Google's shine dulled as e-business scores take a hit in customer satisfaction survey

The University of Michigan's annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) tracks how successful e-business providers are at pleasing their customers. After six straight years of rising aggregate scores for the e-business sector, the 2007 score fell to 75.2 on ACSI's 100-point scale. This dip for the e-business category as a whole is due to a decline in perceived quality, says Larry Freed,...


The University of Michigan's annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) tracks how successful e-business providers are at pleasing their customers.

Kim Knickle, research program director with IDC Manufacturing Insights, says while Google’s extended capabilities are laudable and targeted to power users, the site could stand to be more user-friendly in helping visitors learn how to use the new tools.

After six straight years of rising aggregate scores for the e-business sector, the 2007 score fell to 75.2 on ACSI's 100-point scale. This dip for the e-business category as a whole is due to a decline in perceived quality, says Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results , an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consultancy that uses ACSI's methodology to measure and manage online satisfaction.

“Every year, the Internet sees new areas being developed,” he says. “These companies are facing a huge challenge as they all vie for 20 inches of a person's attention at a time.”

Since most e-business categories have merged over the years, ACSI has narrowed the e-business sector to two categories: search/portal, and news/information sites. Search engines or portals provide access to content and tools or information aggregators, whereas news sites create and house original content with the primary purpose of being information providers.

The most surprising change in the search engine/portal category is that long-standing frontrunner Google tracked downward 3.7 percent while Yahoo! pulled slightly ahead with a 3.9-percent gain. The bigger significance isn't the sites' positions relative to each other, but their own scores over time.

“Google always had the search engine lead, but Yahoo! could be a threat as the leading portal,” says Freed. “Google has the creativity and innovation, which is evident in the number of new capabilities it added.”

These new capabilities are targeted more toward power users, says Kimberly Knickle, research program director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights . “I've heard good things about Google's calendar and other features in its collaborative environment, but I don't have the patience to learn it. The site could be more user-friendly.” Freed concurs, saying better organization of capabilities Google offers would do much for consumer perception of it.

Yahoo! also has seen significant changes, including a Rich Internet Application mail client that allows the Web browser to deliver more to the user. “Web browsers used to be dumb interfaces like dumb terminals were years ago,” says Freed. “The brains of the computer moved from the mainframe to the Internet, allowing a better interactive experience.”

Following year-over-year rises in aggregate scores for the e-business sector, the University of Michigan says its American Customer Satisfaction Index 2007 total score fell to 75.2—a decline of 1.7 percent—on a 100-point scale. ( Table indicates individual site scores. ) took the biggest leap in this year's survey, moving ahead 5.6 percent following poor scores after its official Web site relaunch. “ has a bold new interface and a very strong search engine that offers precise results,” says Freed.

Both Freed and Knickle believe new players will come and go fairly rapidly, which is the nature of the industry. “The biggest threat,” concludes Freed, “likely will be another company or persona that hasn't even been developed yet, and that's the one that will dominate in the future.”

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