Feature Article

May 15, 2012

Four Biggest Mobile Service Providers are Tied for Customer Satisfaction, ACSI Study Suggests

It is only one measure of overall product perception or value, but the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index suggests that, at least in the area of customer satisfaction, the four largest national mobile service providers are viewed equally, while satisfaction with fixed network service is slipping across the board.

 Moreover, satisfaction with mobile services has been rising since 2004, while satisfaction with fixed network and video entertainment services has been flat to negative since about 2001. 

Though near-term scores can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, the overall segment trends might suggest something about relative satisfaction with mobile, fixed network and video services overall.

 Smaller carriers, such as TracFone and U.S. Cellular, have higher satisfaction scores than the four major carriers, with the composite index of smaller mobile service providers getting a score of 76, compared to the four majors, which get scores of 71 (Sprint Nextel) to 69 percent (T-Mobile USA). AT&T scored a 69, while Verizon Wireless was rated at 70.

 Since 2008, the most-notable change has been Sprint’s climb from a 56 score to the top position.

 It might be worth repeating that customer satisfaction is not always a very reliable predictor of customer loyalty. In the wireless, fixed network and video entertainment subscription businesses, even “satisfied” customers will leave a provider for another. Better offers and promotions are a likely reason for that behavior. 

In another notable change, for the first time in ACSI history, ACSI stated that fixed-line phone service no longer beats wireless when it comes to satisfying customers. With a sharp decline of 4.1 percent to 70, fixed-line service now ties wireless.  Back in 1994, fixed network service was getting scores of 80 and 81.

 Since 2004, when ACSI first began tracking wireless service, scores have risen from about a baseline of 65.

 In the fixed line services business, smaller providers, with a composite score of 76, are ranked higher than the larger providers. 

“Customers who choose to stick with their land lines are not happier,” ACSI notes. “Every major carrier is down this year.”

The largest ACSI decline belongs to CenturyLink, plummeting six percent to an industry low of 66 after its acquisition of Qwest. Comcast dropped three points to 67, while the rest of the industry scores between 70 and 71.

But both mobile and fixed network services get higher scores than video entertainment services providers. The industry overall is flat for a third year at the “low” score of 66, ACSI notes. 

Among TV service providers, though, Verizon’s FIOS service was up three percent to an all-time industry high of 74.  DISH Network scores 69, AT&T’s U-Verse scores 68, while DirecTV got a score of 68.

Cox Communications fell six percent to 63. Time Warner improved to 63. Comcast scored a 61, with Charter Communications at 59.

At 83, Apple iPhone leads satisfaction in the mobile device category, while RIM (Blackberry) lags behind ranks lowest at 69. No other device manufacturer ever has ever broken into the 80s, ACSI notes. Apple’s nearest competitors early in 2012 are Nokia, LG and HTC, with scores of 75 each.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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