May 17, 2011

Sprint, Verizon Tops In Customer Service

Customer satisfaction among the Big 4 national wireless carriers has Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Wireless with the happiest subscribers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

However, AT&T and T-Mobile USA, the other two big carriers, saw their customer satisfaction numbers drop. This comes at a time when AT&T has a deal with T-Mobile for $39 billion that is set to close next year.

The merger could make AT&T and T-Mobile customers even less happy, as acquisitions tend to do, according to Claes Fornell, professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan and the designer of the ACSI survey.

Struggling to combine billing systems, customer support and other functions are some of the obstacles faced by cellphone company mergers. Consumers can get frustrated with these snags. Sprint's merger with Nextel in 2005 had the company scoring the worst in the industry for many years, reports the Associated Press (AP).

Not until Sprint CEO Dan Hesse made customer service a priority in his plans for the troubled company did improvement happen. Sprint jumped from a score of 56 three years ago to a 72 this year, tying with Verizon Wireless for best customer service.

Subsidiaries Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile that sell plans without two-year contracts were included in Sprint's score.

AT&T scored a 66 in the ACSI, which is down from 69 last year. The score is the company's worse since 2006, the year before it started carrying the iPhone; and is the lowest ranked out of the four national carriers.

T-Mobile received a score of 70, down from 73 points last year. Financial statements from T-Mobile also suggest that subscribers are unhappy, as it shows an increase in "churn," or the percentage of subscribers leaving every month.

Being the smallest of the four national carriers, T-Mobile has had difficulty competing with the bigger companies; and that is one of the reasons why it is selling itself to AT&T.

On the other hand, AT&T customers are more loyal, regardless of the low satisfaction score; and only a slight increase has occurred in subscribers wanting to leave.

ACSI reported that the happiest wireless customers were those who get their service from smaller carriers such as TracFone Wireless Inc. and U.S. Cellular Corp, with a survey score of 77.

8,000 households were polled for the ACSI in the first quarter for the Index and a three point margin of error exists for all scores, reports the AP. The survey was developed by the University of Michigan but is now run by a private company, ACSI LLC.


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