Survey: Apple phone support still on top, but slipping

According to a new study, the overall quality of Apple's technical support by phone has declined significantly between 2010 and 2011.

Overall satisfaction ratings according to Vocalabs' study of technical support by telephone among Apple, Dell and HP.

The quality of Apple's tech support by telephone "declined significantly" from 2010 to 2011 according to a new customer study.

Vocal Laboratories (Vocalabs) this morning published findings from its National Customer Service Survey, saying that while Apple continued to beat out competitors like Dell and HP when it came to customer service on the phone, customer satisfaction dropped a full 10 percent since the firm surveyed customers in the first half of 2010.

The study, which ran from May 2008 to December 2011 was based on 4,852 telephone interviews made following calls to the support lines at all three companies. In it, Vocalabs said Apple worsened when it came to problem resolution, ease of reaching a support agent, and the amount of time people were on hold before being connected.

That said, it wasn't all bad news.

"Despite its significant decline, Apple continues to lead our survey in overall tech support quality," said Peter Leppik, CEO of Vocalabs, in a release. "But where Apple used to be well ahead in nearly every measure of service quality, there are now areas where Apple is tied with, or even behind, its competitors."

Vocalabs' data shows that Apple is behind both Dell and HP when it comes to automated sections of phone calls, and tied with the companies with problem resolution and ease of reaching a support agent. Meanwhile, the company led others in customer satisfaction with support technicians, and overall call satisfaction.

Problem resolution.

Around this same time last year, Vocalabs reported a noticeable drop for Applein its survey, which ran from July 2009 to December 2010. Based on 2,166 interviews with customers immediately following support calls at all three tech companies, that report said Apple's problem-resolution rates (read: if the problem a person was calling about got fixed) dipped some 7 percent, with satisfaction in automated calls taking a hit too.

Worth pointing out is that this survey does not include responses from customer service done at Apple's retail stores. Apple does not disclose how much of its customer care occurs at its Genius Bars versus phone support, making it difficult to see how much of the company's overall service is done by phone.