Study: Apple, Dell lead PC customer satisfaction index

The PC industry is doing a better job of satisfying its U.S. customers than in recent years, and improvements to technical support seem to have done the trick, according to the results of a study released Tuesday by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) measures the attitudes of consumers in several different categories, including PCs and online Web sites, on a scale from zero to 100. For the second quarter of 2004, the PC industry posted a score of 74, which represents an improvement of 2.8 percent compared to last year and a level the industry hasn't achieved in four years.

Overall customer satisfaction with the PC industry has rebounded as vendors have renewed their focus on support and made PC technology easier to set up and use, said Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan Business School and director of the ACSI.

Apple Computer Inc. and Gateway Inc. recorded the largest improvements in customer satisfaction. With a score of 81, Apple's customers are the most satisfied of any other PC vendor measured in this index.

Apple's success comes from a focus on innovation and improving tech support, Fornell said. Just about every other PC vendor received technical support scores that were less than the scores they received for the quality of their products, but Apple was the only company that received high marks for both quality and support, he said.

Gateway's standing has improved based on its acquisition of eMachines, Fornell said. The company's products are now seen as having greater value because of the addition of eMachines' low-cost desktops and notebooks, he said. Gateway received a score of 74, in line with the industry average.

Dell Inc.'s customers were only slightly less satisfied than Apple's, according to the index. The PC market share leader received a score of 79.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) managed to eke out slight improvements in customer satisfaction, but it remains below the industry average. The ACSI breaks out HP's scores for both HP-branded PCs and Compaq-branded PCs, and both were below the industry average at 71 and 69, respectively.

Fornell blamed the integration efforts following HP's acquisition of Compaq for its troubles in maintaining customer satisfaction. For some years prior to the merger, the separate brands led the ACSI, but both brands have not regained the scores they achieved in the late 1990s, he said.

The ASCI identifies about 250 customers of each PC vendor and surveys them about their attitudes toward that company. The index also develops scores for other industries such as automobiles, household appliances and telecommunication services.

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