Customer satisfaction soars in the USA

Customer satisfaction among American consumers for a wide range of goods and services reached an all-time high at the end of 2006, according to a survey of consumers published Tuesday.

The University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) increased to an overall 74.9 score out of 100 in the fourth quarter of 2006, its highest level since the survey first started in 1994. That's a gain of almost 2 percent from the previous year and a 0.7 increase from the previous quarter.

The survey, which measured customer satisfaction in everything ranging from department stores to life insurance, saw the biggest improvements in the retail and financial services sectors, and only a slight uptick in e-commerce.

The index also anticipated that consumer spending, which accounts for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. economy, will continue to grow in the first quarter of 2007 at a 3.5 percent to 4.1 percent pace.

"In view of these results, it is not surprising that the consumer continues to lift the economy despite the housing slump," Professor Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan's National Quality Research Center, said in a statement, reports.

Overall, satisfaction with financial and insurance services also increased. Americans gave Wachovia Corp. (WB) the highest score among banks for the sixth consecutive year. Its score of 80 topped a score of 72 for each of the following: Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WLF). Wells Fargo, however, posted the biggest improvement from 2005, when it scored 67.

Scores for MetLife Inc. (MET) and Charles Schwab Corp.'s (SCHW) online brokerage increased the most from 2005 among financial services companies. MetLife and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. were tied for the top life insurance ranking, while Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s (BRKA, BRKB) GEICO took the top spot among property and casualty insurers in the survey.

Department stores and discount retailers were among categories where customer satisfaction declined. Federated Department Stores Inc. (FD) dropped to 71 from 74 after its 2005 acquisition May Department Stores. Target Corp. (TGT) also declined, to 77 from 78. Kohl's Corp. (KSS) kept the top spot among department and discount retailers, but like that of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), its score was flat, says.

Source: sources

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov