Customer satisfaction: Apple, Google show how to do it

Customer satisfaction: Apple, Google show how to do it

Apple and Google have posted impressive results in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, leaving the competition behind. So how do they do it? Professor Claes Fornell, arguably the world's leading authority on customer satisfaction, shares his thoughts.

Customer satisfaction

By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor

Hanging on to your existing customers is less expensive than winning new customers – that's long been a CRM maxim. But in an economic downturn, it's not just something that's desirable, it's essential. That means focusing a lot more on the customer experience and ensuring that customer satisfaction levels stay high.

"Consumer satisfaction leads to consumer spending, and consumer spending is about two-thirds of the economy," explains Claes Fornell, head of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which is conducted quarterly by the University of Michigan, "If you have unhappy customers in the aggregate, they are going to be less likely to want to repeat the experience of buying. In the situation we are in today, you want to encourage spending."

"Google comes out with so many new products that it's just phenomenal. The more content Google provides, the higher the likelihood that their customers will be more satisfied."

Claes Fornell, head of the American Customer Satisfaction Index

As a prime example of this in practice, look no further than the personal computer industry. It will reinforce the faith of the 'Mac-olytes' to learn that Apple Computer beats most of the rest of the IT world in terms of customer satisfaction, but even they might be surprised by the scale of the victory. According to ACSI, Apple's customer satisfaction score of 85 was 10 points higher than the closest competitor Dell, and 12 points higher than Hewlett-Packard.

"We haven't seen anything like this before, where a company scores 10 points over its nearest rival," said Fornell, who noted that last year Apple had seen its scoring decline 6 points. "There was a question mark last year about Apple, that maybe it had taken its eye off the ball by concentrating on the iPhone, but now, the iPhone and iPod and Mac are nicely aligned."

Hi-tech champions

But Apple is not immune to problems itself, as seen with the recent botched launch of its MobileMe service, which locked some users out of their email accounts for nearly two weeks during July. In the email sent to Apple staff, CEO Steve Jobs acknowledged that the launch of MobileMe "was not our finest hour," saying it "was simply not up to Apple's standards." In the email, Jobs said: "We are taking many steps to learn from this experience so that we can grow MobileMe into a service that our customers will love."

That's probably an achievable ambition, reckons Fornell. "Apple is not without its quality problems," said Fornell. "People know there have been some service and product quality problems, but Apple has an almost Teflon-like quality. It's problems don't really seem to matter to consumers."

"We haven't seen anything like this before, where a company scores 10 points over its nearest rival."

Claes Fornell, head of the American Customer Satisfaction Index

The Windows-world of the Microsoft eco-system saw its satisfaction scores hurt by the lacklustre reception to the launch of Windows Vista. "Most of Apple's Windows-based competition is suffering a bit from Vista," said Fornell. "Complaints about Vista are generating complaints about the computer makers." But the likes of Dell and HP won't stay down forever, Fornell predicted. "Apple will be very difficult to catch, but I don't think that these results, where there's a 10-point difference, will hold," he said. "My guess is that they will regroup at some point and come back."

Another hi-tech champion on top of its game is Google which leads nearest rival Yahoo by a 12% margin and which beefed up customer satisfaction in the overall ebusiness sector up by 6% Googles's score of 85 was nine points higher than Yahoo, and 11 points higher than Microsoft's MSN. "Google has had a tremendous increase this year," noted Fornell. "The company seems to have an uncanny ability to understand its users and read the market right. They come out with so many new products [that] it's just phenomenal. They provide customers with more, and for most of the stuff you don't pay. It's sort of a wining proposition no matter how they do it. The more content Google provides, the higher the likelihood that their customers will be more satisfied."

Google's ACSI score, up 10% from last year, places it among the top businesses that the researchers have measured in all industries. So far this year, the only ones to top it are the carmakers Lexus and BMW, which each scored an 87, while Toyota and Honda were able to match Google's scoring.

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