updated 10:40 am EDT, Fri October 12, 2007
Apple service lagging?
Apple's rapid growth in recent years may be coming at the cost of actually keeping customers happy, say some observers. While sales of Mac computers are escalating at three times the speed of PCs, and the iPhone is already seizing a good share of the cellphone industry, Apple is now dealing with a more diverse group of buyers, extending beyond the "cult" following it has had since the 1980s. "The customer base is now more diverse, including students and mainstream consumers, and it's harder to satisfy as a whole," says Lopo Rego, a marketing professor with the University of Iowa.
Apple continues to maintain some of the highest ratings in customer satisfaction, but a University of Michigan survey published in August revealed a four-percent drop in the company's score, down to 79 percent. The last instance of a slide in Apple scoring was 2001. Meanwhile, anecdotal complaints on websites including Apple's own support forums are said to be full of increasing vitriol, with some owners of Apple products swearing off the brand entirely due to bad service. The company has also experienced recent, high-profile technical issues, from "bricked" iPhones to repeated lockups of new iMacs.
BusinessWeek contends that a part of the problem is Apple's "pristine" reputation, which is what draws many customers in. When it becomes evident that Apple is more fallible than media hype suggests, customers react angrily. It is long-term customers who may feel they have received enough from Apple to overlook occasional problems.
COO Timothy Cook defends Apple's service reputation, claiming that internal analysis shows wait times have not changed in stores or on phone lines, and that customer satisfaction has actually gone up two to three percent since 2006. Calls in particular are said to be answered on a two-minute average, with issues solved the first time in over 90 percent of cases. Apple retail chief Ron Johnson notes that stores are hiring more personnel, in keeping with a remodeling strategy.