Apple still has little competition in creating happy customers

A yearly study that ranks the satisfaction level of personal computer owners is about to be released and the results are, well, kind of boring. “Boring” in the sense that the same company that’s led the rankings for the past eight years is back again: Apple (s aapl) is the clear leader in computer owner satisfaction with a ranking of 87 out of 100 in an industry whose average score is 78. It is, however, very interesting how having satisfied customers is coinciding with an expansion of Apple’s overall business and the rapid ascendance of its stock price.

While maintaining the lead it’s held since 2004, Apple has for the third straight year increased its American Customer Satisfaction Index score, bumping up a bit to 87 from 86 last year. The next closest is Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) with a score of 78, up from 77 last year. Dell (s dell), Acer and “all the others” rated 77. Compaq, an HP sub-brand, is ranked 75, up from 74 in 2010. The ACSI for Personal Computers, which will be officially released Tuesday morning, is a yearly survey that was initially begun at the University of Michigan. It deals with many consumer products, and has been ranking PC customers’ happiness since 1995.

The average for all PC owners held steady at 78 for 2011, the same as last year’s average score. Considering the turmoil and upheaval in the traditional computer business this year, we can’t really be surprised that there was no broad improvement (more shocked it hasn’t gotten worse). It’s been a particularly rough couple months for some of the world’s most high-profile computer makers: Acer had its ugly public spat between the now-former CEO and his board, Dell admits it’s seeing demand drop way off, and the world’s largest PC maker, Hewlett-Packard, is talking of abandoning the business altogether.

Customer satisfaction can be indicative of more than just people not having problems with a product and positively identifying with a particular brand. It can also be an indicator of how well a company is doing financially. According to ACSI founder Claes Fornell:

In the eight years that Apple has led the PC industry in customer satisfaction, its stock price has increased by 2,300%…Apple’s winning combination of innovation and product diversification—including spinning off technologies into entirely new directions—has kept the company consistently at the leading edge.

But the reverse is true as well. Apple has not always been great at creating satisfied customers (see chart above). The period between 1997 and 2000 was a low point, when the company’s ACSI index score hovered just above or below the average for the industry. Though it was not terrible relative to the rest of the field, the score was far below where it’s at now. Think about where the company was during that time though: Steve Jobs was just coming back to the helm, the company was narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, and the product line was pretty much a mess in the process of being untangled.

Now flash forward to today: Apple’s selling more computers than ever before; it has $76 billion in the bank–more cash on hand than any other technology company–and Monday, right before this survey came out, the company hit an all-time stock high with a price of $413.23.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Vectorportal