Yahoo surpasses Google in customer satisfaction survey

Yahoo has for the first time outperformed Google in a major customer satisfaction survey by the University of Michigan. And while the results being released today fall within the poll's 2% margin of error, the study's author believes they portend better days ahead for Yahoo and a pressing need for Google to consider the "sacrilegious" step of adding adornments to its famously Spartan homepage.

Google's customer satisfaction dropped 3.7% over the past year while Yahoo's rose 3.9%, leaving Yahoo with a scant but significant 79% to 78% edge, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey.

"What these scores tell me is not that Yahoo is going to overtake Google, but that Yahoo is trending up and Google has stumbled a little bit and they've got to recover," survey author Larry Freed told me yesterday. "Right now it's a much fairer fight than it has been in the past."

Freed, CEO of ForeSee Results, a customer satisfaction management firm that sponsors the survey, considers the statistical reversal of the companies' respective fortunes "huge," while noting that both "scores are still high." Freed believes that Google's "stumble" can be attributed to an over-reliance on word-of-mouth marketing and overzealous adherence to the keep-it-simple homepage philosophy.

"They're not doing a lot wrong; people just don't know what they're doing right," says Freed. "The challenge is that for the average consumer Google looks the same to them today as it did three years ago, and everything else is moving forward." Google could "keep the Google feel to the homepage but have a little bit better organization about the complementary stuff they have."

My efforts yesterday to elicit comment from the two companies proved unsuccessful. No surprise there on Google's part, but I was thinking that Yahoo would have the exclamation points out in full force over such good news.

“What we see all the time is that satisfaction is a great leading indicator for financial performance,” says Freed. “If people are more satisfied than they were they're going to come back more frequently and in (the Yahoo and Google) business models it's going to generate more revenues.”

In addition to the Google/Yahoo tussle, the ACSI report also reveals that:

Ask.com logged the largest customer satisfaction increase, rising 6% to a score of 75;

AOL was the biggest loser, plummeting 10% to 67;

And, the combination of the declines by Google and AOL were predominantly responsible for a first-ever decline in the overall ACSI E-business Aggregate Score, which dipped 1.7% to a score of 75.2.

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