Consumer Satisfaction Rises Online

One year after sinking to new depths, people’s satisfaction levels with online businesses rebounded by two points this year to 73.4 on a scale of 100. In its annual ratings of social media, search engines, and news sites released today, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found that—despite displaying the human quality of wanting more-than-something for nothing—consumers are quite happy with their online experiences.

“As consumers, we want to have our cake and eat it, too,” says ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg. “We can sign up for apps and sites free of charge, but these companies have to monetize, typically through advertising. Still, consumers grouse that there’s too much advertising and too little privacy. They want the content, but not all the intrusiveness.”

This conundrum plays itself out most starkly in social media, the poorest performing of the three segments in ACSI’s e-business ratings. With an overall index of 71, “Internet social media” ranked above only ISPs, cable TV providers, and airlines in overall industry rankings. Just ahead of social media with scores of 72 were wireless phone service providers and the U.S. Postal Service.

By its very nature, social media provides the most challenging online environment to marketers, who need to be there rubbing elbows with consumers, but also need to play it cool. “On social media, people are putting their own personalities into play. They’re conversing with friends, their guards are down,” VanAmburg says. “Their attitude is, ‘You’re in my space now,’ so advertising feels that much more intrusive.”

Overachievers in the social media sphere such as Pinterest (76), Wikipedia (74) and Youtube (73) benefit from their focus and the utility they provide to users. The wide-open, scatter shot nature that makes Facebook (68) so popular is also it’s undoing in customer satisfaction. However, a world of sins can be overcome, VanAmburg notes, by close attention to functionality and improved service. “Does your page load fast enough? Site performance definitely matters, as does simply continuing to do a better job,” he says. “Pinterest, for instance, added search capabilities.”

Search engines, meanwhile, garnered an average ACSI score of 80, paced by Google with an 83. The power behind that high number, in VanAmburg’s estimation, is boring predictability and reliability. “Google has so many irons in the fire and yet, when you go to the search engine, it’s still that crisp, stark, white page with a search box in the middle of it,” he says. “There’s a simplicity to the search, and yet they keep improving it.”

Bing and Yahoo, meanwhile, are partners in search who appear to be dragging each other down. Yahoo’s ACSI score plummeted six points from last year to 71, and Bing declined three points to 73. Those bad scores were accompanied by an even worse one yesterday, when comScore’s June Search Share Report noted that Yahoo’s share had slipped below 10%.

“It comes back to lack of focus,” VanAmburg opines. “It’s hard for Yahoo to manage all those Internet services it’s providing.

Each year ACSI surveys more than 70,000 consumers to determine its satisfaction rankings in various industries. It queries users on various aspects of their experiences and identifies essential indicators by vertical to determine its final customer satisfaction scores.

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