Apple tech support satisfaction plummets

Survey shows customers hate automated portion of their calls for help

Apple customers are increasingly dissatisfied with the company's technical support, which could affect the firm's bottom line down the road, a researcher said today.

Although Apple continues to best rival computer makers Hewlett-Packard and Dell in overall customer satisfaction with technical support, in several areas Apple's slippage over the last year is alarming, said Peter Leppik, CEO of Vocalabs, a Minneapolis-based company that surveys consumers after they've contacted customer or technical support.

"Apple is still definitely ahead of its competition, but what we are highlighting are deeper metrics that are showing negative trends," said Leppik. "Customers are upset with the automated part of support calls to Apple, and that might be trickling into higher metrics."

Those higher metrics Leppik referenced include the likelihood customers will return for another purchase in the future, or continue to recommend Apple products to friends and family.

In the past 12 months, consumers who said they were "very satisfied" with Apple's technical support dropped 15 percentage points, from 73% at the mid-point of 2010 to 58% halfway through 2011, said Leppik.

The primary cause of the tumble was a turnabout in customers' opinion of the automated section of their calls to Apple. In the last year, the percentage of those who said they were very satisfied with the quality of Apple's automation fell 13 points to 24%. That's a new low for Apple in Vocalabs surveys, and a whopping 28 points off the peak of 52% a year-and-a-half ago.

Numbers for HP and Dell are both significantly higher: 40% of HP customers and 36% of Dell's said they were "very satisfied" with the automated portion of their support calls.

"Once [Apple's] customers get to a human, they love support, but Apple's not paid enough attention to the experience up to the point where the customer reaches an agent," said Leppik.

Vocalabs surveys consumers on their support satisfaction immediately after they wrap up the phone call. The company solicits people for its surveys before they call technical or customer support, provides them with a phone number that forwards to the actual support number -- Vocalabs then knows exactly when the survey candidate dials support -- and then rings them a few minutes after they complete that call.

The survey polled over 4,100 U.S. consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 6-8 points, said Leppik.

Tech support chart
Customer satisfaction with Apple's automated call system has plummetted in the last 18 months. (Graphic: Vocalabs.)
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