1. Home
  2. News
  3. Shopping News

Customer satisfaction is nearing its lowest point ever, a new study suggests

One expert says the customer is the last thing on a company’s mind in a shortage economy

Photo
Photo (c) Ika84 - Getty Images
Customer satisfaction in the U.S. hasn’t hit rock bottom, but it’s darn near, according to the latest American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Since 2018 – before the pandemic, mind you – index scores have plunged by 5%, the largest drop in the 28-year history of ACSI. 

Is inflation to blame? Sure, analysts say, as are supply and demand, overstocking, labor shortages, and gas prices. But what it boils down to is retailers and service providers are spending so much time and effort worrying about all those things that customer service is the last thing on their minds, so they let the customers fend for themselves in a may-the-best-person-win kind of way.

“In a shortage economy, companies don’t need to compete much for customers. Rather, consumers compete with one another to be first in line and to get what’s available,” Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and the Distinguished Donald C. Cook Professor (emeritus) of Business Administration at the University of Michigan, told ConsumerAffairs.

How much does customer service matter?

Service still matters to consumers, a lot. In fact, for many consumers, customer service is a make-or-break deal.

Out of the 150,000 reviews published on ConsumerAffairs in the last year, close to 17% refer to “customer service” in their comments. Of those, they appreciated it when they got great service and were angry when they didn't. More than 42% of consumers mentioning customer service handed out 1-star ratings and 43.5% gave 5-star ratings. 

“It’s not like companies purposely provide poor customer service. But even though they want to, they can’t seem to execute at a level that makes customers happy,” customer service expert Shep Hyken said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. 

He lays the blame on one of four things: either the company has chosen to purposely deliver lousy customer service, the company wants to deliver a better service experience but can’t seem to make it happen, the company can’t keep up, or a bad culture is the problem.

Whose customer satisfaction sucks and whose doesn’t?

The industries that have seen the sharpest drops in customer satisfaction over the last four years are those that have supply constraints, mostly with respect to labor. Examples are hospitals (-9%), hotels (-7%), and express delivery (-9%). 

But the industries where consumer prices have increased the most also have the biggest load of dissatisfied customers – gas stations (-8%), beer (-7%), and utilities (-5%). 

The winners are the ones at the opposite end of the spectrum – industries that depend less on service to the extent that they can avoid having customers actually requiring service. Customer satisfaction for cable television is up by almost 7%, internet services by 3%, and personal computers by 3%.

You may be surprised by who customers love the most

Over the next week, ConsumerAffairs will jump into the major consumer satisfaction categories with both feet – automobiles, mobile service providers, travel, streaming/internet/content providers, dining, and retail. 

To get things started, trophies go out to Infiniti (Nissan) and Acura (Honda) for making the largest positive leap in satisfaction scores. Infiniti’s score is up 9.3% and Acura's is up 7.9%. You’ll have to wait for the others, but there will be surprises for sure. Here’s a teaser: TracPhone and Alamo.

Until then, here’s an overview of what brands did the best overall:

Company

Current Score

Industry Score

Industry

Trader Joe's

85

76

Supermarkets

Lexus (Toyota)

84

77

Automobiles

Chick-fil-A

83

78

Fast Food

Clorox

83

79

Personal Care and Cleaning Products

Acura (Honda)

82

77

Automobiles

Apple

82

79

Personal Computer

Audi (Volkswagen)

82

77

Automobiles

Etsy

82

77

Online Retail

H-E-B

82

76

Supermarkets

Hershey

82

80

Food Manufacturing

Infiniti (Nissan)

82

77

Automobiles

Mars

82

80

Food Manufacturing

Quaker (PepsiCo)

82

80

Food Manufacturing

Take a Home Warranty Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.