As if you ever doubted it, Microsoft is the most respected company in the United States, at least according The Customer Respect Group and its third annual survey into such matters.

The group ranked the US Fortune 100 companies according to how lovely, sorry, respectful they were to customers online. It was very scientific.

"We assess each of the company's websites in a uniform way - looking at over 90 attributes that we've determined correlate to a successful experience of an online user," said Roger Fairchild, president of respect at The Customer Respect Group. "We've put them in one of six categories and we provide an overall score that we describe as the Customer Respect Index." Those six categories are simplicity, responsiveness, transparency, principles, attitude and privacy, he revealed.

On a scale of 0 to 10, the Fortune 100 group averaged 6.2. But Microsoft scored highest, with 8.7, while Supervalu (presumably a budget supermarket) scored lowest, with 2.7. "We saw that the companies at the upper end of the scale were hi-tech companies," said Fairchild. Which is amazing when you think about it - hi-tech companies with good websites. HP came second with 8.6, and IBM third with 8.5.

Here's why. "What sets them apart from the others is that, across the board, they got high marks - particularly in the areas of simplicity and the way they're upfront and open about all their policies on their sites," Fairchild said. "At the lower end of the scale, the companies tended to be poorer across the board, and again, they got their highest marks in simplicity of their sites. But they were still below average and generally had low marks in the other categories - responsiveness, attitude and privacy and so on."

And if you thought the methodology was anything less than definitive, you may be amazed to hear it is even more advanced than the previous survey. "Last year, we looked at 25 to 40 attributes when we analysed the Fortune 100 companies, but this year, we looked at over 90 attributes," Fairchild said to admiring looks and a smattering of applause. "We look at it at a point in time: How do you score, and how do you compare and contrast against best practice leaders in your industry and your competitors?"

Microsoft, like many high-tech companies, pays a lot of attention to site navigation, bringing in high marks for simplicity, he said. In addition, high-tech companies are attuned to what customers are seeking as an overall experience online, have done a good job stating privacy policies upfront and are reasonably responsive when people send in enquiries.

Fairchild said the companies with the lowest scores don't pay enough attention to privacy and transparency. "It's about whether they are upfront and open about their policies," he said. "And their response to enquiries was quite low."

Fairchild said low-scoring companies need to realise that more than 10 percent of all business transactions in the US are influenced by visits to companies' websites, whether it's to make a direct purchase online or to get information about a product. He also noted that a large percentage of the population now uses websites to learn about products and services to make better buying decisions.

In amongst this though is an interesting factoid. One-third of the Fortune 100 companies still don't respond to all website enquiries. Presumably, it depends what they're asked. Also, more than half the companies surveyed share customer data with subsidiaries, affiliates or business partners without seeking permission from the online user.

"You'd think that by now, the Fortune 100 companies, as large as they are, with all their resources, would get with the program and make certain they're being responsive to enquiries to their site and would have privacy policies that allow customers to know how they're using their personal data and to be able to opt in or opt out of having their data shared," Fairchild said. Respectfully.