Windows 7's 'halo' effect boosts PC makers' customer satisfaction scores

But Apple retains big lead over rivals that rely on Microsoft's OS

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"But customer service has also improved as a whole," said VanAmburg, pointing out that Windows 7 can't get all the credit for the rising tide that floated all boats. "Support is getting better, manufacturers are making better, more reliable machines, and they're reacting faster to customer queries," he added, referring to specific findings of the survey.

Another factor: Lower prices.

"Higher satisfaction scores across the board may be due to the fact that [economic conditions] have kept up pricing pressure on the manufacturers," said VanAmburg. "They have to offer more attractive prices to attract and retain customers."

Even so, computers as a category still lagged behind other consumer goods, including durables such as major household appliances and competing consumer electronics gear, according to ACSI. The average computer satisfaction rating was 78, compared to appliances' 82 and consumer electronics' 85.

Part of that, VanAmburg suggested, was because we have a "much more hands-on relationship" with our computers, and so expect more. "You don't really interact with your refrigerator," he said. "You open the door, the light comes on. With our computers, there's much more engagement."

Apple remained the clear leader in customer satisfaction, a pride-of-place position it's held since 2004.

In the latest survey, Apple scored 86 out of a possible 100, eight points above the average and nine points above the nearest competitor.

VanAmburg had an explanation for Apple's increase of two points over last year's score as well. "It could reflect the satisfaction with the iPad," he said.

Apple launched the iPad in April to rave reviews, and until recently had trouble meeting demand.

VanAmburg ticked off several other reasons for Apple's first place score, including its high-ranked customer service and its chain of retail outlets, where customers can ask so-called "Geniuses" technical support questions.

"But some of Apple's dominance year after year reflects their unique ability to integrate their products and continue to innovate," said VanAmburg, citing the iPad as the latest example. "That's some of what has created its high rating."

ACSI's survey scores and commentary can be found on the organization's Web site.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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