Making The Grade

With school back in session, it's time for Interactive Week's fifth annual ISP Customer Satisfaction Survey. Each year, we ask our readers to grade their business ISPs to determine which should be added to the honor roll, and which should stay afte

With school back in session, its time for Interactive Weeks fifth annual ISP Customer Satisfaction Survey. Each year, we ask our readers to grade their business ISPs to determine which should be added to the honor roll, and which should stay after school for extracurricular help.

This years class valedictorian for overall customer satisfaction is WorldComs UUnet, with Southwestern Bell Internet Services as salutatorian and Road Runner as runner-up. AT&Ts WorldNet service ranks fourth in this years class roster, with Sprint in hot pursuit. Click Here For The Full Report Card

Since we began our survey five years ago, UUnets customers have consistently placed it at the head of the customer satisfaction class. This year, as in three of the past five, UUnet earned the top spot as graded by its customers; in the other two years, the company occupied the second and third spots. No other ISP has displayed such a consistently excellent performance, giving UUnet the right to be the teachers pet. The companys 2001 grades place it first in an impressive 10 of the 27 attributes rated.

It has to do with network capacity, service quality and staff excellence, says Ralph Montfort, WorldComs director of Internet access and security products. "Starting in 1996 and 1997, we built out a network that was a step ahead of our competition in terms of capacity. We put in enough capacity to keep up and stay ahead. And we have had a good network and good quality operations and facilities working for us. Its a tribute to our people," he adds. "You can have the best routers and switches in the world, but if you dont have quality people, you dont get this kind of rating."

One UUnet customer who agrees that people make a difference is Fernando Guerrero, vice president of telecommunications of One Call Medical in Parsippany, N.J. "The most favorable factor with UUnet is that no matter what questions we have for them, we always get someone to talk with us every time we call," Guerrero says. "In addition, if the person we contacted does not have the answer, he or she immediately creates a conference call with one or two individuals to obtain the proper answer. This is excellent customer service.

"From the service point of view, the connection is always up, and any minor service issues that have occurred have been resolved promptly," he says.

Rising Star

This years surprise salutatorian, southwestern Bell Internet Services, rose quickly into the second spot from No. 9 last year. Southwestern Bell is only the second regional Bell to rank among the top-performing ISPs; BellSouth is the other, ranking first in 1999. Although Southwestern Bell Internet Services ranks first in only two attributes - breadth of services, and performance monitoring and tools - it consistently places within the top five on 20 of the 27 attributes.

Third in this years class is Road Runner, which rose meteorically from 11th position last year. Road Runners rise to prominence is due in large part to its customers satisfaction with the availability of broadband service, the performance of its network, and the time and ease of getting Road Runners service up and running. Road Runner customers, most of which graduated from dial-up connections, are clearly pleased above all with the capacity of their network connections.

This years fourth-place finisher, AT&T WorldNet, is highly rated on two metrics especially important to customers: network reliability and price. AT&T WorldNet exhibits a solid performance as it ranks among the top five in 18 out of 20 attributes.

Sprint deserves honorable mention in fifth place. The company has been among the top six rated ISPs in the five years of our survey, rising to fourth in 1998. But to date, Sprint has been unable to break into the ranks of the top three.

EarthLink, which along with merger partner MindSpring topped last years honor roll, slipped from the top to 6th place this year. This slide may be due to challenges surrounding the merger of the two organizations and their networks.

Work to Do

At the nadir of this years class is Verizon Communications, with fellow incumbent local exchange carrier Pacific Bell Internet keeping it company. Poor customer service responsiveness ratings drag their overall rankings down, as do poor ratings for technical support, and time and ease of service installation.

AOL, XO Communications and PSINet might welcome the chance to repeat the year. AOL, which has the dubious distinction of ranking consistently at or near the bottom of the pack, ranks 18th out of 20 this year. AOLs business customers are especially unhappy about the value they receive for the price they pay - likely a response to AOLs recent price hike. AOL receives lower ratings for value for the price, network reliability, network capacity and availability of broadband services than any other service provider. Based on the business customer satisfaction levels in our study, this year, as in past years, AOL is a dubious choice for serious business users.

Rebecca Wetzel is an Internet industry analyst, consultant and writer. She can be reached at [email protected]