PC buyers have a notable lack of brand loyalty, although some PC hardware vendors do a better job of retaining customers than firms in other industries. To find out how brand loyalty is affected by ownership experiences, IDC chose measures of loyalty and experience, and analysed their relationships statistically.
The purpose of studying brand loyalty and the reason why PC vendors should have a deep-rooted interest in it is simply that it is far easier to sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new ones, according to IDC's UK-based study, 'Relative Brand Loyalty as a Function of Service and Reliability Metrics'.
The study found that the relationship between user experiences with service and reliability were related to customer brand loyalty as expressed in users' willingness to recommend their current PC brand to other potential buyers.
Word of mouth
Summary statistics of the WTR metric (Willingness To Recommend) for brands show that, among the major brands, Dell had one of the highest overall scores for desktop computers. Only two specialty brands, Alienware and Shuttle, scored higher. Other brands of note in the highest-scoring group included Apple, Medion, and Sony.
Likewise, summary statistics of the WTR metric for notebooks showed eMachines - surprisingly, a discount brand - as having the highest mean rating among major brands. Apple, Dell and IBM also did quite well.
According to Roger Kay, vice president for client computing at IDC, "The scope of differentiation between PC brands is quite narrow, leaving a vendor to distinguish itself though its design team, its service philosophy and execution, and the quality of its people."
One positive conclusion drawn from this study for notebook vendors is that the metrics suggest it's easier to build brand loyalty with notebooks than desktop computers. Kay suggests that this may be down to the assessment that notebooks seem to cultivate stronger feelings than desktops because users travel with them, rely on them as a lifeline to their business, and see the notebook in front of them, as opposed to a desktop that might be hidden from view.
Hurt or help?
The study also found that a brand is either helped or hurt significantly by over- or under- performing on measures such as answering the service phone quickly, whether systems arrive non-functioning at a customer site, and how fast problems are resolved. Problems that were easily resolved seemed to have had less of a negative effect than long telephone hold times and a failure to resolve the problem or problems at all.
Crime against loyalty
The greatest penalty to PC brand loyalty appears to be the failure to resolve a problem at all, implying that vendors should have a system ensuring that there is a final, positive outcome for the owner. In measuring 'service experience', desktop brands that yielded measurable results included eMachines, Dell, HP, Gateway, Compaq, Sony and IBM. Notebook results, again from a smaller sample, included sufficient data to analyse Toshiba, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, HP, IBM, and Sony.
The study was conducted in conjunction with computer retailer PC World, and looks into the details of PC brand loyalty, quantifies brand-specific loyalty metrics, and recommends actions for individual vendors that can lead to improved customer loyalty. As a result of its survey of more than 41,000 desktop and laptop users, the study encourages PC vendors to invest in service and reliability metrics to improve customer experiences for a positive effect on customer loyalty.