Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Customer Satisfaction Just Treading Water

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Customer Satisfaction Just Treading Water

Article excerpt

Like the national economy, customer satisfaction seems stuck in a holding pattern. And that may mean retailers shouldn't expect a pile of extra gifts under the tree this year.

"In an economy that depends heavily on consumer demand, it is hard to envision rapid growth given a flat trend in customer satisfaction that is coupled with only tentative improvement in wages and employment," said Claes Fornell, founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index and a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, in his analysis of the data. The index held steady for the third consecutive quarter, scoring 75.9 out of a possible 100 points.

There's no indication that the unchanged satisfaction levels will slow consumer demand, in his opinion, but they won't rev up spending either.

The uncertain financial environment has made customers particularly sensitive to prices, he said, a fact that may have helped food companies with their individual rankings. Different industry sectors are examined during different quarters of the year.

While Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co. held onto its position as the food company with the highest satisfaction score -- maintaining the 89 that it received last year -- several other food manufacturers improved their marks. Quaker's score rose 2 percent to hit 86, while both Hershey and Nestle rose 1 percent to a score of 85. ConAgra was up 1 percent to 84.

"Over the past year, food prices have risen far less than the overall Consumer Price Index, which is up 2 percent," said Mr. Fornell. He said shoppers may start to see food prices go up more next year as the effects of the 2012 summer drought begin to kick in, and that may hurt satisfaction levels. …

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