Apple Strong, RIM Weak in Customer Satisfaction Index Debuts

The latest version of the American Customer Satisfaction Index heaps praise on Apple and kicks Research In Motion in the backside.

It’s the first time that Apple and RIM have been ranked in the Index, joining a number of other handset manufacturers in the category. On the back of its popular iPhone, Apple scored an 83 out of 100 getting the highest marks in the report while RIM and its BlackBerry platform earned a meager 69 deemed “least satisfying.” Overall, customer satisfaction with the cellphone industry slipped 1.3 percent, to 74, while wireless-service satisfaction dropped 1.4 percent, to 70.

Companies with weak customer satisfaction often have weak stock performance,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and author of “The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference.” RIMs sales are slumping amid a bevy of problems, from hardware and software issues to server lapses that have caused email and messaging outages. Over the past year, share price for RIM has virtually collapsed.”

With its score of 83, Apple became the first cellphone manufacturer to crack the 80 mark. Nokia, LG and HTC all scored 75 to tie for a distant second place. Motorola really fell out of favor, dropping 5 percent to 73. Same for Samsung, which dropped to a below-average score of 71.

When it comes to wireless services, smaller carriers do better than the big boys. TracFone and U.S. Cellular led an aggregate of smaller companies that earned a score of 76. AT&T was the only wireless company to show gains in the category, up to 69. That was good enough for a tie with T-Mobile, just behind Verizon Wireless, which fell to 70. The winner among the major carriers is Sprint, which tallied a 71.

For the first time ever, fixed-line service failed to beat wireless. The two are now tied since the wireline service ranking fell more than 4 percent. Smaller providers, just like they do in wireless, fare better than the giant companies in this space. All major carriers fell in satisfaction this year, with CenturyLink taking the biggest hit. America’s third-largest fixed-line carrier is now lowest in ACSI rankings.

Verizon’s FiOS strengthened its ACSI lead in subscription TV service, but the sector as a whole underwhelmed. Verizon was up 3 percent to an all-time high score of 74. DISH Network was second, followed by AT&T’s U-verse and DirecTV. Among the 47 industries analyzed by ACSI, only newspapers and airlines rank lower than television.

While the range of services offered by the industry is larger than ever, reliability and cost are hurdles along the path to higher customer satisfaction,” says Fornell. Service providers need to improve reliability without upping prices, which may be a tough balancing act in an economy where the monthly cost of TV service can rival that of energy utilities.”

You may have noticed the absence of cable companies on that list. They sit at the bottom, with Cox Communications diving 6 percent; yet, its score was still good enough to beat all other cablecos except Time Warner, which managed to tie Cox. Charter Communications finished in last place.

Across all of the industries the ASCI measures, customer satisfaction was up 0.1 percent, to 75.9.

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