The American Customer Satisfaction Index: Apple Aces It, Again

By  |  Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 1:35 am

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?


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12 Comments For This Post

  1. The_Heraclitus Says:

    "Sometimes (but not by any means always) a similar-sounding Windows PC costs a lot less than a Mac."

    Actually, almost always is cheaper when comparing specs. But, the quality is not usually as high as Apple H/W. This shows in the survey data.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    You can almost always buy a PC–some PC–with beefier specs than a Mac for less money. But for a while, I kept doing the most ambitious price comparisons I could which attempted to find PCs that matched the Macs as closely as possible–including weight, thinness, and case materials. In those instances, the Macs were sometimes cheaper than comparable PCs.


  3. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I'm talking $ for performance. But, I'm talking IT purchases not personal. I can see for someone like yourself who is constantly on the go valuing those two items. It is about priorities and of course it is subjective for both of us. At times, physical properties can be the deciding factor.

    I just wish that Apple would license their OS. I could see them taking the PC space in a few years from MS…

  4. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    So you are rolling out desktop systems only in your IT department? I haven't heard of that still going on these days.

    Most IT is rolling out more portables and more mobiles, and weight is the primary feature there, because the user is expected to carry that system with them all the time these days. And the users are not all 6 feet tall 200 pound men.

  5. The_Heraclitus Says:

    What ARE you babbling on about now? Where did I write "desktop systems only"?

    Quote me or stay away from me you troll.

  6. art Says:

    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?

  7. AJM Says:

    " Thus growth is certainly due to new, former PC owners, walking into Apple stores looking for a phone and walking out with a Mac."
    …this is a leap of faith within the statistics to come to this conclusion. I agree, it 'could be' due to that fact…but not 'certainly'

    "I am a Mac owner but we have delayed our next Mac purchase to get two iPads"
    …so now, do you get 2 votes instead of one? If all you do is browse the www, listen to music and play angry birds, then that would make sense. If, however, you want to do real work then a slate of any kind won't fulfil the bill.

  8. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    Apple definitely have new customers coming in. They have said for quite some time that they sell about half their products to new buyers, people who have never bought an Apple device before.

    But you have to beware of the fanboy characterizations that frustrated gadget nerds like to make. It is BS and always has been. Consider that Google is 75% Macs. Consider that both Silicon Valley and Hollywood are over 75% Macs. They were not purchased because of teh shiny, they were purchased because of the technology. The Mac is the only PC with a full Web development stack in it, the only one with a pro audio system in it, there are thousands of features in there specifically for creative computing in the same way that Linux has thousands of features in it for Web serving or Windows has thousands of features for IT people to play with on the company dime.

  9. Rodsta Says:

    I bought a Lenovo X220 i7 solid state and it tipped me over the edge… I gave it back and bought a MacAir holding my breath and praying I would be able to use it. What a revelation! It is a fantastic piece of kit. It works well and quickly and the software is amazingly intuitive. I then bought an iPad too, specifically with a work role in mind, and could not be happier with it. I shall, on the back of these positive experiences, be purchasing an iPhone 5 when it comes out. The fact of the matter is that Apple products do the job they are supposed to do very well and very easily. If Microsoft products did that I would still be using them.

  10. Reshhia Says:

    If you have multiple versions of the same product that you have more chances to win the customer. Always offer alternatives available to the client in the same range of products. This will help choose the right for his taste.

  11. Sally D Says:

    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.

  12. Roger Says:

    I have used Apple computer since 1988. The Mac has turned my brain to mush. I am a hopeless fanboy. Even though I used superior Windows products at work and occasionally installed and used Linux at home for its server capabilities, I still loved my Mac for some crazy reason. Eventually, I went from having an IQ that measured high genius to near-idiot level. Yet I remain hopelessly in love with Apple.

    But don't feel too bad for me. Even though I was a writer and editor for a newspaper and have been paid less than the average schoolteacher, I am not destitute. I borrowed $16,000 when Apple stock was still under $10 and have held most of it until now. I am still able to provide for myself. Apple is up about 3,000 percent since my purchase.