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Apple Customer Satisfaction: It’s the Experience

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Apple (s aapl) has once again received top honors among computer manufacturers for customer satisfaction, and not by a small margin, either. The recent American Customer Satisfaction Index survey (PDF) has Apple beating their closest competitor by 10 points, something with which the creators of the survey are very impressed. Apple hasn’t always been so lucky. There was a period of time in the 90s when many were wondering if there was even going to be an Apple Computer anymore.

Since that time, though, along with the return of Steve Jobs, Apple has made slow and continuous improvements to the Apple experience, something that encompasses every part of owning an Apple product. From the quality of the packaging to booting OS X, Apple makes owning a Mac a different experience from just owning a computer. One of the most important aspects of owning a Mac is the quality of the construction. In my mind at least, plastic has been considered “cheap” for a long time, and metal considered “well built.” A lot of the toys from when I was a kid were made out of metal, and they lasted. Now they’re made out of plastic, and fall apart.

The latest unibody aluminum MacBooks are precision engineered, solid, and feel worth their weight. It’s almost like Apple designs with blinders on, ignoring what everyone else is doing and focusing on what they believe is best. So far, Apple has been very resistant to release a low-end computer. Even the tiny Mac Mini is at least twice as expensive as a low-end Dell. It’s not that Apple doesn’t have an interest in the low-budget market, it’s that Apple refuses to create a product that doesn’t live up to their expectations of what a Mac should be. The Mac Mini is relatively inexpensive, but it is also a high-quality machine. The iPhone and iPod Touch are excellent examples of Apple’s commitment to quality. How easy would it have been for Apple to release both machines with cheap plastic cases and screens? They would have been able to reap the profits of the low cost of manufacturing, but at the price of releasing an inferior product, and the long-term cost of lower customer satisfaction. The iPhone is one of the most well-made pieces of electronics ever. As John Gruber said, “There is no better phone, at any price.”

Creating great products is only useful if you can tell people about them, and be able to tell the people who are most likely to be customers. Apple’s marketing is the result of an evolution of several years. Apple uses product placement in high-rating television shows and popular movies, ads on TV that demonstrate the functionality of the Mac, or poke fun at the competition in a tongue-in-cheek way, but the real Apple marketing are the thousands of blogs and web sites (this one included) that are dedicated to all things Apple. It seem natural to me now to read Mac-related news, but there are relatively few Lenovo blogs, or Dell blogs, or Acer blogs. Most of this is because PCs are fundamentally the same. They all have the same basic components, and run the same software.

Macs have always been different, although they are not quite as different now as they used to be. Macs also lost the popularity contest with businesses to Microsoft (s msft) and IBM (s ibm). The company from California that started the personal computer industry was, in the 90s, pushed out of the office by big, faceless companies. Apple was the underdog. Luckily, people like underdogs, and Apple gained a cult following that persisted through its darkest of times, when there were rumors that it was going to be bought out and dismantled. Most of this happened while Steve Jobs was off creating other insanely great things, like NeXT and Pixar. When Jobs returned, he made some drastic changes at Apple, and began the slow, steady climb that has brought them to the top of the customer satisfaction ladder. They went from being the underdog to being the comeback kid. Apple is an American success story.

Apple’s stigma cannot be explained by generous return policies or coverage. Both Dell and HP offer more lenient return policies, each allowing 21 days to return the product compared with Apple’s 14 days. HP and Dell also offer accidental damage protection, something lacking from the otherwise excellent AppleCare. On more than one occasion I’ve had a claim denied because the damage was considered “accidental,” and therefor not covered. However, for what AppleCare does cover, it provides excellent support. AppleCare will repair your Mac, answer questions about software, and replace faulty parts. If you scratch up your install disk, AppleCare will replace it. The unique thing about AppleCare is that it covers not only the hardware and operating system, but all other Apple software. If you want to know how to import a movie into iMovie, call AppleCare and they’ll be happy to walk you through it.

When you buy a Mac, you join a club. It’s more than simply owning a computer, it’s being part of the entire Apple ecosystem. Each part of each product is tied together to provide a seamless experience that brings together your electronics so you can get on with the business of living your life. Take photos, make movies, write a book, and do it all without worrying about how. This is the real reason for Apple’s customer satisfaction. Apple is a success story, and when you buy a Mac, in a small way, you become part of that story, too.

28 Responses to “Apple Customer Satisfaction: It’s the Experience”

  1. I recently took my Macbook in for repair and when it was returned to me there was a 1/2 inch long, black hair protruding from the side of the screen! The tech’s hair is embedded in the side of my computer so much so that I can’t even pull it out. Not to mention, Apple charged me $800 for this repair and the hair isn’t the only thing I’m dissatisfied with. My wireless is horrible. The connection fades in and out constantly, even if I stay in that same place. Needless to say, I’m not thrilled about anything Apple has done to “fix” my computer. Can I upload a picture to this post? b/c i wish you all could see this hair thing. It’s the most disgusting sight ever. I thought one of Apple’s main selling points was aesthetic value…not in my case. I’m starting to think that Apple is over-rated and over-priced. Here’s my scenario, $2,500 later, I have a wireless-incapable, white box with a long black chin hair.

  2. I feel like Apple has an awesome product that never needs support. However like my dad allways told me there is always a bad apple on the tree. So what I am saying is there will be a bad apple and when you call Apple Customer support don’t be surprise to be on the phone for hours and never get it resolved. My grade for Apple product a B. My grade for Apple customer support a BIG F. Apple please spend all your great earnings on improving your Customer Support…..ASAP before you loose customers……Good luck!!

  3. Ero un cliente Mac molto soddisfatto, un giorno ho deciso di acquistare un secondo Mac perché avevo bisogno di maggiori prestazioni e dall’attuale iBOOK G4 ho acquistato nel 2008 un Macbook Pro 2,4 GHZ con HD 250 GB (1.700,00 €)che dopo neanche due anni ha smesso di funzionare.
    Per ripararlo dovrei sostituire la scheda madre NVIDIA GEFORCE 8600M GT 128MB VRAM (circa 600,00 €)che a quanto pare è difettosa (lotto di produzione 2007-2008).
    Mi sono recato in uno Store Mac dove hanno diagnosticato al mio Mac un guasto alla scheda video, il cui codice errore però non rientra nei casi relativi alle schede NVIDIA nate difettose e quindi la riparazione è a mio carico.
    Ma dov’è finita la qualità dei Mac ? Il mio vecchio iBook G4 funziona perfettamente dopo quasi cinque anni di esercizio, mentre quest’ultimo non dura neanche due anni !!! ….ma che politica è, se hai il Mac nato male la riparazione è gratuita, se no mi dispiace !!
    In attesa che la Apple mi riconsideri nei casi in cui è giusto che venga riparato il mio Mac gratuitamente, ne ho comprato un terzo a dimostrazione della mia fiducia nei suoi confronti e nella speranza che la cosa sia reciproca.
    Ringrazio anticipatamente,
    ..un cliiente oggi insoddisfatto
    N.S. Malara

  4. My 23-month-old PowerBook G4 17″ came down with what became known as the “Narcoleptic Aluminum Powerbook Syndrome”, aka N.A.P. Syndrome) back in May 2007. I didn’t have Apple Care. Still, I felt that Apple should have owned up to it and fixed it free of charge. My case was _definitely_ not isolated or accidental. Logic dictates that, eps. after you google the issue. A little like the ‘Bridget Reily’ iMacs, which took a good while before Cupertino admitted design faults and replaced the units out of warranty free of charge.

    On a different note, my MacBook Pro which developed the nVidia issue (google it…) did get a free repair straight away. Even in Greece!

    Bad though it can be, I could not for the life of me imagine having to make do with a Win machine ever again!

  5. I don’t believe We have 5 Macs in our family, 1 MacBook Pro for business, 1 iMac at home & 3 college students with MacBooks. Switched from PC 3 years ago and have had phenomenal customer service. My husband uses a Dell laptop for work, he’s become a a fan of Apple, sharing our good experiences with coworkers. A few of them have bought Macs for home use. We go to Apple Store Mall of America and have always been treated well and have had excellent results. You can’t get that kind of face to face assistance with a PC.

    larry darnell:
    “well, no more high priced apple/lemons for me, thank you.” —Well it’s not a perfect world, but Apple still outdoes PC in all areas. So after 30 years of Mac use you’re going to switch to a PC? Good luck with that one.

  6. The most frustrating part of Apple’s customer service is, to me, their attitude. Every time I go into the local Apple store, I feel almost looked down on. As if they feel themselves to be part of an elite group by working for Apple and owning a Mac. There were only 2 people in the whole store that were even polite to me, or treated me as a customer and not as a burden. Their “24 hour callback” was 2 days later, and only after I had called them first and they had told me that there were no available associates and they would call me the next day. Also after checking my repair status 5 days later, it still says “shipment to repair center pending”. I am very frustrated, not as much as Frustrated Mary yet, but I will be at that point soon.

  7. Frustrated Mary

    I bought my computer in February 2007 and when Apple geniuses talk to me, they call my computer an “older computer.” Come on – Am I supposed to buy anew computer every year??? I bought the extended warranty -good thing. The Apple Store has replaced my main logic board and the power supply, but I still had problems with the computer. Brought the computer back in and it has been sitting in the back room of the computer store for over a week. They just called to say, it will be another “48 to 72 hours” before they can fix it. I have basically been without my computer for about a month now. I don’t want to hear another “Gotcha”, “Absolutely”, or “Awesome!” The best was, “It’s just as frustrating for us” Oh, I bet it is…
    Just fix it and get it back to me in good working order. Is that too much to ask? Evidently, yes.

    • you are not alone.
      For myself, I think I will be enjoying 1,5 months or more without my computer and in few days Christmas will be here. Such a nice “gift” from Apple: winter holidays without the computer I have paid for.

  8. spasrme

    I find Apple customer service very frustrating, I have a business to run, clients to attend to and I am pursuing my degree online. I cannot go without my mac for 3-5 days while they repair a USB port, this is absolutely absurd.

  9. larry darnell

    just got off the phone with apple geniuses. bought a new dual g5 with applecare 3.5 years ago. it died last week. $1800 to fix it with a new logicboard. noting how many apple products i’ve owned since my first apple 2 almost 30 years ago and how many i presently have operating [5], the best they would offer was – maybe you can get it fixed somewhere else for less, or part it out. too bad. noting if you look online…this is a dud model, well, too bad for me. this is kind of what used to be called a lemon.

    their 10% better customer service isn’t doing it for me. i hate to appear to be one of those griping cretins who complain at the drop of a hat – if you pay $2000 for a computer and add thousands of dollars in ram, software and applecare you never use to the package you might expect to get more than 3.5 years of service – like on my g4s and g3s running still. If my expectations are out of line, perhaps it is because they were set too high.

    well, no more high priced apple/lemons for me, thank you.

  10. Yeah, Macs are great. Except when they fail. And quality seems to be decreasing. Bought a replacement for my kinda old MBP this time last year. I’ve had it in service on several occasions for approximately three months, until Apple finally agreed to give me a new one. Now that new unibody MBP is with service again with weird trackpad problems. I wonder when I’ll see it again.
    Kinda hard for a student to do work with a computer that’s only there half the time. And no, my budget doesn’t allow me to keep a spare unit, just in case.
    In dealing with Apple, I sometimes had the feeling they weren’t realizing that yes, I paid premium $ for their stuff in the first place.

  11. dave W

    @4 Victor

    you say:
    “I got stuck with some numbnuts from India who is required to read from a prompter.”

    but from what I news I got Apple doesn’t have any phone support U.S (I assume you’re from the U.S) from India.

    They had plans a few years ago but reversed themselves:

    Businessweek 2006:

    “Apple Computer Inc. has shelved plans to build a sprawling technical support center in Bangalore, even as IBM (IBM ) and other tech powers are ramping up. ”
    Consumer Reports 2008:

    “While much of the industry was following Dell’s lead in e-commerce and most companies were opening call centers in the Indian high-tech hub of Bangalore, Apple in 2006 canceled its plans to open a support center in India.”

    unless Apple has just moved to India of which there has been no news in the blogs it’s really bizarre you spoke to someone in India if you’re calling from the U.S.

  12. Victor

    I used to love Apple Support. They always made sure I was satisfied and did everything they could to get my computer or ipod back to me in a reasonable time frame. However, since I bought my macbook I can’t say I’ve experienced the same level of commitment they used to have. I got stuck with some numbnuts from India who is required to read from a prompter. Makes me sad because I remember when I used to call Apple up with a problem and they would be very friendly and fun to talk to, in part because I was talking to somebody in California or Canada.

  13. Personally I find going into the Apple Store to see a “Genius” to be a little nerve wracking. Some of them are very helpful and knowledgeable, others are condescending and refuse to listen to you. I’ve never had a problem with Apple Phone Support though- very courteous and have come through every time for me.

  14. Nancy

    I’m a former PC user who switched over to a Mac about 6 years ago and never looked back.
    Yes, they’re expensive and there is a coolness factor too, but the main reason I love my Macs (I have 2) is that I’ve never had to face the blue screen of death or anything like it in all that time. Up time is a beautiful thing.

    • Who gets the “blue screen of death” anymore??? Sorry but I’ll take a PC over Apple any day. I think Apple customer service is the pits (or maybe the “core”)

      • Bryce

        I was on a PC a few weeks ago and I got a Blue Screen and it deleted my work. Mac’s are 100 times better than PC’s. They’re faster, they look better, you get more for your money, no viruses or blue screens. PC’s are cheap plastic, slow, old machines that copy Apple with their software.

  15. adamjackson

    I run Windows on my Mac but I use a Mac because I’m a part of a cool little community. That’s the reason I keep buying expensive machines. The apple store is great and their support rocks plus there are hundreds of message boards I can go to if I need help.

    • Apple has absolutely terrible customer service. I work for a college campus and we often get Apple products that are broken out of the box. Getting them replaced takes months… Apple will process your request but just leaves the items on hold. I would never ever buy an Apple computer for myself because of their service.

    • My AluMacBook has been 3 weeks to 2 different service providers for a faulty LCD panel. They have replaced the LCD panel with a faulty one, similar with the initial one, then the have replaced the logic board, initial problems still not being fixed. I have spent 250 USD going back and forth to these service providers, crossing the border to HK twice, and finally Apple has agreed to change the MacBook. Yesterday they have received my MacBook and the gave me few weeks delivery for the replacement due to “no stock”. Big BS. So far, I have been one month without my MacBook (not to count the next few weeks until they will send out the replacement), short with 250USD in my pocket, and several days not going to work as I had to go to those service providers. And I have AppleCare…
      When my Dell had a faulty videoboard, they have send the engineer and replace it next day.
      So, this AluMB is the last Apple product for me. I’ll change all the Apple products I have with another brands which will provide better support.
      Thanks Apple for such a “great” support, but no thanks!