PC contact centers: Lowest satisfaction of any measured industry

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Since their inclusion in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in 1995, PC service customers have been some of the least satisfied of those in any industry, and personal computer companies are notorious for maintaining ineffectual contact centers. Representatives are often difficult to understand and refuse to help if the products are not under warranty.

We ask respondents which company’s call center they use. While sample sizes are large enough analyze the industry overall, no one company has enough mentions to have their satisfaction score singled out; some of the more well-known companies mentioned include HP and Dell.

Customer Satisfaction with PC Contact Centers Is Poor

Not surprisingly, of the six industries measured in the Call Center Customer Satisfaction Index, satisfaction with personal computer call centers is the lowest of all industries, with a score of 64 on the Index’s 100-point scale. Scores in the sixties are generally considered worrisome, and PC call centers clocked in a full four points below the next-lowest industry, insurance call centers and cable/satellite TV call centers, both 68.

Because we used the methodology of the University of Michigan’s ACSI to conduct the Call Center Satisfaction Index, we are able to compare customer satisfaction with the call center with customer satisfaction for the industry overall, as measured by the ACSI. In fact, customer satisfaction for the call centers is 13 points lower than it is for the PC industry overall (which has a respectable ACSI score of 77). Clearly, the industry has problems with call center satisfaction.

The stakes are higher than ever, since the research shows that nearly 73% of people who have a bad experience with their PC’s contact center will consider switching companies (30% say they will definitely switch based on a bad call center experience, and another 43% say they aren’t sure).


The reasons that satisfaction for PC call centers is so low are varied:

• Nearly a quarter of the callers hang up with their issue still unresolved.
• Customer service representatives (CSRs) receive low marks; they are perceived as difficult to understand and ineffective in solving problems; this is related to the frequency of offshoring in the PC industry.
• The product itself is complex and the users may not be technologically savvy, magnifying communication issues.

Customer Service Representatives in PC Call Centers Place Last

The performance of customer service representatives is the number one factor driving customer satisfaction, retention and recommendation. Customers rate CSRs on five attributes, which are combined into a CSR overall score. The PC industry scores are significantly below the average across industries.


CSRs in the PC industry receive the highest score for their courteousness, the same as the aggregate industry score. Unfortunately, PC industry CSRs’ performance in other areas falls short, particularly language skills (speaking in an understandable manner) and effectiveness.

Call center executives need to examine their training and monitoring programs to ensure that CSRs have the tools they need to answer the questions they are getting. Are the scripts consistent with the customers’ questions? Are the answers, no matter how politely recited, actually solving the customers’ problems? Clearly, in the case of the PC industry, there is significant work to be done.


The Impact of First Call Resolution

So why are customers so dissatisfied? Primarily because nearly a quarter hang up with their issue still unresolved. As is the case across all industries studied, many significant differences exist between the customers who resolve their issue and those who do not. They hang up dissatisfied, likely to defect to a competitor, and will certainly not be a source of recommendation — although they will likely tell their friends and family members about their bad experience.

PC manufacturers are at major risk from this poor service. If only 33% of the customers with unresolved issues will continue to do business, that means 67% may not. If you do the math, 67% of the 23% of customers whose issue is not resolved will be lost. This translates to 15% of all callers likely to leave due to poor service.

Word of Mouth

Unhappy customers don’t just leave – they leave and tell all of their friends. In the era of Web 2.0, with customers broadcasting complaints or compliments about cell phone service to millions with a click of a mouse, impressions formed by a call center are more crucial than they’ve ever been.

Seventy-nine percent of those whose issue is unresolved tell others about the experience. In contrast, only 44% of those whose issue is resolved share their contact center experience with others.

We also ask customers about their likelihood to recommend a PC based on their experience with the call center. Only 59% of PC customers who call the contact center will recommend the company to others, which is the lowest of all industries measured. As would be expected, this is driven by the service received: PC “recommenders” are significantly more satisfied than “non-recommenders” – by 61 points (86 versus 25).


Offshoring appears to be a major issue in the PC industry. This is not necessarily due to the concept of offshoring per se, but because customers are not getting their needs met by offshore contact centers. For instance, the University of Michigan’s ACSI found that overall customer satisfaction with Dell dropped significantly once they started offshoring.

We ask some questions to discern whether customers think offshoring is an issue and how much they care about it. Responses are similar across industries, save for the PC industry. First, only half of PC customers think the contact center they are calling is in the U.S., and another quarter say they do not know. This was far lower than other industries, where on average, 78% of callers think the call center is in the U.S.

When asked whether call center location drives likelihood to do business in the future, people using call centers are split. Forty-two percent of respondents say that knowing a call center is in another country affects their likelihood to do business with a company, while 46% said it has no impact. This proves true throughout most of the industries as well, with customers in any given industry being fairly evenly divided about whether or not offshoring is a crucial concern for them.

It’s the quality of the service resulting from offshoring that should be of considerable concern to PC industry executives. The table below shows the differences in scores for call centers that customers think are in the U.S. vs. outside the U.S. Clearly, the offshore contact centers hire and train courteous, interested staff. Unfortunately, the offshore contact centers ultimately are not solving customer problems as well as U.S.-based centers. And solutions are what customers want.

Customer satisfaction is complicated by the complexity of the product. Callers may not use technical terms, which frustrates both the caller and the CSR. Layer language differences on top of the product complexity, and it’s a recipe for significant communication issues. And the survey results bear this out. CSRs who are difficult to understand are also less adept at solving customer problems. When reps are perceived to speak clearly, they solve customer issues 88% of the time (across all industries). When customer service representatives are difficult to understand issues are solved only 45% of the time.

It’s incumbent upon the industry to understand and resolve these issues. The firms that do this well are likely to gain a competitive advantage over those that do not.


Poor customer service in the PC industry overall provides an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate themselves based on customer service. Smart executives grasp the potential value from improving their contact centers, and put the right measures in place to ensure their centers are performing. The old adage that you manage what you measure is true.

Those firms with significant offshore contact centers must be particularly vigilant that the centers are meeting customer needs. And it’s not enough to have the centers monitor themselves – in addition to the operational metrics that contact center managers already use, firms need an independent measure that captures the voice of the customer.
Actually, the offshoring is the only problem I have had with Dell so far. I have owned a 2400 for about 5 years now, and it's not given up on me yet. I believe a lot of this could be fixed if people had patience, which not many people seem to have today. I don't like the fact that so many companies are offshoring. Maytag/Magic Chef has a lot of jobs in my town, and 400 are getting lost/early retirement because they are moving there jobs. Some to Mexico, I believe.
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