Whirlpool Leads In Consumer Satisfaction Survey From UM

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Benton Harbor’s Whirlpool Corp. is among the nation’s elite in customer satisfaction, accordin to the American Customer Satisfaction Index figures released Tuesday morning.

The U of M-invented ACSI released its report on personal computers, household appliances and consumer electronics.

Major Household Appliances

After a difficult 2009, sales of major household appliances have rebounded somewhat through the first half of this year. Nevertheless, the sales outlook remains sluggish. There is no indication of fading pricing pressure either. Companies have responded with new and improved products that have a greater emphasis on energy efficiency. Government also has taken steps to stimulate appliance sales, offering a “Cash for Clunkers” type program to provide rebates for customers who trade in their old appliances for more efficient ones. As a result, better value for money as perceived by customers has boosted satisfaction with appliances. The industry ACSI improved 1.2 percent to 82, matching its 10-year high.

Whirlpool tops the industry with an ACSI score of 83, unchanged from a year ago. This marks the 15th year in a row that Whirlpool has had at least a share of the industry lead. A combination of high-quality products and industry-leading service has kept Whirlpool on top. GE more than made up the ground it lost a year ago (when its score fell 4 percent to an all-time industry low of 77) by improving 5 percent to 81 and closing the gap with Whirlpool. GE’s stock also has recovered, increasing by 26 percent for the 12 months ending in June, which is more than double the market’s 12 percent gain. Just two years ago the company considered letting go of its appliance division; however, recent sales forecasts are brighter and first-quarter profit from appliances went up 39 percent from the previous year. GE’s gain puts it in a tie with the aggregate score of all smaller appliance makers, which improved 3 percent to 81. Electrolux rounds out the industry, unchanged at 79 and remaining at a five-year company low.

PCs

Customer satisfaction with PCs surged 4 percent to match the industry’s all-time high of 78. Nearly all brands showed increases in satisfaction and no manufacturer declined. Lower prices, better service, and an emphasis on new, smaller systems and a variety of portable PCs helped drive the improvement. Windows-based manufacturers made large gains in the second year of Microsoft’s release of Windows 7, marking a recovery from the problems associated with the Windows Vista software.

Apple continues its dominance, leading the PC category by a wide margin for the seventh straight year. Customer satisfaction with Apple’s computer products, including the iPad, rose 2 percent to an ACSI of 86 — the highest score ever for Apple. The company now has a 9-point lead over its nearest competitor. No other company in the ACSI has as formidable a lead within its own industry. Innovation and product diversification, along with strong customer service, have long been at the center of Apple’s success. At times, demand for Apple products has outstripped supply, with over 3 million iPads sold in the second quarter alone. At the same time, sales of Mac computers set an all-time quarterly high, which suggests that the popularity of the iPad has not impacted Apple’s desktop computer business. The company’s net income rose 78 percent in the second quarter and stock price, despite recent volatility, was up about 50 percent compared with one year ago.

Among Windows-based PC makers, satisfaction with Dell improved 3 percent to 77, while Acer (Gateway and eMachines) and the HP division of Hewlett-Packard both rose 4 percent to 77 — creating a three-way tie. The aggregate of all smaller PC makers, such as Sony and Toshiba, joined the tie as well (up 4 percent), placing the entire industry well behind leader Apple. Only the Compaq division of Hewlett-Packard was stagnant at the bottom of the industry with an unchanged score of 74.

PC makers overall have benefited from better customer service. Still, customer service for personal computers continues to lag far behind other durables. Owners who had reason to contact customer care or technical help lines were 8 percent less satisfied than those who had no post-purchase contact with the manufacturer or retailer.

Consumer Electronics

Satisfaction with home electronics such as televisions and DVD or Blu-ray Disc (BD) devices increased by 2.4 percent to an ACSI score of 85, the best ever for the category and the highest level of customer satisfaction for any industry thus far in 2010. Customers consider these electronics to have the highest quality among all durable products — better than autos, personal computers, or household appliances.

With nearly every U.S. household having at least one television and over two-thirds owning three or more sets, TVs and accessory equipment have become common purchases — especially flat-screen products over the past few years. Greater affordability has made these products more attractive. For the first time, prices for some flat-screen TVs have fallen below $500. Prices for DVD and BD players have dropped as well, translating into better value for money, with a positive effect on customer satisfaction.

Because consumer spending makes up over 70 percent of the economy, increased spending growth is critical for economic recovery. In order for demand to rebound, consumers must exhibit an increased desire to spend and have the means to do so. ACSI data suggest that for durables the first condition has been met: customer satisfaction is improving for major household appliances and at or near all-time highs for personal computers and big-ticket consumer electronics items such as televisions. Whether higher satisfaction will translate into increased consumer demand will depend on positive movement in the factors that impact the means to spend: employment, wages, and access to credit.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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