Apple's Technical Support Is the Best,
Survey Finds

Richard Koman,

Calling computer tech support is generally not a happy way to spend an afternoon. Except, apparently, when calling Apple.

Consumer Reports' annual reliability survey put Apple's tech support head and shoulders above the rest of the consumer PC industry. Apple solved desktop woes 81 percent of the time and laptop problems 83 percent of the time.

"Apple is again at the top of the heap with tech support," said Donna Tapellini, an associate editor at the magazine. The survey, conducted from September 2006 to January 2008, represents more than 10,000 desktops and laptops.

Retail Strategy Pays Off

Those numbers are massively better than Apple's PC competitors. Dell was a distant number two for desktop problems with 56 percent satisfaction, followed closely by Gateway at 54 percent, and HP and its Compaq brand at 47 percent.

On the laptop side, the PC makers did better, with Lenovo following Apple with 66 percent satisfaction, followed by Dell at 60 percent, Toshiba at 55 percent, Gateway at 54 percent, Sony at 51 percent and HP at 48 percent.

Apple retail strategy appears to be a key factor in its customer satisfaction success. Apple's "Genius Bar," where employees provide walk-in support, resulted in satisfied customers 90 percent of the time, the survey found. Unlike many other companies' policies, where consumers can't even talk to tech support if they are out of warranty or they don't have an extended support plan, any Apple customer can bring a machine into the store and get a free diagnosis. Customers must, of course, pay for repairs if they haven't purchased the AppleCare extended warranty.

AppleCare Stands Out, Too

And unlike most other extended warranty plans, AppleCare is worth it, Consumer Reports said, especially since Apple only offers a 90-day warranty on new purchases. The fact that Apple computers are more expensive also factors into that decision. At $169 for an iMac, $249 for a MacBook and $349 for a MacBook Pro, the cost of AppleCare is a smaller percentage of the total cost than extended warranties for most other models.

As a general rule, Consumer Reports says extended warranties aren't worth the expense. On average, computer repairs cost about the same as the extended service plans, making the plans a poor investment. "And if it's going to cost more than half of the replacement price to fix the old computer, then it's not worth it," Tapellini said.

The results show that Apple's retail strategy is firing on all cylinders, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, in a telephone interview. "In this day and age, people can't just ship their computers and wait weeks for them to come back," Sterling said. "Being able to to go to the store and get it fixed right there or in a very short time is very important."

Apple's success with its retail stores is a further indication of CEO Steve Jobs' genius in swimming against the industry tides. While much of the industry was following Dell's lead in e-commerce and most companies were opening call centers in the Indian high-tech hub of Bangalore, Apple in 2006 canceled its plans to open a support center in India.

"Customer service is part of the Apple culture, more than it is part of the other companies'," Sterling said. "It's instructive to others. Customer service is a way to differentiate among the gray boxes. Apple has differentiated its machines and now its service."

Copyright 2008 NewsFactor Network, Inc.