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Study finds Apple tops in call center tech support

Apple outshines Dell and HP in customer satisfaction for phone tech support, though the problem-resolution numbers fell a bit, study finds.

Apple outscored both Dell and Hewlett-Packard in overall satisfaction with tech support by phone, though its problem-resolution rates took a bit of a hit in a study released today by consumer feedback firm Vocal Laboratories.

Based on interviews with customers from July 2009 to December 2010, Apple's lead in phone support over Dell and HP dipped a bit in the second half of last year compared with the first half, according to the study from Vocal Laboratories (Vocalabs).

But Apple customers seeking tech support still proved the happiest, with 66 percent saying they were "very satisfied" with the call itself, compared to 51 percent for HP's customers and 49 percent for Dell's. Further, 76 percent of Apple users said they were very satisfied with the representative who helped them on the call, though that too was down a bit from 82 percent in the first half of the year.

Vocal Laboratories

Satisfaction over actually fixing the problem also dipped slightly for Apple, with 60 percent of those polled saying the problem was resolved during the call, compared with 67 percent in the first half of the year. Looking at satisfaction with the company overall, Apple fell in the second half to 59 percent from 66 percent in the first half, though that was still higher than the rates for Dell and HP.

Satisfaction with the automated part of the call, which Vocalabs dubbed the "nuisance factor," also saw a drop among Apple's customers from 2009 to 2010, at the same time that it improved for Dell users.

Thirty-five percent of Apple users questioned during the second half of 2010 ran into difficulty reaching a live person, irrelevant or repetitive steps, and trouble with the IVR (interactive voice response) system, which tries to route calls based on the responses of the caller. That proved to be an increase from the 21 percent who reported similar problems in the second half of 2009.

In comparison, Dell's nuisance factor over the same period dropped to 46 percent in 2010's second half from 55 percent in 2009, though even with the drop, Dell's rate was still higher than Apple's.

Vocal Laboratories

Despite the declines for Apple in certain areas of customer satisfaction, the company continued to outpace Dell and HP overall and still commands the most loyal customers.

Asked whether they'd buy the same brand again, 84 percent of Apple users said yes, compared with 60 percent for Dell and 66 percent for HP. And asked if they'd recommend the brand to others, the results were similar--85 percent of Apple customers said they would, compared with 61 percent for Dell and 66 percent for HP.

The study was based on 2,166 telephone interviews conducted between July 2009 and December 2010. Customers were interviewed immediately after tech support calls to Apple, Dell, and HP, allowing Vocalabs to directly compare the quality of phone support among the three.