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Quality of Apple's industry-leading tech support declines in 2011

According to a study published on Thursday, Apple's phone-based tech support remains the best in the industry, but complaints regarding wait times and call automation have led to a decline in customer satisfaction.

The findings, based on data from an ongoing study conducted by Vocalabs, shows that the quality of Apple's phone support has declined significantly over the past year and a half, and is slowly sinking to reported levels of its competitors.

As part of the research firm's National Customer Service Survey, 4,852 customers were interviewed between May 2008 and December 2011 and polled on various service quality metrics regarding tech support calls to Apple, Dell and HP.

"Apple was far and away the leader in technical support quality," writes President and CEO of Vocalabs Peter U. Leppik. "In the end of 2011, the company has slipped to merely ahead of its competition in certain metrics, and with a downward trend. If this trend continues, Apple could even be trailing in support quality by the end of 2012."

After reaching a peak in early 2010, Apple has seen a precipitous 19 percent decline of customers who were "very satisfied" with their call, compared to the five percent and two percent drops in call satisfaction from Dell and HP respectively.

Problem resolution is also on the decline as the Mac maker showed a 17 point drop in problems solved over the phone, ultimately leaving one out of every two issues unresolved. The results bring Apple down to within four points of Dell's 46 percent rate of problem resolution, and three points of HP's 47 percent.

Tech Support

Source: Vocalabs

In some cases, Apple has been surpassed by its competitors, as in the 20 point increase in customers who did not experience problems with the company's interactive voice response system. In contrast, Apple fell 25 percent over two years for the same metric and is now sitting in last place behind HP.

Overall, the Mac maker saw drops in almost every surveyed area over the past 18 months, including likelihood to repurchase, agent satisfaction and reaching an agent, as well as a rise in customers who noted problems with Apple's call automation and wait time.

The results are in no way a death knell for Apple support, however, and the company remains the industry leader in offering a satisfying problem resolution experience.