Driven by the popularity of tablets, personal computers grabbed a new high in customer satisfaction in the September report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Labeling desktops, laptops, and tablets all as personal computers, the ACSI gave the category a grade of 80 out of 100. That proved a 2.6 percent gain over the 78 score earned last year and in 2010. Though some may disagree with the tagging of tablets as PCs, the iPad and its brethren were partly responsible for the bump in satisfaction among computer buyers.
"The recent stall in demand for desktop PCs comes in conjunction with a surge of interest in small, mobile computers; in particular, devices that are ultrathin or lightweight," ACSI founder Claes Fornell said in a statement. "The current ACSI uptick for the industry at large is driven, in part, by the higher levels of customer satisfaction that tablets enjoy over desktops and laptops. As tablets gain market share, overall customer satisfaction with the PC industry picks up."
Why include tablets in the PC satisfaction survey? A spokeswoman for ACSI told CNET that the survey respondents were asked whether they had bought a PC in the last three years, and if so, what kind. When answering this question, consumers included tablets as a type of PC, leading the ACSI to categorize them the same way.
Apple remained tops on the satisfaction list, though it slipped a percentage point from last year, nestling in at 86 out of 100. The iPad maker's lead this year over other vendors was a bit smaller due to a rise in satisfaction for Windows-based PCs. And though consumers have been gravitating toward tablets, PC vendors seem "to be doing a better job of pleasing the customers that they are keeping," according to the report.
Approval of several PC vendors rose, even though their market share among consumers has been dipping.
Dell took home a score of 79, up 5 percent from last year, while its U.S. PC shipments dropped 10 percent in the second quarter from a year ago.
Hewlett-Packard scored 79, up 1 percent as its PC shipments fell 13 percent over the same period. Acer's rating increased 3 percent to 79 at the same time its PC shipments shrunk by 14 percent.
And showing up on the list for the first time, Toshiba received a grade of 77 amidst a 20 percent fall in its U.S. PC shipments. Smaller PC and tablet makers combined saw their rating rise 4 percent to 80.
"What may be occurring is that the defection of the least satisfied customers of traditional PC brands such as Dell, HP, and Acer to Apple and other smaller tablet makers actually may be boosting customer satisfaction for all," Fornell said. "The companies that lose market share will maintain their most loyal and happy customers, while those who migrate to other companies in search of new products are more pleased as well."
To compile its reports, the ACSI interviews around 70,000 customers each year and then pushes that data into a computer model that measures satisfaction with more than 230 companies across 47 different industries.