AT&T is the absolute bee's knees in customer care among the big four carriers. That's if you're listening to J.D. Power, anyway, which finds that longtime champion Verizon is no longer the best at solving its customers' problems. As a precaution, this study is rather narrow in scope and considers just three components of customer care: telephone assistance, online support and in-store personnel. Naturally, this is just one component of customer satisfaction, and factors such as coverage, data speed and call quality aren't considered -- look to Consumer Reports for insight on those. Still, customer care is important and J.D. Power suggests that it's now at its highest levels since 2009. Sadly, not everyone's a winner, as the study also finds that Sprint and T-Mobile both fall below the industry average.

On the prepaid side, MetroPCS is keeping its position as the front-runner, but even more curious, it's said that a whopping 69 percent of non-contract customers use carrier apps to manage their accounts. What's more, customer satisfaction is reportedly considerably higher among prepaid carriers that provide these management apps to their subscribers. In this context, it seems that well-targeted bundled apps aren't necessarily bloatware, but we still think its carriers should let you remove that stuff.

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J.D. Power Reports: Overall Customer Care Satisfaction Rises as Wireless Customers Use Online Chat Feature More Frequently Due To Improved Capabilities

AT&T Ranks Highest in Wireless Customer Care Performance among Full-Service Carriers,While MetroPCS Ranks Highest among Non-Contract Carriers

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif., Aug. 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Satisfaction with wireless carriers' customer care service has increased to its highest level since 2009, as the online channel, especially the chat function, has increased in both frequency of use and performance, according to the J.D. Power 2013 U.S. Wireless Customer Care Full-Service Performance StudySM-Volume 2 and the 2013 U.S. Wireless Customer Care Non-Contract Performance StudySM-Volume 2, both released today.

Now in their 11th year, these semiannual studies offer a detailed report card on how well wireless carriers provide customer service via three main contact channels: telephone (which consists of three sub-channels -Automated Response System (ARS) then Customer Service Representative (CSR); CSR only; and ARS only); walk-in (retail store); and online. The studies measure satisfaction with each contact method and analyzes processing issues, such as the efficiency of problem resolution and the duration of hold times.

KEY FINDINGS

Among full-service wireless customers who solve their issue online, 42 percent indicate having used the chat function, up 6 percentage points from 2011 Vol. 2.

Among customers contacting via the online channel, overall satisfaction is highest when the chat function is used (784).

More than two-thirds (69%) of non-contract customers indicate they have a carrier-based account management application on their phone to track usage, review their plan and contact their carrier. Satisfaction is 93 points higher among customers with a carrier-based app than among those without one.

Nearly one-fifth (17%) of full-service customers indicate that they have used YouTube to resolve a problem regarding their wireless service.
Overall satisfaction among full-service customers who most recently contacted their carrier with service questions or issues is 786 (on a 1,000-point scale). This is a 31-point increase from just 6 months ago and is now the highest level of satisfaction reached since the study moved to the 1,000-point scale in 2009. The same pattern holds true among non-contract customers, for whom overall satisfaction is at an all-time high since 2012 (732), with an increase of 34 points from 6 months ago.

While satisfaction levels have risen in all three main full-service contact channels, the online channel has improved the most, with a 52-point increase. This improvement is due to the increasingly innovative online chat functions and technologies that carriers are rolling out to their customers to help facilitate the care process as customers become more comfortable with this contact alternative vs. more traditional channels, such as telephone and walk-in. For example, the overall incidence of wireless customers using the online channel for their most recent care experience has risen from 9 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2013. Within the online channel, the chat feature has become the leading contact source, as 42 percent of full-service customers indicate using a live online chat feature vs. email (23%) or other social media forum (16%). Additionally, online satisfaction is highest among customers who use the chat feature (784), compared with among those using other forums to find information (756), indicating the importance of personalized service and knowledgeable representatives.

"The higher levels of satisfaction with online chat are partially due to the efficiency and immediacy of the experience, particularly with service issues or questions that are easier to resolve in this environment, such as billing or service/device questions pertaining to upgrades," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of the telecom services practice at J.D. Power. "However, as carriers release new products and services to meet consumer demand, such automated systems as online chat must continue to evolve to address harder-to-answer questions related to technology support, as customers gain confidence in using alternative contact channels for convenience-related reasons."

Study Rankings

For the first-time, AT&T ranks highest in wireless customer care satisfaction among full-service carriers, with an overall score of 795. AT&T performs particularly well in the walk-in and online contact channels and ranks above the full-service average in four of the five service channels.
For the second consecutive reporting period, MetroPCS ranks highest in overall wireless customer care satisfaction among non-contract carriers, with an overall score of 770. MetroPCS performs above the non-contract average in the telephone and online channels.
The 2013 Wireless Customer Care Full-Service Performance Study-Volume 2 is based on responses from 7,373 wireless customers. The 2013 Wireless Customer Care Non-Contract Performance Study-Volume 2 is based on responses from 3,235 wireless customers. Both studies are based on the experiences of current customers who contacted their carrier's customer care department within the past six months. The study was fielded from January 2013 through June 2013.

Overall Customer Satisfaction Index Scores (Based on a 1,000-point scale)
2013 Wireless Customer Care Full-Service Performance Study-Volume 2

AT&T
795
Verizon Wireless
790
Full-Service Average
786
Sprint Nextel
771
T-Mobile
760

2013 Wireless Customer Care Non-Contract Performance Study-Volume 2

MetroPCS
770
Cricket
750
Virgin Mobile
733
Non-Contract Average
732
Boost Mobile
729
TracFone
719
Straight Talk
690
Net10
683

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J.D. Power: AT&T unseats Verizon as customer care leader