Apple is slipping when it comes to providing customers with automated over-the-phone assistance, according to Vocal Laboratories, a company that helps measure the quality of businesses' contact centers.
The findings are part of The National Customer Service Survey (NCSS), which "tracks customer service quality in several industries, using telephone interviews conducted with a customer immediately after a customer service experience," states Vocal Laboratories.
Statistics in this particular Apple case study were based on 4,161 surveys conducted between May 2008 and June 2011. The study measured exclusively assistance provided to customers over the phone and found that though Apple scored top marks in many areas, a few facets of Apple's once overwhelmingly positive technical support are beginning to fall behind in comparison to competitors Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HP).
According to the report, during the first six months of 2011, 58% of customers surveyed were "Very Satisfied" with the phone-based technical support provided by Apple, a 15 point decrease from a year ago. Fifty three percent of HP customers rated their experience as "Very Satisfied"; a nine-point improvement over the past two years.
The study confirms that Apple's strength remains in its live-person support on calls, with 77% of callers saying they were "Very Satisfied" with the technician.
The automated part of the call however, left customers wanting more. A mere 24% of Apple customers were "Very Satisfied" with the automated portion of the call, trailing Dell's 36% and HP's 40%. Furthermore, during the survey period, 40% of Apple customers reported a problem with the automation system; nearly double the percent complaints from the previous year.
"Apple used to be well ahead of the pack in tech support," said Peter Leppik, CEO of Vocalabs, in a press release. "Now it would be fair to say that they are merely at the front of the pack. Apple used to lead on nearly every metric for support quality. Now there are several metrics where Apple is tied with its competition, or even trails."
Contrary to these data reports, other sources indicate that Apple is still ahead of the pack however. Earlier this year, Laptop Mag staff rated Apple's tech support 14 out of a possible 15 points, applauding the company for its "step-by-step solutions" and the Apple associate who "followed up with an e-mail that included additional advice".
Fortunately for Apple, even if the Vocal Laboratories report indicates that the computer maker is falling behind in tech support, its product reviews still pass with flying colors. Most recently, Lex Friedman of Macworld noted that "Apple's MacBook Pro and MacBook Air were [rated] the best 17-inch, 15-inch, 13-inch and 11-inch laptops available," according to Consumer Reports in 2011.
While phone-based automated support might not be Apple's strong point, it's fair to say that the company's reputation is still in the clear thanks to the raging success of its retail stores and genius bar. Case in point, would Dell or HP let their customers bring pet goats and other oddities into its stores? Nonetheless, there's nothing wrong with knowing where a company can improve.