Google Is E-Business Customer Satisfaction Leader, Again
Google has extended its customer satisfaction lead over Yahoo!, according to the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Business Report. Although Google's score fell from last year's 82 to this year's 81, it was still strong enough to secure its position as e-business satisfaction leader for the fifth year in a row. Yahoo!, however, saw its score slide from its all-time high score last year of 80, to this year's 76. The e-business report examines three categories: search engines, portals, and online news and information sites; Google and Ask.com are in the search engines category, while Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN are in the portals category. Companies like Amazon.com and eBay are examined in the e-commerce report.
The ACSI is produced by the University of Michigan, in partnership with American Society for Quality and CFI Group. ForeSee Results, an online satisfaction measurement firm, a cosponsor and author of the report, leverages the University's ACSI methodology, which includes site users' likelihood of using a site again or recommending it to other users, to determine rankings based on a 100-point scale.
One reason for Google's lead on the satisfaction front is its continued focus on search, while widening its service offerings to include capabilities like Gmail and Google Maps, says Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results. He adds, however, that Google's big challenge going forward will be how it can make "Google Maps, Gmail, and some of the other features they have market share leaders."
Yahoo! maintains its second place footing, albeit experiencing the largest year-over-year skid of the individually measured e-business companies. Whereas Google delivers a clean homepage, Yahoo!'s approach is to immediately provide site visitors with many options. While choice is good, too many choices may overwhelm and confuse users with more options than they need or want, according to Freed. "There's a break point, and it's hard to know where that break point is, where too much choice is not good for consumers," he says. He adds, though, that Yahoo! has been able to maintain its position and reputation as an innovator though offerings like Yahoo! Answers.
AOL realized the largest satisfaction score increase, rising from 71 to 74, making the total increase 32 percent since its ACSI score was first measured in 2000. This uptake, according to Freed, is attributable to AOL's evolving business model--for instance, the company plans to shift from an ISP membership service to a site that is free for broadband users and that makes money on advertising revenues and selective paid content.
Another reason, interestingly enough, may be AOL's shrinking customer base. "Their membership has been declining," Freed says. "It's almost somewhat of a false positive in that as your membership declines you get to a point where all that's left are those that are more loyal and more satisfied, so you have a natural push up in satisfaction."
It remains to be seen how recent reports that three AOL employees, among them CTO Maureen Govern, left the company due to a privacy gaffe that released search data for more than 500,000 Internet users, will impact AOL's standing in the next e-business report, if at all.
MSN experienced a one-point drop to 74, tying with AOL for the third slot, while Ask.com, formerly Ask Jeeves, secured a score of 71, down from last year's 72.
Overall, satisfaction with the e-business space continues to improve; the overall category score increased 0.8 percent to 76.5. But the growth rate has reduced since the 2004-2005 increase of 4.7 percent. "Consumer standards continue to rise and that is always a challenge in the Internet space," Freed says. "Giving consumers the same experience this year that they had last year is going to result in lower satisfaction."
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