Apple Leads PC Makers in Customer Satisfaction - by Default
"Like autos, improved quality is the major reason for the improvement in customers' eyes," said Professor Claes Fornell of the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross Business School. "But for PCs, most of the improvement is in product quality. Service quality is also improving, but it is almost 10 percent below the average of other consumer durables."
Apple Computer leads all other PC makers in customer satisfaction, but the reason for its lead may not be very satisfying for Steve Jobs and other executives at the Cupertino, Calif.-based company.
Simply put, it's not that Apple is a dazzling performer in terms of customer care, but that the other computer manufacturers are almost uniformly dismal in that realm, according to customers surveyed by the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index team. The research demonstrates that Apple is more effective at customer service than Dell, Hewlett-Packard and others.
"Like autos, improved quality is the major reason for the improvement in customers' eyes," said Professor Claes Fornell of the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross Business School. "But for PCs, most of the improvement is in product quality. Service quality is also improving, but it is almost 10 percent below the average of other consumer durables," Fornell continued. "This is in part the result of customer frustrations with PC call centers, but is also a function of the complex nature of the products -- PC owners have more frequent customer service issues than owners of appliances, televisions or cars."
Increasing Over a Decade
Not so for Apple, according to the survey. On a 100 point scale, Apple scored an 83, a 2.5 percent year-over-year increase and a 7.8 percent increase from 1995, the first year the ACSI measured the PC industry.
The survey, which is conducted annually, was based on telephone interviews with 70,000 consumers.
The university's survey is widely perceived as a uniform and independent measure of the household consumption experience. The survey tracks trends in customer satisfaction and provides valuable benchmarking insights of the consumer economy for companies, industry trade associations, and government agencies.
The index is based on ratings in the following areas: customer expectations, perceived quality, perceived value, customer complaints and customer loyalty.
Apple and Dell both gained this year -- as Dell moved up 5 percent to a score of 78, even though the company has a lower market share and reduced earnings. Overall customer satisfaction in the PC industry increased just 4 percent to 77, the highest score since ACSI began tracking the industry. Every single PC maker showed improved customer satisfaction this past year, but that is because they all started off at such a low level of approval, according to the ACSI results.
"Dell has seen market share erode and earnings fall over the past year," said Fornell. "Slipping customer service has been a problem ... and even though it still trails industry leader Apple by a wide margin, the more serious challenge may come from the improvement of HP and the smaller PC brands that are not far behind in customer satisfaction."
The results over the 11 years it has conducted the survey demonstrate that customer satisfaction can be a key component to consumer spending decisions, which accounts for nearly 75 percent of the U.S. economy.
"If the historical pattern holds true, the report indicates spending growth should increase in the third quarter, contrary to what many observers of the economy expect," the school's statement said.
In the last couple of years, discretionary spending money has become more difficult for consumers due to higher interest rates, rising energy costs and growing household debt, said Fornell. "But a rise in overall customer satisfaction could offset the forces pointing to a slowdown in consumer spending," Fornell said.
Most interestingly, customer service agents in call centers are the key for Apple's success, and perhaps the continued success of the American economy.
"Agents continue to be the face of most companies and it's the experience they deliver to customers that has the most impact on customer loyalty," said James Brooks, senior vice president, Asia Pacific, Genesys, based in Melbourne, Australia.
"Customer engagement begins with agent engagement, and turning customers into positive 'word of mouth' advocates and brand champions requires an emotional connection with companies that is delivered by agents," he added.