The Checkout

Nowadays, Customers Care About Value

What's most important to consumers these days? Value. That's the loud-and-clear message of the latest University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index.

It's no surprise that Southwest is the favorite airline of consumers; it has long been so thanks to its low-fare, fun, can-do attitude. But what is surprising is T-Mobile's ranking: it joins Verizon at the top of the wireless firms this year; last year it was near the bottom. The reason, the index says, is that T-Mobile has focused its recent strategies around competitive pricing; as a result, consumers see "better value for the money."

Consumer satisfaction for cable/satellite TV companies, the lowest-rated industry this quarter, also has improved. That uptick is a bit odd, the survey notes, because "there is no evidence that service quality has improved or that prices have come down." So what's driving those results? "The likely explanation lies in the industry's 'price bundling' of services" such as the Internet, telephone and cable TV into one price package. "Since there are often price discounts associated with bundling, customers appear to view these offerings in a positive light."

Similarly, value helps explain why discount hotel chains such as Days Inn and Best Western also showed big improvements, the index said.

The index, which measures consumer satisfaction in different industries every quarter (so each industry is rated once a year), rated cable TV, airlines, wireless telephone, hotels and mail service this quarter. The index reflects Americans' overall level of satisfaction with the goods and services they purchase.

Here are some of its specific findings:

* Overall, customer satisfaction is up--with the official index at 74.1, up from 73.5 last quarter.

* Consumers are growing even more unhappy with the airlines (is that possible?), with the overall score for the entire industry at 65, down a point from last year. While the favorite remains Southwest, with a rating of 74, the worst is Northwest, which posted a score of 61, down from 64 a year ago. US Airways, which just merged with America West, has only a slightly better score of 62--but that's a five-point improvement over 2005.

* With a score of 86, FedEx has highest rating of all companies; at 83, United Parcel Service is not far behind. By contrast, the U.S. Postal Service's express and priority mail posted a score of 75; for all of its mail service, it earned 71 points.

* Consumer satisfaction with the wireless industry improved nearly 5 percent this year, to a score of 66. T-Mobile and Verizon tied at 69, while Cingular Wireless and Sprint Nextel both received the lowest ratings, 63.

* As a group, cable and satellite TV received the lowest rating of any industry this quarter, with an overall score of 63. The best performers were the satellite TV companies: DirecTV andEchoStar, while the traditional cable companies were far below.

* Yet, when it came to providing traditional land-line telephone service, it was the cable company Cox, that scored the highest, 7 percent higher than AT&T and BellSouth, which tied for second.

* Papa John's is the favorite limited-service restaurant, followed by Little Caesars. The least favorite: McDonald's.

By  |  May 16, 2006; 10:00 AM ET Consumer News
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I boycott businesses that provide less than adequate service and products. After owning two Ford automobiles and nearly going into bankruptcy on repairs, I will not a Ford if you gave it to be for free. I bought Fords to keep Americans working but the only guy I kept in business was the mechanic fixing the @*&^%#$ things.

I also boycotted a local department store because I put a set of dishes on lay-away (back before credit cards) and the sales clerk failed to put a set aside to pick up after I finished paying for them. When I went to pick up my dishes, there were none available and I especially wanted that pattern.

I also boycott fast food restaurants, especially McDonald's. Why do they have 18 pimply people tripping over each other behind the counter, only one register open, and a line snaked around the front of the counter? And WHY do they bring out that slop bucket of filthy water to mop the floors while we're trying to eat? GAG!

I refused to shop at Hechinger's stores because, being a woman, I could drop dead in the aisles before I got help from a sales clerk. Men, on the other hand, had no problem getting help at those stores. Home Depot and Lowes are much more customer-friendly. Glad to see Hechinger's demise.

So, I'd suggest people just boycott businesses and maybe they'll get the message. Be sure to tell them why you're not doing business with them.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 16, 2006 12:53 PM

They should have called me about FedEx and UPS. My FedEx guy backs up into my driveway, throws my packages in the direction of my front door and speeds away. My deliveries are always damaged and my driveway has FedEx oil stains on it. In contrast, my UPS guy parks in the street and puts my deliveries on my front porch nice and neat. He also leaves a delivery note where I can see it from inside the house. If it's raining out the package is in a plastic bag. I'll stick with using UPS and hope all of their drivers are so dedicated to their customers.

Posted by: Mike in CT. | May 16, 2006 1:01 PM

I laugh at the thought of Home Depot being customer friendly. The one nearby (on Shady Grove in MoCo) is a disaster in customer service. There are no clerks anywhere and if you do find one, they're always in a hurry to go somewhere else and just point to the shelves or say "this isn't my department".

Posted by: tallbear | May 16, 2006 3:51 PM

Just today I had to cancel DirecTV because after two tries they couldn't get a technician to my home within a four hour window. Today they actually arrived 2.5 hours after the window was over (and I had had to leave for work). Too bad, I really want satellite TV, but I won't pay money to a company that makes me sit at home all day waiting for them to show up, without even a call to let me know when they'll arrive.

Posted by: Lisa | May 16, 2006 5:27 PM


Oh Really!!! I thought the Home Depot in Ashburn, VA had the "disaster in customer service" award. When you go to checkout, there always seems to be only one teller (who must be the slowest in the world) at a register, a long line, and everyone else (on the Home Depot payroll) is hiding. After twice waiting in line more than 10 minutes to buy something, I've given up even going into the store. I now go to Lowes in Sterling.

Posted by: ABH | May 16, 2006 5:37 PM

I agree about Home Depot being terrible in customer service. As a single female homeowner I do have to visit a home improvement store on occasion as I do alot of my own painting, etc. The only time I have had a good experience is when I bought a washer and dryer and then it was prob because I had a woman clerk (and everybody knows that washers and dryers are for women).
I have had DirectTv for 1.5 years now and it is a HUGE improvement over Comcast. The customer service there was basically non-existant. I took extraordinary pleasure at returning my cable boxes to Gude Dr (and I wasn't the only one there - the line snaked out the door just for box returns).

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | May 18, 2006 9:27 AM

The Home Depot has now installed three roofs on my house in eight months. They pay the sub contractors so poorly that they get the sub contractors that can't find work on their own. I still have several problems that need corrected. Please visit my web site and read the full journal.

Thank you
Don Wenzel
Oxford, Michigan

Posted by: Don Wenzel | June 12, 2006 6:44 PM

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