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ACSI: Economy all dressed up, with no place to go

University of Michigan
graph showing 20 years of customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction hit a 20-year high, in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The index tracks how happy people are with their shopping, buying and consumption experiences.

On a scale of 100, the index read 76.8 in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Claus Fornell says one reason for the result is the recession and the slow economy that followed made it harder to find and win customers. 

So companies, and their employees, especially those in the service sector, are trying harder to please their customers.

"I think they realize where their salaries come from," says Fornell, "And they also realize their jobs are not as secure as they once were."

But the other big factor has almost nothing to do with companies' behavior.  It's the Internet, which has improved the shopping experience for many people.

"So consumers have better access to information, they can make better decisions, and the probability that they will buy something that is pretty good has increased," says Fornell.

Now, generally, such a high level of customer satisfaction would predict growth in the economy - because customer satisfaction is a leading, not a lagging indicator of the state of the economy.

But Fornell  says there are some persistent problems in the economy that will slow growth. 

He says job growth is still quite tepid, in part because companies are sitting on cash, not investing their money in expansions and job creation.  

As long as there are lots of people without jobs - or without good-paying jobs-  consumerism, the main driver of economic growth,  will be dampened.

He says for their part, investors are sticking to the stock market, not venture capital or other areas that could stimulate more job growth and the economy. 

Fornell would like to see more stimulus from the federal government.  That is unlikely, however, with Republicans calling for budget cuts and tax cuts and mid-term elections coming up.

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