Customer Satisfaction With PCs, Appliances, Electronics Hits a Wall

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ANN ARBOR — Customer satisfaction across three durable goods industries stalled in 2011, with the majority of companies staying almost exactly where they were in 2010, according to a report released Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The report covers customer satisfaction with personal computers, major appliances, and electronics (televisions and BD-DVD players).

One year after climbing 4 percent to a record-high score of 78 on ACSI’s 0 to 100-point scale, customer satisfaction with personal computers flattened out. The industry itself is in a state of rapid change, with technology advances accelerating amid shifts in consumer preference. As the demand for traditional desktop PCs weakens, the tablet computer market is skyrocketing, led by Apple’s iPad. Apple’s record of customer satisfaction preeminence in the personal computer industry continues unabated in 2011, as the company added another point to its already exceptional score. At 87, up 1 percent, Apple leads its nearest competitor by 9 points.

“In the eight years that Apple has led the PC industry in customer satisfaction, its stock price has increased by 2,300 percent,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and author of “The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference.”

Added Fornell: “Apple’s winning combination of innovation and product diversification — including spinning off technologies into entirely new directions — has kept the company consistently at the leading edge.”

For a graphic that shows visually just how much Apple has pulled away from its rivals, visit this link.

Among Windows-based PC makers, not much has changed over the past year.  The two Hewlett-Packard brands — Compaq and HP — saw only incremental gains, up 1 percent in 2011.  At 78, HP outperformed last-place Compaq at 75, and customer satisfaction for both brands is higher now than at any time since the HP-Compaq merger in 2002.  But HP’s market share is increasingly threatened by tablet computers, and the company may soon abandon the PC market altogether. Dell, Acer and the aggregate of all other brands (such as Toshiba, Lenovo and Sony) were sandwiched in between the two HP product lines, with no progress this year as evidenced by unchanged ACSI scores of 77.

As for appliances, for more than a decade, the major appliance industry — makers of washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, ranges and ovens — earned solid customer satisfaction marks, scoring in the range of 80 to 82 in all but three of the years since 1994. A marginal retreat for 2011 brought the industry’s score down to 81, down 1.2 percent from a year ago.

For the past two years, pricing pressure has kept big-ticket consumer goods at near constant prices, but sales have been mostly flat since 2010 and weaker than pre-recession levels. In 2011, all three major players in the industry encounter some slippage in customer satisfaction, but the change for Whirlpool was minimal (down 1 percent) and the company solidified its lead over both General Electric and Electrolux.  While Whirlpool’s current score of 82 is not its best over time, the company has been much more consistent over the past three years than GE. GE’s customer satisfaction has been more volatile, with a 3 percent drop to 79.  Over the past year, GE’s sales have been sluggish and its stock is down 20 percent year-to-date. Swedish manufacturer Electrolux also trailed Whirlpool and dropped 1 percent to 78 — the lowest ACSI score for the company since its 2006 inclusion in ACSI.

Going against the industry tide, small manufacturers improved in the eyes of their customers. The aggregation of “all other” companies producing major appliances gained 3 percent to an industry-leading score of 83. This group, which includes the brand Kenmore, is at its highest level ever in the history of ACSI measurement.

Customer satisfaction with televisions and Blu-ray Disc (BD) and DVD players was unchanged at 85 — the highest score among 47 industries covered by the ACSI.  The industry is a longtime leader in customer satisfaction and this is the second straight year that electronics has led the Index.

Consumer perceptions of high quality, with price cuts on flat-panel TVs and BD players, contribute to strong and stable customer satisfaction for the industry.

“Customers are upgrading to TVs that provide better picture quality, more features, and save space, while the BD format is becoming more widely available and affordable.  Clearly, customers are pleased with what this industry has to offer them,” Fornell said.

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