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Survey Suggests Customers Are Less Satisfied with Apple's Tech Support

Apple's vaunted tech support services just aren't what they used to be, according to a new study released by Minnesota-based Vocalabs. From the first half of 2010 through the first half of 2011, the company reported a 10 percent reduction in the number of customers who were "very satisfied" with Apple's tech support.

HP and Dell on the other hand, saw their customer satisfaction marks increase, from 43 percent to 47 percent for Dell, and 44 percent to 51 percent for HP during the same period.

The survey, titled the National Customer Services Survey, compares the customer service quality for different companies in the same industry using survey data and call statistics from the companies' customers. Customers were recruited online to participate in the study and called an alternative number for technical support. The alternate number forwarded the calls to the company's published technical support number, allowing Vocalabs to track the progress of each call.

A select number of survey participants were called back following each call and interviewed about their experiences. Total customer satisfaction is calculated by combining the results of several subcategories including the ease of reaching a customer service agent, problem resolution, and agent satisfaction.

So what gives with the drop in customer satisfaction for Apple customers? According to the survey's author, Peter Leppik, the problem lies in Apple's growing reliance on interactive voice response systems (the robot that talks you through your calls). Leppik says the number of customers who were satisfied with automated calls dropped by 28 points in the last 18 months to 24 percent.

Dell meanwhile, remained level at 36 percent, while HP saw automated call satisfaction drop by only 2 percent. But when Apple customers spoke to an actual customer service representative, they reported a 77 percent satisfaction rate, compared to Dell's 56 percent and HP's 61 percent.

In his study, Leppik shows a correlation between the percentage of customers satisfied with their overall services, and the number of customers who are likely to purchase another product from each company or recommend it to family or friends. For Apple that would appear to be troubling, since as its customer satisfaction fell, the percentage of customers who would purchase another Apple product tumbled from 84 percent to 79 percent.

Both Dell and HP saw their numbers jump from 60 percent to 70 percent for Dell, and 66 percent to 69 percent for HP. Apple didn't see a change in the willingness of customers to recommend the company's products, but Dell saw an eight percent uptick.

In our own 2011 Tech Support Showdown, which grades companies on an A through F scale on their ability to resolve relatively simple technical problems, Apple bested all comers, receiving an A for the third straight year. We praised the company for its web and social networking-based tech support and, like the Vocalab survey, appreciated the service provided by Apple's customer support personnel.

Leppik's assertion that Dell's customer support has improved, lines up well with our showdown results. We gave the company an A-, up from a B- in 2010, and a C- in 2009. Our opinions did, however, differ when it came to HP's service. Leppik's survey showed in increase in customer satisfaction for the company, but we gave it a slightly lower mark for taking a long time to give us accurate answers to our questions.

To see how we graded the rest of the major tech companies, check out our 2011 Tech Support Showdown.

A newspaper man at heart, Dan Howley wrote for Greater Media Newspapers before joining Laptopmag.com. He also served as a news editor with ALM Media’s Law Technology News, and he holds a B.A. in English from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.