American consumers are not finding new technology appealing enough to offset pricing across an array of durable products including personal computers, autos, household appliances, and even televisions. For PCs, weak demand is reflected in lower customer satisfaction (-1.3% to 77) as many customers turn increasingly to smartphone use.
For durable products like PCs, prices are not down—if anything, they are rising. The global shortage of NAND flash storage caused an uptick in PC prices, which also contributes to lower satisfaction. But innovation—or lack thereof—is dampening buyer enthusiasm whereby consumers have little incentive to replace or upgrade their PCs. Over the last few years, basic desktop and laptop functionality has not changed much, and innovation is moving more slowly around the margins.
Among PC makers, the top of the industry for customer satisfaction is driven by Apple and Samsung—mirroring results for the cell phone category. High-scoring Apple has led the PC industry for years, while Samsung, first measured in 2015, has sprinted up to nearly catch the leader. The two companies’ cell phone offerings also run nearly neck-and-neck, and some of their individual smartphone brands earn very high scores in the upper 80s. In ACSI’s smartphone brand study released last spring, Apple’s iPhone SE ranks first among 20+ phones at 87, followed by Galaxy S6 edge+ (86), iPhone 7 Plus (86), and Galaxy S6 edge (85).
On the computer software side, customer satisfaction wanes 3.7% to 78 as both smaller companies and Microsoft tumble—the latter declining even as it transforms into a supplier of cloud-based services. Despite MS increasing the frequency of feature updates, both Windows and the Office Suite have yet to give users improvements that are compelling enough to propel higher satisfaction.
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Smartphones have radically altered the landscape of the cellular telephone industry, offering a startling array of apps that reach well beyond sending and receiving phone calls. But, more functionality makes for increasingly complex devices. With smartphones, it’s like you’re carrying a pocket-sized personal computer, and ACSI results show that PCs earn lower customer satisfaction scores than other types of durable goods, in part because of their complexity.
So, how happy are customers who use their phone as a mobile computing device versus those who use their phone as—simply put—a phone? ACSI results released in May 2012 show that the more complex the use, the less satisfied the user is overall with their chosen cell phone.
Respondents to the survey were asked “other than making or receiving phone calls, what do you use your cell phone service for the most?” For phone-only users, satisfaction is 74 (on a 0 to 100 scale). But, when users do more than phone calling, satisfaction tapers off—from 70 for text messaging all the way down to 65 for multimedia use (such as gaming and video streaming).
While all cell phone users expect about the same level of quality from their phone (77 for phone only versus 76 for multimedia), differences emerge when they consider their actual experiences. The ACSI measures quality as a combination of customization (meeting personal requirements) and reliability (how often things go wrong). Both measures decrease as complexity of use increases, especially reliability.
According to ACSI research, satisfaction tends to decrease as the number of customer touchpoints increases. This is because there are more opportunities for customers to be disappointed. To put this in context for cell phones: The more functionality the phone has—and that the customer makes use of—the greater the chance that something will go wrong. This can be anything from data upload speed to hardware and software problems.
Indeed, the percentage of customers who have complained to the manufacturer or wireless provider about their cell phone is dramatically lower for phone-only users versus any of the other categories.