ATandT Customer Service a Different Story, Depending on the Teller

Vocalabs reports AT&T beat Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile in customer satisfaction, while a J.D. Powers study found Verizon to be tops, with the others following at a distance.

AT&T, which rated lowest of the four major carriers in a recent J.D. Powers and Associates customer care survey, would like to direct your attention to an also-recent Vocalabs National Customer Service Survey (NCSS), in which it came out on top.

In the face of satisfaction declines among its competitors, "69 percent of AT&T customers we surveyed were 'Very Satisfied' with their customer service calls during the three months ending December 2011," states the Vocalabs report, "better than the 59 percent of Sprint customers, 48 percent of T-Mobile customers and 60 percent of Verizon customers who were similarly satisfied."

In the case of agent and interactive voice response (IVR) interactions, said Vocalabs, AT&T also led.

The Vocalabs report dedicated small sections to analyzing T-Mobile and Sprint, though not Verizon €” which by far topped the J.D. Powers survey €” except to say, in a section on call outcomes: "The one bright spot among these metrics was the continued improvement in the IVR systems at Verizon, where customer satisfaction has improved by 14 points over the past year."

T-Mobile emerged from its recent "roller coaster ride" with AT&T with "poorer service," it went on. In particular, its speech recognition system frustrated customers.

Sprint, experiencing less "dramatic external events" than T-Mobile, nonetheless saw a "significant decline in service levels after the gains of 2010." In particular, the number of customers who said it was hard to reach a real person rose from 5 percent in the first quarter of 2011 to 14 percent during the fourth quarter.

"We speculate that after Sprint€™s customer service initiatives of 2010 yielded dramatic gains, the company decided to shift focus to cutting costs €” perhaps mistakenly thinking that customer service was 'solved' €” and giving up its service gains," said Vocalabs.

€œWe make customer service a priority so we€™re pleased to be recognized again for our efforts to provide a top-notch experience,€ LeAnn Priebe, senior vice president, AT&T Mobility Customer Solution Centers, said in a statement, responding to the study. €œBut we don€™t take praise for granted €” every day we work hard to deliver the industry€™s best products and services with exceptional customer care.€

On Feb. 2, J.D. Powers released the results of its 10th semiannual study on the wireless carriers, in which it notably found that owners of 4G-enabled devices reach out to customer service more frequently than owners of other devices €” 18 percent versus 11 percent, respectively.

The report authors found it understandable that the use of a new technology should prompt questions or problems.

"What is important to understand," they continued, "is that investment is needed in support services to not only handle the increase in customer interactions, but also to provide service representatives with the necessary training and information across all contact channels in order to offer a timely and superior service experience. In fact, it takes approximately five minutes more per contact, on average, to resolve issues pertaining to 4G-enabled devices, compared with issue resolution times for traditional phones."

On a 1,000-point scale, customers in the J.D. Powers survey gave Verizon a score of 762. Sprint, in second place, scored a 745, followed by AT&T with a 743 and T-Mobile with a score of 739.

Among non-contract wireless carriers, Sprint-Nextel's Virgin Mobile brand prevailed, scoring a 735. The next-highest score, of 701, went to Boost Mobile, also owned by Sprint-Nextel.

Verizon was said to perform particularly well "in phone contacts that originate in the [automated response system] channel and are then transferred to a live service representative, and in phone calls made directly to a [representative]."