The American Customer Satisfaction Index rates various industries and companies for–you can probably figure this out on your own–customer satisfaction, based on a poll of 70,000 consumers. It’s released its latest numbers for the PC industry, and there are no surprises: Apple has a clear lead on everybody else that the survey has enough data about to rate.
Here are the ratings for 2011, on a scale of 100. (Unfortunately, there are some major players that it doesn’t have specific data for, such as Lenovo, Sony, and Toshiba–they’re part of “All Others.”)
Trends are more interesting than any one point in time, so here are the ACSI’s PC scores from 1995 to the present.
The chart shows everyone edging up a skosh compared to 2010, but the ACSI folks say that statistically, it’s a wash: Everybody did about as well as they did last year. That still amounts to an all-time high, which is better than a meaningful decline–and it leaves Apple with a clear lead, and everyone else squeezed together.
I can’t look at these numbers without thinking back to the ten years or so that I helped put together PC World’s Reliability and Service study, another project that involves ranking PC companies based on data collected from real people. The data-collection and analysis techniques are different, as are some of the broad pieces of takeaway. But the historical trend has been very comparable: Back in the 1990s, Dell was a leader and Apple was an also-ran. Along the way, Dell lost its reputation for great customer service and Apple earned one.
In the case of the ACSI, I don’t know a lot about the methodology, so I can’t say what specifically accounts for Apple’s rise. But I’d tend to think it reflects everything–the return of Steve Jobs, the growing popularity of iMacs and MacBooks, the introduction of the Apple Stores and their Genius Bars, and the general halo effect that almost everything Apple does has these days.
Over the past year or so, there seems to be less talk out there about the dreaded Apple Tax–the pointless extra dollars that Mac users supposedly line Apple’s pockets with compared to their friends and neighbors who buy Windows PCs. The “tax” is usually calculated based on a comparison of specs–how much you pay for a machine with a particular CPU, quantity of RAM, hard drive size, and so forth. Sometimes (but not by any means always) a similar-sounding Windows PC costs a lot less than a Mac.
I am, of course, a fan of beefy specs. But I’d love seeing proponents of the Apple Tax theory try to defend it in the wake of studies like this. If Mac owners are meaningfully happier overall than Windows PC ones, mightn’t it be a sign that you can’t compare computers on specs alone–and that the price you pay for a Mac is not unreasonable given the overall experience that you get in return? If Macs and Windows PCs are essentially identical, someone needs to tell Dell, HP, and Acer owners to start enjoying their systems more. And the rest of the industry needs to get to work building MacBook Air -like Windows laptops that cost no more than the Air does.
(Here I must pause to acknowledge the fact that some people will believe that happy Mac owners are brainwashed cult members who have been tricked by a wily Apple into believing themselves to be contented customers. The saps!)
So how can the rest of the industry narrow Apple’s lead, short of building nationwide chains of Acer, Dell, and HP stores?