"Halo Effect" Means Apple Satisfaction Isn't All It Seems

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When assessing Apple's customer satisfaction it's important to consider the "Halo Effect" that makes the company's customers believe Apple is much better, regardless the actual difference.

For that reason--Apple's zealous cult following--it is wise to never assume Apple is ever quite as good as you hear. The 84 percent "satisfaction" rating received on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, released yesterday, is doubtless a good score (though down a point from a year ago).

But, is Apple so good as to deserve a score fully 10 points above other major PC vendors? I think not, and attribute about half the difference to Apple customers who simply "think different" than their PC brethren.

PC users love to beat up on their vendors, and with good reason. Supporting a Windows PC is a difficult task for hardware vendors. Besides their own hardware, they much support an operating system they didn't create, and sometimes applications they didn't write.

A PC customer is also, I believe, less likely to spend a few hundred dollars on an add-on service contract, something I always buy for my Macs. The hardware is expensive, it's expensive to get fixed, and my wife's three-year-old MacBook has been back to Apple three times for major fixes. AppleCare is a good investment, and helps pay Apple's support expense.

Being fair, Apple does offer better support than other PC vendors. Its integrated structure of creating the OS, designing and building the hardware, and writing many key applications makes support much easier for Apple. If a company has technology as that's as integrated as Apple's has and can't provide excellent support, it's really in trouble.

It's easy to mike light of a small drop in Apple's customer satisfaction, given all the other cracks in Steve Jobs' armor it seems significant as part of the trend. But, the really important numbers from the survey were the significant improvement in PC customer satisfaction. (Click on chart for a larger image).

PC customers aren't prone to give their vendors the benefit of the doubt that accrues to Apple. Most of Windows customers are disposed to not like their vendors very much. It's Windows culture and another malady Apple doesn't suffer.

So, for Compaq to improve 5.7 percent, Gateway/Acer 2.8 percent, and HP 1.4 percent--all landing at 74 percent, is an achievement. Especially for Compaq. Dell, meanwhile, continues to lead the Windows companies at 75 percent satisfaction.

My guess is that tight questioning would still find Dell and Compaq customers less satisfied than Apple customers. But, when corrected to overcome a bit of pro-Apple and anti-Dell/Compaq bias, I don't believe the real difference is the reported 9 or 10 percentage points.

Clearly, Windows hardware vendors are improving their customer service and Apple, though unlikely to lose its lead, needs continual improvement.

Industry insider David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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