Apple's tech support thrashes competition, whether in-store or over the phone

Apple again took the top prize in Consumer Reports' survey of technical support providers, thumping rival PC makers by a large margin.

Apple again took the top prize in Consumer Reports' survey of technical support providers, thumping rival personal computer makers by a large margin and edging out third-party local support.

The publication posted the results of its poll of 3,200 computer owners Thursday. Those users had contacted a company's technical support in the past 12 months, or taken their problem to an in-store support tech during that period.

"Apple tech support is by far the most effective of any computer brand's," said Consumer Reports.

The magazine pegged Apple's technical support with a score of 83 out of a possible 100, easily trumping competitors like Lenovo (64), Dell (61) and Hewlett-Packard (55), the three largest sellers of Windows-powered PCs.

The Cupertino, Calif. company's score was down slight from 2013, the last time Computerworld reported on the publication's survey. Then, Apple set the benchmark at 86.

Apple's in-store support topped the chart with a score of 83, also off 2013's number. Local computer retailers -- the mom-and-pop-style independents that still survive -- came in at a close 80. But electronics chains' in-store support options were no match: Best Buy's Geek Squad generated a score of 75 and Staples' Easy Tech a score of 71.

Mac owners who had contacted Apple phone or chat-based support said that in 82% of the cases, the problem was solved, while 88% of the issues were satisfactorily handled when they visited a Genius Bar, Apple's label for its in-store help desk.

No other OEM (original equipment manufacturer) came close to matching Apple's problem solution rate: Levovo's tech support, for example, solved 61% of the troubles, but low-scorers like Toshiba and Asus came up with a fix just 49% and 50% of the time, respectively.

"The help desks at Windows PC companies often didn't live up to that name," Consumer Reports said. "For four of the six PC brands in the survey, tech support solved only half of the problems consumers brought to them."

In-store support solved a larger percentage of problems than traditional phone or online avenues. Independent local retailers made things right 85% of the time -- just three points behind Apple's Geniuses -- while Geek Squad and Easy Tech came through 82% and 75% of the time, better than any Windows PC OEM.

But as Consumer Reports noted, Apple's in-store support is free to anyone who owns an Apple device, while the alternatives for Windows PC owners come with a price tag. Geek Squad charges $200 annually for unlimited online or in-store support for three devices, for example; Easy Tech does in-store problem solving for $160 a pop, $80 online.

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