Windows 7 lifts PC satisfaction rates

Customer satisfaction among PC makers is on the rise -- that is, until tech support gets involved

The American Customer Satisfaction Index has released its annual manufacturing and durable goods report, and it shows interesting results for the high-tech industry. For one thing, despite the opposite message I get from Gripe Line readers, it seems that customer satisfaction with PCs is on the rise.

Dell, HP, Gateway/Acer, and a host of smaller PC makers brought their marks up to 77 on the survey's 100-point scale. For HP and Acer, that's a 4-point gain over last year, nearly an all-time high. Apple -- at 86 -- gained as well, and continues to hold its lead with a comfortable margin, which it has done for the past seven years.

[ For a look at where tech support is going, read Christina Tynan-Wood's "The (better) future of tech support." | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

Why the improvement? ACSI founder Professor Claes Fornell attributes it to Windows 7. "Windows-based PC brands appear to have recovered from the problems associated with the Windows Vista software," Fornell said in the announcement. "Barely a year into the release of Windows 7, satisfaction with these brands has returned to, and in some cases even surpassed, the levels prior to the launch of Vista."

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But if you dig a little deeper, the numbers accurately reflect what I hear at the Gripe Line. Though consumers are more satisfied with the machines they bought in 2010 than they were in the previous year (or even most years), that satisfaction tends to dry up once they have cause to reach out to customer support. After a call to customer support, customers are 8 percent less satisfied than those who never had to call support.

Just as interesting, I think, as the results on PCs are those on social media sites (released in July). This appears to be the first year these tools were included in the survey, but despite their wild popularity, they don't leave their customers satisfied, at least if you measure them against most PC makers. Facebook gets a 64 and MySpace a 63. Even YouTube only scores a 73. I suppose we can assume from this that privacy matters?

Internet retailers seem to be doing a good job of keeping customers happy, which goes a long way toward explaining why I prefer to shop online than off. gets a satisfaction rating of 82, and Amazon does even better at 87, which is actually the same or a slight decrease from previous years.

Back in July, we had a discussion about Samsung that left me looking for answers, so I sought out the company's customer satisfaction levels in this recent durable goods category. However, Samsung was measured on cell phones only; there it received a rating of 76, slightly less than the PC makers. I guess ACSI isn't settling that question for us.

Feel free to poke around the report yourself to see how your favorite company scored with other consumers before you make a purchase. ACSI measures not only PCs but many other industries as well. It released data for automobiles last month, along with hotels and airlines earlier this year. In October, it will release its customer satisfaction rating on beer, which I'm curious to see. If consumers of beer are left unsatisfied, that's a sad statement -- about either the beer or the consumers.

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