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Tuesday, August 19, 2008, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Apple sets new standard in customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction in the personal computer industry suffered another series of declines last quarter, though one standout was Apple, Inc., which defied the trend by recording its largest gain ever, according to a new consumer satisfaction survey.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index second quarter report, released Tuesday from the University of Michigan’s National Quality Research Center, said Apple's score of 85 was not only a company best, but also "a new all-time high for the industry."

By comparison, the Mac maker's rivals combined for the second consecutive drop in overall customer satisfaction with the PC industry, which saw scores fall a full percentage point to a rating of 74, surrendering all gains made since 2005.

Apple's 8 percent leap puts 10 points between the company and its nearest rival, one of the largest gaps between first and second in any industry measured by ACSI.

"It’s hard not to be impressed with Apple," said Professor Claes Fornell, head of the ACSI. "This is product extension at its best where the new products, iPod and iPhone, are helping bring new customers to existing computer products. The fact that Apple is not dependent on the Windows Vista operating system hasn’t hurt either."

The industry aggregate decline was largely a result of customer dissatisfaction with Windows-based machines, namely those from Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, and Compaq, Fornell added. Each saw a 4 percent falloff in satisfaction, dropping their respective scores to 73, 72, and 70. One exception was Dell, which saw its score inch up a point to 75.

Meanwhile, customer satisfaction with the e-business category of websites surged 6 percent to an all-time high of 79.3, largely a result of achievements on the part of Google.

After slipping behind Yahoo! for the first time last year, the search giant surged an unparalleled 10 percent to leave all rivals in its wake, according to the ACSI. Google's score 86 also set a new standard for e-businesses and opened a formidable nine-point gap between its nearest competitor, Yahoo!, which fell 3 percent to score a 77.