Study: Apple customer service complaints low, call automation could use work

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A new cross-industry study published on Friday notes that while Apple received fewer customer complaints than tech rivals Dell and HP, the company's automated call answering service is the weakest link in the chain.

Research firm Vocalabs released its Special Cross-Industry Report focusing on customer service complaints as part of the company's ongoing National Customer Service Survey and found that Apple led the pack in most categories with extraordinarily low numbers.

The study extrapolated data collected from 2,379 customer comments and complaints taken at the end of 7,149 phone interviews conducted between January 2011 to March 2012. About one third of those interviewed offered up the closing remarks.

The cross-industry report focuses on those comments made about tech companies Apple, Dell and HP; telecoms AT&T, Sprint, T-Moible and Verizon; and financial institutions Bank of America, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo.

One of the most telling metrics tracked are the customers who commented that they plan to leave the company by either switching providers, buying a competing product or changing banks.

"Our interview script already contains a question asking whether the customer would do business again with the company so customers who volunteered that they are thinking of leaving are effectively repeating themselves," said Vocalabs President and CEO Peter U. Leppik. "We believe these comments reflect particularly strong disaffection with the company."

Wells Fargo posted the highest amount of customers willing to say that they intended to leave the bank with 2.58 percent. Computer maker HP followed closely with 2.33 percent, but Leppik notes that the result is to be expected with companies doing business in a sector that can easily be abandoned. Unlike banks or mobile service providers, changing loyalty from one electronics brand to another is as simple as buying a competing product.

Apple had the lowest number of customers saying they would leave with 0.44 percent, while Citi came in second with 0.64 percent.

"Apple maintains its customer loyalty despite the fact there are few barriers to switching," Leppik said.

Voalabs Survey 1
Source: Vocalabs

Of the more common complaints, language barriers were at the top of the list and had the highest number of respondents offering up comments. A whopping 11.14 percent of customers complained about the language skills of HP's representatives, which was followed by Dell's 7.28 percent.

Despite the poor performance of the other two tech companies in the survey, Apple came in second with only 0.55 percent of customers volunteering complaints regarding language issues. Wells Fargo placed first overall with zero percent.

Vocalabs Survey 2

Another commonly-commented response was regarding rude or impolite behavior on the part of service representatives.

"Rude customer service representatives are fortunately rare, but represent the worst kind of customer service disaster," Lippek said. "These incidents carry so much emotional weight with customers that this is one of the few places where we regularly got complaints about other customer experiences."

Dell and Wells Fargo received the most volunteered complaints with 2.98 percent and 2.06 percent, respectively, while T-Mobile's 0.29 percent earned it the top spot. Apple came in second with 0.55 percent.

Moving to virtual representatives, one of the more pervasive problems with large corporations is the implementation of call automation. Customers frequently complain that it is difficult to get in touch with a human being and dislike navigating the sometimes troublesome systems some companies use to cut down on staffing costs.

The statistics were mostly based on comments that the customer never spoke to a live person, which could mean that the system is well-devised in that the problem was solved before it reached a level where a representative was needed. In this category, 7.55 percent of customers calling Citi disliked the company's automated service, while 7.53 percent felt the same about Verizon's solution.

Apple scored the worst in the tech company category with 3.31 percent, followed by HP and Dell with 1.04 percent and 0.99 percent, respectively.

Vocalabs Survey 3

The final metric in the study focused on hang-ups, whether intentional or accidental, experienced by customers.

"Like rude or impolite behavior, customers should almost never get disconnected or hung up on in a well-manged customer service operation," Lippek notes, saying that it's sometimes unintentional. "Other times this is intentional, as a way for agents to keep their average call time down or get rid of difficult customers."

In order to get an accurate read on what is accidental and what is intentional, the survey counted complaints about being transferred to a disconnected number or being put on hold for an such an extended period that the customer disconnected voluntarily. Both of these tactics are known to be used by agents as methods of getting off the phone without seeing negative repercussions.

Tech companies HP and Dell were the worst offenders in this category, logging 1.81 percent and 1.32 percent, respectively, with Apple's 0.55 percent earning it a fifth place finish. The best performers were Citi with zero complaints and Verizon with 0.18 percent.

Overall, Apple performed admirably against fellow computer makers HP and Dell, and faired equally well against cross-industry heavyweights like Wells Fargo and Verizon.