American consumers are slightly more satisfied this spring for the second year in a row with the products and services they received from top airline, hotel, restaurant and express-delivery companies, an annual survey has found.
The American Customer Satisfaction Index, released Tuesday, found consumers surveyed in April and May were happier in large part because they are finding better prices and better deals.
Poll founder and director Claes Fornell, a University of Michigan business professor, expects the picture to keep changing, even though his survey found improvement for a second year in a row.
He predicted airline customers' satisfaction, for example, will slip once the carriers start raising prices.
Airlines' overall score, on a scale of 1 to 100, rose from 64 to 66, though top-scoring Southwest Airlines' score fell two points to 79. The industry score for hotel chains large and small was steady at 75. The rating for full-service restaurant chains slipped from almost 79 to 77.3, though both Olive Garden's and Red Lobster's scores rose.
Express mail carriers, including the U.S. Postal Service, saw their industry score rise from 82 to 83, though the post office lagged with a rating of 77, up from 76.
The index is based on the opinions of about 250 customers for each of 32 companies plus 250 customers of smaller companies in each of the five industries, for a total of about 9,000 people, Fornell said. It has a margin of error of two to three percentage points for each company. ACSI surveys about 90,000 customers per year, he said.
The biggest loser, as an industry, was "limited-service" restaurants, including McDonald's; that category's score fell to 75 from 78, though scores jumped for many major chains.
McDonald's was not so lucky, with a drop from 70 to 67. Fornell said that's because McDonald's newest customers — it was among very few retailers and restaurant chains to get a boost from the recession as people traded down to lower-priced options — like it only for its low prices.
"What we find is that many of these customers that are going to McDonald's but used to go somewhere else are not as satisfied as a typical McDonald's customer," Fornell said.
He predicts McDonald's score will rebound with the economy as its customer base returns to normal and diners in search of a higher-tone experience return to their old haunts.
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