Customer satisfaction levels plummeted at The Co-operative Group last year, its own customer satisfaction tracker has revealed.

The damning verdict, gleaned from four quarterly customer satisfaction polls, found that just 30% were 'very satisfied' with the food stores in 2009 compared with 44% in 2008.

The tracker also revealed the food business was trailing far behind the group's other businesses, with 'very satisfied' rates of 72% for pharmacy, 69% for travel and 74% for legal services.

It brings The Co-op's customer satisfaction levels back down to levels seen in 2006 before the society embarked on a run of major mergers and acquisitions including Somerfield and United Co-op. Satisfaction levels were running at 31% in 2006 and 33% in 2007.

A source close to The Co-op pointed out that the slump followed the departure of former CEO of food retail Guy McCracken, who left in 2008.

"This is still viewed in the business as the appointment that turned the food division around," the source said. "Overall, the view is the team at the top are just not strong enough to run a national business. They are good at a regional level but not the level required to develop a complicated integration strategy."

Another contributory factor was likely to have been the society becoming a much bigger business, one retail analyst said.

"Co-op or Somerfield shoppers tend to be older and older shoppers are more likely to complain" he added. "They're likely to be a cantankerous bunch."

The Co-op Group said it was not unduly worried. "The overall customer satisfaction score for food is based upon the number of people who gave us a score of nine or 10 out of 10 on key drivers such as service and product availability," a spokeswoman said.

"Over the course of 2009, we found satisfaction scores tended to be lower, and customers were more likely to give a seven or eight out of 10 rating. Given the amount of change in the business at that time, the lower scores were not entirely unexpected."

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