U.S. Carmakers Make Strides in Customer Satisfaction

This article in the NY Times talks about how the American auto makers have made unusual strides recently in the University of Michigan’s Customer Satisfaction Index. At GuestIQ, we looked at two studies in Guest Satisfaction last week, and this article illustrates how the statistics can be misleading.

Improved Customer Satisfaction with US cars? Huh? At the heart of much of the talk about the Detroit bail-out has been that idea that the big three have been terrible at quality for so long. Add to this the massive number of layoffs and cut-backs, how can quality (or at least the perception of it) rise? Even with the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program, US auto sales are at the lowest levels ever. How can these two seemingly related business indicators (quality and sales) be so starkly at odds?

Claes G. Fornell, the professor at Michigan who oversees the study, hypothesizes that quality numbers are rising for US auto makers partly because dissatisfied customers have already left for other companies, leaving behind a smaller number of happy customers. Good news! Our satisfaction scores are up! Bad News, we have half the customers we used to. It leaves one to wonder if the complainers will drag down the scores of the car companies they defected to. There are, after all, customers out there that no one would want.

Either way, one would have to look at guest satisfaction scores at hotel and restaurants and take a few things into account. There were much fewer travelers in 2009, with most of that loss coming in the form of business travelers. Sure, a guest survey provides a statistically relevant sample, but if the number of surveys filled out by leisure travelers has increased say 50%, the overall survey result could seriously mislead the operator about how they are serving the business traveler. It makes sense to look at guest satisfaction scores in terms of your most important segments and first review the change in sample size period-over-period, and to look for material changes within those segments. If you are just looking at overall score, you won’t know the difference between the Pontiac and the Cadillac.

Read the NY times article here.

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