports QSRWeb.com. “Domino's’ years-long effort to reinvent its pizza appears to be paying off amid strong sales and a 5% ACSI increase.” Starbucks soared 5% to pull even with rival Dunkin' Donuts at 80 (+1%). McDonald’s, unchanged at 73, is at the bottom of the pile.

Darden’s Olive Garden (83, 4%) and Red Lobster (83,0) franchises tied for No. 1 in the full-service restaurant category. FedEx (85, 4%) inched by UPS (84, 4%) in shipping.

Let’s depart this morning with a last look at those airline figures, shall we?

“We have great numbers compared to other modes of transportation," Jean Medina, spokeswoman for the trade Group Airlines for America, tells the Los Angeles Times’ Martin. Such as? 

Such as taxicabs in the Big Apple. “The U.S. Department of Transportation received 1.18 complaints against airlines for every 100,000 passengers that flew in 2011,” Martin reports. “By comparison, New York City taxicabs got 3.125 complaints for every 100,000 passengers in that same year.”

If you’re one of the 3.125 among 100,000 who have a beef with a New York hack, take a look at this video from the PEN America sponsored presentation last month, “Watching the Meter: Poetry from the Taxi Drivers Workshop.” Lest there be any doubt that New York cabbies have a voice of their own, unconstrained by the niceties of a corporate communication department, check out, in particular, Seth Goldman’s antipaean to “my favorite CEO,” which carries the title “To Lloyd Blankfein in the Key of F.U.,” if I hear him correctly. Only in New York.

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