Yahoo, Google Tops in Satisfaction Study

Google and Yahoo are true crowd pleasers, according to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

The report, released on Tuesday, measured how satisfied consumers were with their experiences using over 200 search engines, portals and online news and information sites.

The lines between such online offerings are blurring, said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, which sponsored the research. With Google adding a plethora of non-search services including e-mail and blogging, and Yahoo making major investments in search, the two have become comparable, he said. Still, the study put them in separate categories.

Google topped the list of e-business companies, with a customer satisfaction rating of 82 on a scale of 100. Archrival Yahoo led the portal category with a score of 80.

Freed said the gap between the two was “right at the cusp of statistical significance.” But he noted that “Yahoo is inching up on them.”

Google has remained at the height of the ACSI charts for the past three years. “It’s phenomenal to be at that level and sustain it,” he said. Its challenge will be to maintain high customer satisfaction as it continues to broaden its services.

Add AOL to the mix, with its decision to unlock its so-called walled garden of content and services, and “it’s open war here,” Freed said.

Ask Jeeves , the only other individual company in the search category, showed steady improvement in customer satisfaction, with its score of 72, a 16 percent improvement since 2002.

“They stayed true to search, and now, with the acquisition by Interactive Corp., they have access to a whole lot of content and capabilities they didn’t have before,” Freed said. “When you combine it with IAC properties like CitySearch, Home Shopping Network and TicketMaster, maybe Ask Jeeves is the way to bring them together cohesively. They . . . have an opportunity, if they leverage it.”

In the portals division, MSN was second with an ACSI score of 75, but it showed minimal improvement in customer satisfaction since 2003, according to ForeSee. AOL, on the other hand, is positioned for a comeback, Freed said, having increased its customer satisfaction score by 6 percent this year to 71.

The major news and information sites achieved similar ratings, with at the top with a 74 rating; others in the category scored 72 or 73.

Freed said that the ACSI studies also indicate the potential for revenue growth. “Customer satisfaction today will predict financial success tomorrow,” he said. For example, Yahoo and Google, the leaders in customer satisfaction, showed more revenue growth that MSN and AOL, with lesser ACSI scores.

In general, customer satisfaction with e-business continued to grow, rising 4.7 percent since 2004 to 75.9 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale.

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