Customer satisfaction with PC makers rose by 4 percent this year—but these companies still give customers a rough ride, according to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a prominent study done yearly by the University of Michigan. On average, PC makers rated only as well as the lowest-ranking car manufacturer, the newest study shows. “Imagine if automobiles had the same reliability as PCs,” says Claes Fornell, a professor at the university’s Ross School of Business. “Think about what the highways would look like.”
Apple’s customers remain the happiest in the bunch, but satisfaction improved for every hardware vendor the survey covers, including Compaq, Dell and Gateway. In one promising sign, Dell’s score went up by 5 percent compared with last year, partly thanks to improvements to its call center, Fornell says.
PC vendors are slowly learning that excellent customer service (not just low prices) sets them apart, says Fornell. For years, the weakest part of the auto industry was service, and this took decades to improve, he says. PC makers will get there quicker, he predicts.
Meanwhile, customer satisfaction with search engines has been improving since it was first measured in 2002, according to ForeSee Results, an online satisfaction measurement firm that cosponsored and wrote the ACSI study. Google rates as the big winner with customers: More than 40 percent of all searches occur on Google, according to this research—more than Yahoo and MSN searches combined.
The ACSI study shows that MSN doesn’t differentiate itself and Yahoo offers too many options, says Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee. “When you try to be everything to everyone, you fail,” he says. One search site that has found the right mix, Freed says, is Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves). Small design updates and new functions like encyclopedia search and mapping technology make Ask a competitor to watch, he says.