Customer Service Survey Places Apple Second To Last

Written by Evan Schuman
March 22nd, 2013

The vaunted customer service chops of Apple Stores may not be what they once were. A new retail survey of 10,000 U.S. shoppers placed Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) second-to-last in customer experience, just slightly better than RadioShack (NYSE:RSH). Is Apple a victim of its own reputation? In other words, are its fans’ expectations now so high as to be unreachable, delivering disappointment?

Another surprise: Ace Hardware placed third, beating out customer service king Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) by one notch. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Sam’s Club (NYSE:EMT) were the only retailers to achieve better customer service scores.

Other top customer service performers according to the survey are, in order: PetSmart (NASDAQ:PETM), BJ’s Wholesale (NYSE:BJS), Walgreens (NYSE:WAG), AutoZone (NYSE:AZO) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD). Weak performers include: JCPenney (NYSE:JCP), Marshalls (NYSE:TJX), Gamestop (NYSE:GME) and 7-Eleven. (Note: JCPenney has the distinction of being the retailer that suffered the largest drop in customer service ratings from last year to this year. JCPenney dropped 6 percent. The biggest retail gain during the same period? Office Depot (NYSE:ODP), which boosted its score by 11 percent.)

Customer service is one of the hardest things to reliably, consistently, accurately and—here’s the hardest one—meaningfully measure in retail. But this study looked at the behaviors and reactions from 10,000 U.S. consumers, giving some broad hints as to where some retailers are faring well—or not so well.

On the “better at customer service” side, Sam’s Club, Amazon, Costco and Nordstrom were at the top—and there are good reasons for that—along with Ace Hardware. The bottom of the list is more intriguing. RadioShack fared the poorest and Gap (NYSE:GPS), Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Walmart (NYSE:WMT), TJMaxx (NYSE:TJX) and Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST) were right near the bottom. But that second-lowest ranked chain is the Apple Store, despite its legion of fans and its highly regarded sales associates.

The report, from the Tempkin Group, tried putting some of the chains into historical context by, for example, pointing out that RadioShack is hardly a newcomer to the poor customer service game. “Radio Shack is the lowest-rated retailer for the third consecutive year and 191st overall in 2013. The retailer is also the lowest scoring across all three underlying components, functional, accessible, and emotional,” the report said. Report author Bruce Tempkin (the firm’s managing partner) added: “The retail industry remains one of the better sectors for customer experience, but RadioShack is a real black sheep in the industry.”

Amazon and Sam’s Club were essentially tied for first place. They ranked number one for retail and were tied at fifth for the best company overall, from all sectors. But because of the way Tempkin splits up categories, retail fared much better than that. Several top retailers in grocery topped the list of all companies—for customer service—and were separated into a grocery category. The top company of all types for customer service, according to the survey, is Publix; the second is Trader Joe’s and the third is Aldi.

The report’s methodology was a Web survey of pre-selected groups of shoppers. Tempkin Group only considered answers from shoppers who met “age, gender, income, ethnicity, and geographic” prerequisites that matched U.S. Census data. The 10,000 respondents are how many remained after the filtering.


2 Comments | Read Customer Service Survey Places Apple Second To Last

  1. Chad Says:

    I would be curious to see how this survey would report against an NPS score. Does a bad experience in service in a retail setting correlate to the likelihood of someone recommending the company for their product or other services?

  2. Nathan Says:

    I had a professor in college tell all of his students who used Macs to buy at least one share of Apple stock. That way they could contact Investor Relations when Customer Service refused to help. Not sure it’s the solution for everyone, but it certainly worked for him. He had his screen and his hard drive replaced by Apple – at their expense – in the time that I worked with him.


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