3 ways financial advisors can hold onto customers despite market volatility

The stock market’s rocky start to February has investors, observers, and advisors watching the peaks and valleys and wondering what’s next.

At least for financial advisors, there are a few steps forward in the latest ACSI data around customer satisfaction.

The ACSI Financial Advisors Report 2017 collected data in the fourth quarter of 2017 and reflects customer perceptions when the stock market was still soaring. As you might expect, the scores were high. The average of 81 (out of 100) places it in the top 10 industries measured by the ACSI.

But it also contains opportunities for advisors to differentiate themselves and rise above their competitors, something especially crucial if market volatility remains a trend.

Currently, the major financial advisors have ACSI scores within a few points of each other. LPL Financial and Charles Schwab lead the pack with a score of 82, while Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, and UBS all have the lowest score of 79.

The narrow range shows how competitive the industry is right now and how small, incremental changes can help advisors stand out. Here are three ways to improve customer satisfaction, according to the data:

1. Focus on improving customer service.

Despite the relatively high scores for financial advisors overall, they also have the fourth highest complaint rate of any industry measured by the ACSI – a red flag of negative feedback from customers experiencing problems.

This is probably the biggest opportunity for financial advisors to set themselves apart. A concerted effort to improve service – whether through more face-to-face contact or instantaneous chat capabilities on a website — could increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

2. Develop or upgrade mobile options.

Mobile options for account management had one of the lowest scores among all the benchmarks, coming in at 78.

While the industry has to contend with compliance constraints, a push behind better mobile capabilities could set advisors apart and give them a technological lead over their competitors.

3. Establish routine contact with investors.

Scores for routine contact with investors (81) and personal contact (79) were two others with lower scores among financial advisors.

Investors will likely have questions about the recent volatility in the markets, making this a prime opportunity for improvement. By taking a more proactive approach to client communication, advisors can not only help clients navigate a suddenly shaky market, but develop relationships with customers that could weather further market volatility.

How customers feel about their financial advisors

While these steps are a start, we’ll have to wait and see how the markets fare in the coming weeks and months.

We’ll closely monitor the perceptions of customers and see whether the high ACSI scores for financial advisors hold up even if the big upticks we saw in 2017 don’t materialize in 2018.

Take a deeper dive into all the customer satisfaction data for financial advisors for more insights on this segment of the market.

Love or hate Trump, government satisfaction just hit an 11-year high

Customer satisfaction for U.S. federal government services just hit an 11-year high. Yes, you read that right.

If you watch the news, skim the headlines, or scroll through Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that people have wildly different perceptions of how well the government is working.

But as far as customer service is concerned, many Americans agree: The federal government is much better than it was just a few years ago, and is the best it’s been since 2006.

Just a few hours before President Trump gives his first State of the Union address, the economy appears to be flourishing and GDP is rising. But there are other measures of success to factor in. Let’s look at a few.

“Customers” are satisfied with the government

Citizens using the government’s services are happy with their experience, according to our most recent data. In fact, customer satisfaction with the federal government’s services improved for a second year in a row, increasing 2.5 percent to reach 69.7 (on a 100 point scale).

Four key factors drive satisfaction:

  1. Quality of federal websites (up 1 percent to 77)
  2. Courtesy and professionalism of customer service personnel (down 1 percent to 77)
  3. Clarity and accessibility of information received from agencies (up 1 percent to 73)
  4. Timeliness and efficiency of government processes (up 3 percent to 72)

Last year, the federal government’s website performance saw the highest gain, but customer service was the highest-ranking factor in overall customer satisfaction. This year they tie as the most important indicator for happiness.

Political affiliation doesn’t matter

You may think that customer satisfaction with the government directly correlates to political affiliation. The party in power surely must impact the overall consumer satisfaction rate.

But, surprisingly, you’d be wrong.

In fact, satisfaction among Republicans dropped over the past year (1 percent decrease to 69), and it remained unchanged (73) among Democrats. Independents shifted the most, with a 3 percent gain to 67.

The ACSI survey doesn’t measure satisfaction with government policy and leadership, instead relying on the four factors above to analyze interactions and determine the scores. But it’s still interesting that affiliation and opinions on the administration didn’t appear to muddy consumers’ perceptions of the processes and services they received.

Not all government services are created equal

While customer satisfaction with the federal government overall has been climbing, there’s varying opinion of which government services are most customer-friendly.
The Departments of Justice and Interior performed particularly well this year (81 and 78 respectively), while the Departments of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development were at the bottom of the spectrum (61 and 60 respectively). The IRS is included in the Treasury Department, which will be interesting to watch now that the tax overhaul is in effect — both from the perspective of lowering costs as well as simplifying the process, which historically results in higher satisfaction.

The 21-point gap between the highest and lowest performing departments is significant, but not unusual or unexpected. The 69.7 average means consumers are getting what they need and are relatively satisfied, but there’s room for improvement.
Private companies still reign supreme

While almost 70 percent doesn’t seem too bad for a customer satisfaction score, the government still falls short of the private sector.

For example, credit unions have a high customer satisfaction level (82), as do the banking and shipping industries (81). Many other private companies are in the low-to-mid-70 range, putting the federal government’s report card on the lower end of all industries the ACSI surveys. In fact, only subscription TV services rank lower than government services, at 64.

Based on historical data, the government is always at or near the bottom of the ACSI. This isn’t a new finding, but it is significant in the context of customer perception.

What to watch moving forward

Tonight’s State of the Union should give insight into the government’s priorities for the next year and what we might expect for major projects and policies.

But a more politically polarized country and low approval ratings for President Trump don’t necessarily translate into a change in the ACSI report. However, if there are positive changes to government websites and the friendliness of service-oriented staff, we could continue to see the upward shift in customer satisfaction.

New Book Explores Role of Citizen Satisfaction in Reshaping Attitudes About Government

41zKBpylZCL._SY300_As tension between Americans and their government grows to unprecedented levels, a soon-to-be-released book by ACSI Research Director Dr. Forrest Morgeson provides a timely investigation into the topic of satisfaction with government services and its practical application toward improving citizen trust. In Citizen Satisfaction: Improving Government Performance, Efficiency, and Citizen Trust, Morgeson covers growing interest in performance measurement among governments, citizen satisfaction theory and the practice of measurement, and how satisfaction data can be used to drive improvements inside government agencies that will lead to more contentment with the government. Using case studies and empirical results from satisfaction studies at the federal level of government in the United States, Citizen Satisfaction is a comprehensive look at the all-important relationship between citizens and their government.

Citizen Satisfaction is available now for pre-ordering »

ACSI Research Insights: Automobile Satisfaction and Recalls

Earlier this month, ACSI released its 2011 report on the Automobiles and Light Vehicles industry. The August ACSI Commentary focused on the difficult situation faced by U.S. automakers as they experience declining customer satisfaction, while the Japanese automakers gain in satisfaction and the Europeans maintain their lead.  Here we offer a few additional research insights gleaned from the ACSI study, focusing on the effects of automobile recalls. The ACSI customer satisfaction survey asks all respondents to the auto study to indicate whether their car has been the subject of a recall since the time of purchase, providing the data that allows us to investigate the impact of recalls on satisfaction.

Over the last few years, a series of high-profile auto recalls (most notably, the massive, worldwide Toyota recall that began in 2009) have garnered significant media attention. What impact, if any, does the experience of a recall have on customer satisfaction? While it may seem obvious that a recall signals a significant quality defect and therefore depresses satisfaction, it is also possible that consumers have come to accept recalls (a fairly common event) as a normal part of car ownership.

Using a pooled sample of 2010 and 2011 data for all of the nameplates measured within the industry, ACSI data suggests that customers who have experienced a recall are significantly less satisfied with their car than those who have not. As shown in the first chart below, car owners who experienced a recall have an ACSI score of 79, compared to a significantly higher score of 84 for those who have not.

But the negative impact of a recall for an automaker does not end with lower satisfaction. Because there is a nearly 1-to-1 relationship between satisfaction and customer loyalty for this industry, these findings also show that recalls create customers who are significantly more likely to defect to a competitor the next time they purchase a car.  Again using a pooled sample of 2010 and 2011 data for all nameplates measured by ACSI, the data shows that customers who have experienced a recall indicate they are 4 percentage points less likely to remain customers of the same automaker when they next purchase an automobile, as shown in the second chart above.

There are two vital conclusions that should be drawn from these findings. First, auto recalls, no matter how common, well-publicized, or necessary for public safety, have a negative impact on customer satisfaction for an automaker. As satisfaction drives behaviors like word-of-mouth, cross-selling, up-selling, brand image, corporate reputation, and so forth, the drop in satisfaction caused by a recall has a number of negative indirect consequences for carmakers. Perhaps more significantly, however, is the impact of a recall on customer loyalty. Customers who have experienced a recall indicate that they are significantly less likely to be retained as customers in the future. As current customers are generally “cheaper” customers for any firm (requiring fewer acquisition costs), the impact of a recall on loyalty represents a tangible and negative economic consequence for an automaker.

ACSI Research Presented at the 66th Annual AAPOR Conference

While ACSI research focuses first and foremost on consumer satisfaction results and the implications of these results for companies and government agencies, there is a great deal of additional knowledge that can be gained from the rich and expansive ACSI database. This past Friday, May 13th, some of this knowledge was shared with an audience at the 66th Annual American Association for Public Opinion Research Conference. In a presentation delivered by Dr. Forrest Morgeson, the consequences of multi-mode, multi-method satisfaction data collection (i.e. conducting interviewing over both the telephone and the Internet) were discussed. The results indicate that in regards to consumer satisfaction research, collecting data over both the telephone and the Internet does not dramatically impact or alter the sample or the conclusions, when compared to data collected only over the telephone. Thus contrary to the findings of some other research (mostly focused on interviewing regarding political opinions), multi-method interviewing appears to be a promising tool for satisfaction researchers, if done carefully and correctly. 

You can download a copy of the presentation here: ACSI AAPOR Presentation.

ACSI Research on Cross-National Customer Satisfaction Released

The new study, titled “An Investigation of the Cross-National Determinants of Customer Satisfaction” and forthcoming in Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, examines a very large sample of customer satisfaction data across 19 nations to determine which factors are most responsible for differences in satisfaction scores across countries. The findings, detailed in the article, should prove useful to market researchers, academic researchers, and those generally interested in how competitiveness impacts economic success in the global economy.

Study abstract: “Many multinational corporations have implemented cross-national satisfaction measurement programs for tracking and benchmarking the satisfaction of their customers across their various markets. These companies measure satisfaction with the goal of maximizing customer loyalty and the financial benefits associated with loyalty. However, existing research comparing consumer satisfaction across nations is limited, with the few existing studies examining only a small number of countries or predictors of satisfaction, or a small group of consumers within a particular economic sector. To expand our knowledge of the determinants of cross-national variation in customer satisfaction, we study three sets of factors: cultural, socioeconomic and political-economic. We utilize a unique sample of cross-industry satisfaction data from 19 nations, including nearly 257,000 interviews of consumers. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that culture does impact satisfaction. We also find a negative relationship between per capita gross domestic product and satisfaction, but a positive relationship between satisfaction and literacy rate, trade freedom, and business freedom. We discuss the implications of these findings for policymakers, multinational corporations, and researchers.”

See the “Online First” version of the article here (via SpringerLink): An Investigation of the Cross-National Determinants of Customer Satisfaction

New ACSI Research on Satisfaction with the U.S. Federal Government

Study abstract: “A growing body of research focuses on the relationship between e-government, the relatively new mode of citizen-to-government contact founded in information and communications technologies, and citizen trust in government. For many, including both academics and policy makers, e-government is seen as a potentially transformational medium, a mode of contact that could dramatically improve citizen perceptions of government service delivery and possibly reverse the long-running decline in citizen trust in government. To date, however, the literature has left significant gaps in our understanding of the e-government-citizen trust relationship. This study intends to fill some of these gaps. Using a cross-sectional sample of 787 end users of US federal government services, data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index study, and structural equation modeling statistical techniques, this study explores the structure of the e-government-citizen trust relationship. Included in the model are factors influencing the decision to adopt e-government, as well as prior expectations, overall satisfaction, and outcomes including both confidence in the particular agency experienced and trust in the federal government overall. The findings suggest that although e-government may help improve citizens’ confidence in the future performance of the agency experienced, it does not yet lead to greater satisfaction with an agency interaction nor does it correlate with greater generalized trust in the federal government overall. Explanations for these findings, including an assessment of the potential of e-government to help rebuild trust in government in the future, are offered.”

See the full article here: Misplaced Trust? Exploring the Structure of the E-Government-Citizen Trust Relationship