The University Record, June 17, 2002

Customer satisfaction is up for airlines and industries

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

In spite of the enormous impact that Sept. 11 has had on our nation’s airlines, from increased wait times to more stringent security checks for passengers, air travelers are happier with America’s commercial airlines than they have been in five years, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The airline industry improved its ACSI score by 8 percent from a year ago—marking the only time that the airlines have shown improvement in customer satisfaction since the inception of the ACSI in 1994. In fact, all of the major airlines showed improvement.

Overall, the national aggregate ACSI score for 35 industries in the first quarter of 2002 rose to 73 (out of a possible 100), the second straight quarterly improvement and the highest overall score in six years.

Improved customer satisfaction, combined with growing disposable personal income, implies more consumer spending, says Claes Fornell, professor of business and director of the U-M Business School National Quality Research Center, which compiles and analyzes the quarterly ACSI data. And more consumer spending, of course, means companies will be better off financially and better able to weather stock price volatility.

Fornell says that the biggest surprise among industries measured in the current ACSI report is the improvement in customer satisfaction with the nation’s airlines—which comes at a time when losses are mounting for most of them. Once again, Southwest Airlines leads the way in airline customer satisfaction, with an ACSI score of 74, followed by Continental Airlines (68) and Delta Airlines (66). The largest improvement, however, came from Northwest Airlines, which saw its ACSI score jump 16 percent (56 to 65).

In addition to airlines, the ACSI’s first quarter 2002 report measured customer satisfaction for energy utilities, telecommunication companies, broadcast and cable/satellite television, parcel delivery services, the U.S. Postal Service, newspaper publishing, hotels, hospitals, the motion picture industry and health care insurance.

While customer satisfaction improved overall for the airlines, utilities and phone companies, the cable and satellite television industry was not as fortunate, as its ACSI score fell nearly 5 percent (64 to 61).