Study: Inflation lower, customer satisfaction up

Marianne Wilson
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Customer satisfaction edged up in the fourth quarter.

After deteriorating dramatically during the past five years, customer satisfaction in the United States is showing signs of recovery.

In the fourth quarter of 2022, U.S. customer satisfaction edged up 0.3% to a score of 73.4 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) 100-point scale. In addition, inflation is down and GDP is up — although modestly.

Following a fairly steady increase from 2000 to 2013, customer satisfaction flattened out from 2013 to 2018 before plummeting in mid-2022 to levels not seen in 17 years, according to the ACSI. However, the final quarter of 2022 might be breaking this downward trend.

The fourth quarter 2022 GDP growth, along with increasing customer satisfaction, are encouraging signs that things may be moving in the right direction for the U.S. economy. (Consumers account for more than two-thirds of GDP.)

Although the near-term economic progress remains uncertain, the risk of a recession is a bit lower, according to ACSI.  Also, price inflation remains too high, but is reduced.

Customer satisfaction is improving in several industries, especially consumer shipping, athletic shoes, soft drinks, hospitals and online and specialty retailing, the ACSI reported. However, it is declining for fast food, hotels and gas stations.

The ACSI advised, however, that while the levels of customer satisfaction and spending are improving, neither are yet robust enough.

“While customer satisfaction improved in the final quarter of last year, it remains far below previous levels,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and the Distinguished Donald C. Cook Professor (emeritus) of Business Administration at the University of Michigan.

Fornell noted that while business spending to improve the customer experience increased and companies had more data on their customers than ever before, too few companies use analytics suitable for customer satisfaction data.  

“Standard statistical methods are not up to the task and artificial intelligence methods don’t yield the cause-and-effect information necessary for resource allocation,” she said.

In addition to the lack of powerful data analytics, many companies have problems with high employee turnover, staff shortages and employee dissatisfaction.

“It is difficult to generate high customer satisfaction under these circumstances,” Fornell said.

The national ACSI score (or ACSI composite) is updated each quarter based on annualized customer satisfaction scores for all sectors and industries.

The ACSI has been a national economic indicator for over 25 years. It measures and analyzes customer satisfaction with more than 400 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors, including various services of federal and local government agencies. Reported on a scale of 0 to 100, scores are based on data from interviews with roughly 500,000 customers annually.