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Apple still has little competition in creating happy customers

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A yearly study that ranks the satisfaction level of personal computer owners is about to be released and the results are, well, kind of boring. “Boring” in the sense that the same company that’s led the rankings for the past eight years is back again: Apple (s aapl) is the clear leader in computer owner satisfaction with a ranking of 87 out of 100 in an industry whose average score is 78. It is, however, very interesting how having satisfied customers is coinciding with an expansion of Apple’s overall business and the rapid ascendance of its stock price.

While maintaining the lead it’s held since 2004, Apple has for the third straight year increased its American Customer Satisfaction Index score, bumping up a bit to 87 from 86 last year. The next closest is Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) with a score of 78, up from 77 last year. Dell (s dell), Acer and “all the others” rated 77. Compaq, an HP sub-brand, is ranked 75, up from 74 in 2010. The ACSI for Personal Computers, which will be officially released Tuesday morning, is a yearly survey that was initially begun at the University of Michigan. It deals with many consumer products, and has been ranking PC customers’ happiness since 1995.

The average for all PC owners held steady at 78 for 2011, the same as last year’s average score. Considering the turmoil and upheaval in the traditional computer business this year, we can’t really be surprised that there was no broad improvement (more shocked it hasn’t gotten worse). It’s been a particularly rough couple months for some of the world’s most high-profile computer makers: Acer had its ugly public spat between the now-former CEO and his board, Dell admits it’s seeing demand drop way off, and the world’s largest PC maker, Hewlett-Packard, is talking of abandoning the business altogether.

Customer satisfaction can be indicative of more than just people not having problems with a product and positively identifying with a particular brand. It can also be an indicator of how well a company is doing financially. According to ACSI founder Claes Fornell:

In the eight years that Apple has led the PC industry in customer satisfaction, its stock price has increased by 2,300%…Apple’s winning combination of innovation and product diversification—including spinning off technologies into entirely new directions—has kept the company consistently at the leading edge.

But the reverse is true as well. Apple has not always been great at creating satisfied customers (see chart above). The period between 1997 and 2000 was a low point, when the company’s ACSI index score hovered just above or below the average for the industry. Though it was not terrible relative to the rest of the field, the score was far below where it’s at now. Think about where the company was during that time though: Steve Jobs was just coming back to the helm, the company was narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, and the product line was pretty much a mess in the process of being untangled.

Now flash forward to today: Apple’s selling more computers than ever before; it has $76 billion in the bank–more cash on hand than any other technology company–and Monday, right before this survey came out, the company hit an all-time stock high with a price of $413.23.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Vectorportal

23 Responses to “Apple still has little competition in creating happy customers”

  1. Hamranhansenhansen

    I have a friend whose only Apple product is an iPhone that she bought a few months ago. We were going for lunch the other day and she wanted to stop at “iPhone Store” because her phone did not wake up that day, so she had made an appointment at the Genius Bar.

    So we go in, and within a few minutes, they gave her a new phone, without even asking for a receipt or anything. They tried to revive the phone and when it would not revive, they handed her a new one. My friend totally flipped out. She thought at best she would have to give it in for a week or something. She had no idea they would just give her a new phone. She literally said, “I’m going to buy my computer here next time, too.” (Sorry, HP.) She was like, “they have your back, here!” They made her into a customer for life.

    Then she told all her Facebook friends about her experience. Try to buy that kind of advertising.

  2. Well, yes! Apple won consumers’ hearts is no suprise!
    And not so simple, Apple always can give users the strong exciting experience, and build a strong chain reaction, it let app developer’s like iFunia those who service for it are booming too, no doubt that it is a leader.

  3. In past years we had the Apple fanboys rating their satisfaction with Apple a bit higher than the PC owners. The PC lovers (read that to mean Apple haters) constantly claimed that this higher rating was actually do to the koolaid drinking cult following, not actual product superiority. What would happen if PC owners got to try and rate the Mac?

    When the iPhone came out something happened. Apple sold four times as many phones as they did computers. Meaning non-fanboy, koolaid drinking, cult following customers started buying Apple products. The result was the iPhone received the same higher customer satisfaction rating, even as PC lovers keep claiming the iPhone is over rated, out debated, and under spec’d. While those claims are certainly true, the net result is the iPhone is still just a little more satisfying to own than any other smart phone.

    Now the PC market is flat with the exception of Macs, up about 18% from last year. Thus growth is certainly due to new, former PC owners, walking into Apple stores looking for a phone and walking out with a Mac. I am a Mac owner but we have delayed our next Mac purchase to get two iPads. Because the iPad caniblized the entire PC marked, including the Mac, any growth in Mac sales is certainly in the most part due to new Mac owners, i.e. PC switchers.

    So when these switchers got their Macs, did they find the satisfaction rating was all just hype? If they did, after paying more for their Mac, than they would have had to pay for a new PC, and expecting more, certainly the satisfaction rating should have gone down? Instead it has gone up.

    Can we not conclude that former PC owners have helped to push the satisfaction rating even higher?

  4. 2 things that I’d like to mention:
    1. I’d like to know detailed criteria and sampling rules used for the study before making any judgement
    2. Even if these results are close to reality it just will comfirm my long-time conclusions about human nature

  5. Jose A Vivas

    Apple “build things that the people love”. The iPad is the first choice for 94% of the people that wants a tablet ( ComsCore). Obsessive oriented to user experience, not in market. It ‘s count to the profits (with 1/3 of the market share of the smartphones has 2/3 of the total profits !)

    • Not really. Monster cables are bought, plugged in and that’s usually that. Computers on the other hand are used for a wide variety of tasks, for many hours every single day by a much wider range of people.

    • John Molloy

      Amazon, for example, doesn’t actually sell iPads. They have no contract in place with Apple to sell them. If iPads are charting at all on the Amazon store it is due to third party sellers putting them up.

      I’ve seen a lot of arguments where people attempt to make the claim that Apple’s poor showing on Amazon with regard to tablets is the sign of interest waning in the iPad with the onslaught of others attacking, whereas nothing could be further from the truth.

      • Hamranhansenhansen

        Also, they will say “XOOM is the #1 tablet on Amazon,” but when you look, 18 of the top 20 will be iPads, and there will be just one XOOM. So the combined numbers of iPads are much greater.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      Monster Cable makes great cables. People who actually know about audio video cables will tell you that. If you are a know-it-all PC nerd, though, there is no helping you.

    • motionblurred

      While I would agree, I think the biggest factor is the Apple store and customer service support. There would probably be more happy customers from competitors if they didn’t have to deal with middlemen like Best Buy or the carriers.

  6. International Patent

    Apple’s iPad has been a major success no matter how you put it. Last week, Research in Motion (RIMM) announced earnings saying it had shipped 200,000 units of its own tablet, the Playbook (compared to 500,000 in the previous quarter). That just shows how much of a lead Apple (AAPL) has. Even strong competitors that ran on Google’s Android operating systems have yet to really worry Apple. How much? Apple currently has a 68% market share in tablets, a 3% increase over last quarter.

  7. Geoffrey Kim

    If in fact that Apple has little competition in creating happy customers, why Apple is trying so hard to win everything in courtrooms? When is your last time that Microsoft has taken anyone in court just because they have blatantly copied their product? And they do not even have much happy customers to speak of and yet achieved over 90% market share. Any elementary school kids will tell you that something do not add up right. If you leave out doing a lot of favors to judges and critiques in the world, that is.

    • You are a moron. You seem to imply that this is an opinion piece favoring Apple when in fact it is a report on a factual survey. Keep hating on Apple, it doesn’t change the FACT that Apple tops customer satisfaction.

    • John R. Kirk

      @ Geoffrey Kim: It’s idiotic posts like yours that make me want to abandon reading comments altogether. Apple’s litigious nature has nothing to do with their user satisfaction ratings, which you would know if you had even a modicum of intelligence. Instead your hatered of Apple forces you to find conspiracies where none exist.

      Apple has the highest user satisfaction rating for their Macs. Apple’s iPhone has won the J.D. Powers User satisfaction award 6 straight times. 70% of iPad users are “very satisfied” with an astounding total satisfaction rating of 95%. If you hate Apple fine, but don’t try to mix the patent wars with user satisfaction numbers.

      Oh, and by the way, no elementary school kid will tell you that something at Apple doesn’t add up right. They’re all too busy playing on their iPod Touches and iPads.

    • Matthew Monsoor

      I suspect that while an Apple product user only needs one while other users have had to have two or three products in the same time period. They last longer and you can’t beat the support Apple provides to those who subscribe to AppleCare.

    • puleeeeeze. it’s a study about facts : people are very satisfied with a mac/ipad/iphone products : to 87%. it’s simply that.

      I don’t care about court : if a company is in its right, it has to crush the competition and protect its property, whatever it is Apple, Hp, Sony, Microsoft or an free software organization.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      > why Apple is trying so hard to win everything in courtrooms?

      Because it is more civilized than hit men. Duh.

      Because their success has attracted counterfeiters, just like Calvin Klein or Gucci or Rolex. These kinds of companies have to defend their trademarks, designs, and other original work or they essentially become public domain.

      Do you think it is OK to create a counterfeit product and sell them to consumers who want the real thing? I don’t know why you would think that was good business, or why you would think that fits into the definition of honest. And these are exactly the kinds of issues you go to court for.

      > When is your last time that Microsoft has taken anyone in court

      Microsoft is collecting royalties from all the Android handset makers right now. They paid up because otherwise Microsoft would have taken them to court. Microsoft uses its patents aggressively, they go to another company and say, “pay us, you violated our patents.” Apple only uses their patents against companies that copy Apple. Everyone else is left alone.

      The principles behind the above are taught in Kindergarten. You do your own work. You sign your name to your own work.

      > And [Microsoft] do not even have much happy customers
      > to speak of and yet achieved over 90% market share.

      That is because they used illegal business practices to destroy competition in the PC industry. That is how you get 90% market share without having happy customers. It’s the same as if you want to win a skating competition without being the best skater. You just hit the best skater in the knee with a pipe. That is “anti-competition” … “competition” would be skating better than them. Anti-competition is what Microsoft is famous for.

      Apple did it another way. They simply convinced one customer at a time that they had a better product. Now, they are the leader in computing, but because they earned it, not because they stole it.

    • Danny Chung

      Good points, but I would add that when a company such as Microsoft owns more than 90% market share, your ratio of unhappy customers is going to be significantly higher and exponentially more vocal. In some respects, Apple’s present market share may be to their advantage IF in fact Apple’s strategic outlook and goals is to have a high rate of happy customers.