Customer satisfaction improved for major household appliances and is at or near all-time highs for personal computers and big-ticket consumer electronics such as televisions, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

Amid recent news of weak durable goods growth and the continued uncertainty of the housing market, the ACSI results may provide a glimmer of hope for future demand for these durable products.

"In order for demand to rebound, consumers must exhibit an increased desire to spend and have the means to do so," said Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. "ACSI data suggest that for durables, the first condition has been met in the form of higher customer satisfaction. Whether this will translate into increased consumer demand will depend on positive movement in the factors that impact the means to spend: employment, wages and access to credit."

Personal computers

Satisfaction with personal computers surged 4.0 percent to match the all-time industry high of 78 on the ACSI's 0 to 100-point scale. Apple gained two percent to 86 -- its highest score ever. This marks the seventh straight year that Apple leads all other PC makers, and the 9-point gap between Apple and its nearest competitor is the largest in ACSI.

That's not to say Apple is without its critics. Karine of Mt-Tremblant, Canada says the IMAC she bought in 2008 for $2900 has been nothing but trouble. "Barely 15 months after purchase, I had a kernel attack," she writes "I paid $750 for a repair that didn't fix the issue. I had to bring the computer back to the store three more times, and it only made it worse. I am bitter and will not buy another Mac in the future."

Many Windows-based machines also improved and no brand declined. Dell improved three percent, while Acer (Gateway and eMachines) and the HP division of Hewlett-Packard both rose four percent, forming a three-way tie at 77-well behind Apple. These companies were joined by the aggregate of all smaller PC makers, such as Sony and Toshiba, which gained four percent to 77.

"Windows-based PC brands appear to have recovered from the problems associated with the Windows Vista software," said Fornell. "Barely a year into the release of Windows 7, satisfaction with these brands has returned to -- and in some cases even surpassed - the levels prior to the launch of Vista."

PC makers have benefited overall from better customer service, although this service continues to lag far behind other durable goods industries. PC owners who had reason to contact customer support are eight percent less satisfied than those with no post-purchase contact with the manufacturer or retailer.

Major Appliances

Customer satisfaction with major appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, and washers and dryers improved 1.2 percent to 82 -- matching a 10-year high. Whirlpool is atop the industry, unchanged at 83. 2010 marks the 15th year in a row that Whirlpool has had at least a share of the industry lead. GE closed the gap with Whirlpool, gaining five percent to 81 and rebounding from a big drop last year.

GE's climb tied the manufacturer with the aggregate of all smaller appliance makers, which improved three percent to 81. Electrolux rounds out the industry, unchanged at 79 and matching a five-year low.

GE does not rate highly with Mike from Villa Hills, KY, who says that after using all GE appliances for 26 years in his previous house with minimal problems, his wife insisted on GE when they moved to another house.

"We bought flat top stove, dishwasher and over-stove microwave," he writes "At 14 months the microwave broke. Entire insides had to be replaced. At 32 months, motor went out on dishwasher. At 39 months, the front burner on the stove went out frying the on-off switches also. My solution, never buy anything with GE associated by name or make."

Consumer electronics

Satisfaction with home electronics such as televisions and DVD or Blu-ray Disc (BD) players increased 2.4 percent to 85 -- the best-ever score for the category and the highest level of customer satisfaction for any ACSI industry thus far in 2010.

Greater affordability has made these products more attractive. For the first time, prices for some flat-screen TVs have fallen below $500. Prices for DVD and BD players have dropped as well, translating into better value for money, with a positive effect on customer satisfaction.

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