Apple’s iPhone may frequently be viewed as the leader in the smartphone category, but it’s actually two Samsung devices that got the highest scores in a recent smartphone customer satisfaction study from American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Specifically, Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II tied for the top two scores in the new survey, ACSI reported on Wednesday, followed by the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 closely behind.
“Not only does Samsung edge ahead of all iPhones, Apple customers themselves dont see much difference between the iPhone 4, 4S or 5,” said ACSI Director David VanAmburg.
Samsung “shows a strong upward ACSI trend, from the Galaxy S II to the Galaxy S III,” VanAmburg added. “If the S4 performs as well — or even better — in the eyes of customers, Samsung could threaten Apples dominance in overall customer satisfaction.”
The Elements of Satisfaction
The ACSI study looked at several factors on new phone purchases, including customer expectations based on word of mouth, advertising and media coverage, and perceptions of quality and value. The study also asked 10 questions on the overall phone experience that looked at how customers view functions including ease of making and receiving calls, battery life, OS and software, design, audio and video quality, and navigation of menus and settings.
All factors went into creating a score for each individual handset ranging from 0 to 100.
Samsung’s Galaxy SIII and Galaxy Note II each scored 84 based on all of the factors considered in the study. Apple held the next three positions, with an 82 for both the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S, while the iPhone 4 trailed closely with an 81.
Other smartphones in the top 10 include the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD (80); Samsung Galaxy S II (78); Motorola Droid Razr (77); and the Curve (67) and Bold (64), both from BlackBerry.
While ACSI has looked at the brands in prior studies, this was the first report to look at individual handsets to rate consumer satisfaction. Included in the ACSI’s statistics are interviews with roughly 70,000 customers annually.
From Expectations to Reality
Prepurchase factors such as the marketing of the phone and recommendations from friends and family are clearly important, but it is the experiences that shape the phone’s ratings, the ACSI says.
“Once you’ve made the purchase, expectations tend to drift into the background,” VanAmburg told CRM Buyer. “Once you’ve made that purchase, your perceptions shift to the actual quality of the purchase.”
Recent reports have put Android shipments — including individual handsets from Samsung — ahead of Apple iPhone shipments, and it appears consumer opinion backs up those statistics.
“The iPhone 5 really didn’t create that ‘wow factor’ for Apple,” said VanAmburg. “The iPhone 5 was a solid phone, but it was no better than the 4S and marginally better than the iPhone 4.”
‘A Game-Changing Moment’
Samsung, on the other hand, had better success.
“By contrast, Samsung did get that kind of game-changing phenomenon when they came out with the S III,” VanAmburg noted. “That was much more of a game-changing moment for Samsung.”
Looking ahead, while many consumers were initially attracted to the iPhone for its innovation, it’s not clear that advantage is being sustained, telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told CRM Buyer.
“Two things have changed,” said Kagan. “One, Apple has not had any innovation in the last couple years. That means there isn’t a lot to talk about with Apple today.
“Two, Samsung has started an aggressive public relations push,” he added. “Their advertising, marketing and PR have been in overdrive. There are plenty of new things to discuss with Samsung.”
‘Rockin’ and Rollin'”
Of course, there’s no denying that Apple has a strong hold on its market.
“Samsung and Apple customers are two completely different types,” Kagan suggested. “Think of this like Microsoft vs. Apple. Both use computers, but customers choose one or the other based on it matching the way their minds work. Same here.”
In other words, “Apple customers will stay Apple customers,” Kagan added.
“I don’t think consumer interest in Apple is waning at all,” he explained. “iPhone customers will remain iPhone customers. I think Apple will recapture its excitement when it comes out with something new — if it comes out with something new. Until then, their customers will remain their customers: happy, but quiet.”
In the meantime, Kagan concluded, “Samsung is rockin’ and rollin’ for now.”