Survey says Verizon is best at customer satisfaction... among the big four, anyway

The results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index are in, and parroting a recent study by Consumer Reports, Verizon Wireless is named the front-runner with the most happy subscribers among the big four carriers. The survey takes a number of factors into account, such as call clarity, dropped calls, network coverage, data speeds, helpfulness of in-store staff, diversity of plans and the quality of the carrier's websites. As the dust settled, Verizon notched a three-point gain to chart a score of 73 (out of 100), whereas ACSI's previous front-runner, Sprint, held steady with a score of 71. AT&T is portrayed as "in a statistical dead heat with Sprint," which climbed one point to chart an ACSI score of 70. Meanwhile, satisfaction among T-Mobile customers fell a point, which caused the carrier to pull up the rear with a score of 68.

On the whole, ACSI suggests that subscribers are generally more satisfied with regional providers and MVNOs, as the little dogs hold an aggregate score of 78. Speaking in broader terms, the ACSI reports that the wireless industry has reversed its two-year trend of sliding customer satisfaction to hit a benchmark score of 72, which matches the industry's 10-year high. Naturally, improvements still need to be made across the board, but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Survey says Verizon is best at customer satisfaction among the big four, anyway

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ACSI: Customer Satisfaction with Wireless Phone Service, Subscription TV Improves; ISPs Debut at Bottom of Index

Verizon Tops in Multiple Industries; Comcast Makes Gains but Stays Low; Apple Slips While Samsung Surges

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (May 21, 2013) – The annual Information Sector report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows that customers are happier with telecommunication services and technologies than they were a year ago. The Information sector benchmark-the combined aggregate score for wireless telephone service, Internet service providers (ISPs), subscription television service, cellular telephones, fixed-line telephone service and computer software-climbs 0.6% to 72.3 on a 0 to 100 scale. The improvement, along with gains for energy utilities and health care (reported by ACSI in April), pushes the national customer satisfaction benchmark up 0.4% to 76.6.

"Customer satisfaction with the Information sector is improving, but none of these industries score higher than the national average," says Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and chairman. "Limited competition combined with high consumer expectations for information services are a formula for relatively weak buyer satisfaction, despite the gains."

Subscription TV: Customer Satisfaction Improves in a Low-Performing Industry

Subscription television service ends a three-year run of stagnating customer satisfaction with a 3.0% gain to an ACSI benchmark of 68. While the boost is good news for cable, satellite and fiber-optic television providers, the industry remains the third worst of the 43 industries covered in the ACSI.

Among TV service providers, those offering service via fiber optics or satellite earn the best marks for customer satisfaction. On average, fiber-optic/satellite service receives an ACSI score of 72 compared with 63 for cable service. Verizon (FiOS) stays in first place at 73 (-1%), with DIRECTV at 72 and AT&T (U-verse) at 71 close behind after strong gains of 6% and 4%, respectively. DISH Network rounds out the above-average group with a near-steady benchmark of 70 (+1%).

While most cable providers do better in 2013, all remain below the national ACSI average. Cox Communications leads at 65 (+3%), but is chased by a much-improved Charter Communications at 64 (+8%) and a modestly stronger Comcast at 63 (+3%). Time Warner Cable backslides, dropping 5% to an industry low of 60.

"While nearly 90% of households have some form of TV subscription, the industry is facing small, but growing, competition from Internet video streaming," says ACSI director David VanAmburg. "The industry's pattern of yearly price increases, coupled with sporadic reliability, keeps customer satisfaction low relative to other household services and vulnerable to new technologies that enter the market."

Subscription TV customers give picture quality strong ratings for both HD and basic resolution, but find call center service to be lacking compared with most other industries.

Internet Service Providers Enter ACSI With Weak Customer Satisfaction

The ACSI's coverage of telecommunications expands with inaugural measures for the Internet service provider (ISP) industry-a change that ensures comprehensive assessment of customer satisfaction with the video, voice and data services available to U.S. household consumers. ISPs debut with a customer satisfaction benchmark of 65-the lowest score among 43 ACSI industries.

"High monthly bills combined with problems across a broad spectrum of customer experience benchmarks-such as service reliability, data transfer speed and video-streaming quality-leaves customers less than satisfied with their ISP service," says Fornell. "But in a market even less competitive than subscription TV, there is little incentive for companies to improve."

Only Verizon's FiOS and the aggregate of all other smaller ISPs break out of the 60s with identical ACSI scores of 71. Cox beats the average at 68, followed by AT&T U-verse and Charter at 65. The low end belongs to CenturyLink at 64, Time Warner Cable at 63 and Comcast at 62.

Customers Happier As Wireless Service Improves and Smart Phones Deliver

The wireless phone industry performs an about-face in 2013, reversing a two-year trend of declining customer satisfaction with a 2.9% gain to an ACSI benchmark of 72. Despite matching its 10-year high, wireless service remains well below the national ACSI average.

"Barriers to switching, including contracts with cancellation fees, make the wireless industry less competitive," says VanAmburg. "ACSI research shows that customer satisfaction is almost always lower when consumers have less choice and more headaches when it comes to switching to another seller."

The aggregate of smaller wireless carriers easily tops the industry at 78 (+3%). Verizon Wireless leads the larger carriers due to a 4% jump to 73, leapfrogging a stalled Sprint at 71. Nearly in line with Sprint, AT&T Mobility inches up 1% to 70, while the sole decliner, T-Mobile, drops 1% to 68.

Much like its service counterpart, the cellular telephone category improves customer satisfaction by 2.7% to match its historic ACSI high at 76. With smart phones representing just over half of all phones purchased, the industry is delivering better features and more apps.

Apple dominates at a score of 81 despite a 2% ACSI loss. Still, compared with Apple's PC benchmark of 86, the iPhone is not quite at the same lofty level. Samsung leaps 7% to 76 after launching Galaxy S III, but stays significantly behind Apple. Nokia (+1%) also earns an ACSI score of 76, while Motorola, up 5% to 77, creates a virtual three-way tie for second place. HTC drops 4% to 72 and LG falls 5% to 71. BlackBerry seems lodged in last place-flat at 69.

Consumers respond positively to cell phones for ease of calling and text messaging. Battery life, however, is an irritant. For wireless service, the top customer experience benchmarks go to in-store staff for courtesy and helpfulness. For reliability, the wireless industry lags its older technology counterpart, fixed lines, by receiving lower marks for call clarity, dropped calls and network coverage.

Strong Gain for Fixed-Line Phone Service Amid Shrinking Market

Customer satisfaction gains populate nearly the entire fixed-line phone business, even though customers continue to migrate toward wireless. The paradox of higher satisfaction amid dwindling usage reflects the fact that those who stay are more satisfied than those who leave. The fixed-line industry's ACSI score increases 5.7% to 74, with gains for individual companies ranging from 4% to 8%.

The aggregate of smaller landline companies, such as Frontier and Vonage, holds on to the category lead despite a 1% slip to 75. Among larger providers, Verizon surges 6% and Cox gains 4% to tie for the lead at 74. AT&T follows closely at 73 (+4%), while digital phone provider Charter enters at 72. Large increases of 8% and 6%, respectively, bring CenturyLink and Comcast into a tie at 71. In its first fixed-line appearance, Time Warner Cable falls short at 68.

Among the telecom industries, fixed-line benefits from quality and clarity of calls, along with the ability to keep outages to a minimum. Similar to other telecom services, however, fixed-line does not receive high marks from its customers regarding website or call center satisfaction, although it beats low-scoring ISPs on both benchmarks.

Computer Software: Deteriorating Customer Satisfaction Continues

Customer satisfaction with computer software for desktops and laptops continues to fall. This year the category's ACSI score slips 1.3% to 76. Market-share leader Microsoft and the aggregate of smaller software makers both backslide 1% to 74 and 76, respectively. With global PC shipments having their largest quarterly drop in 20 years, the market remains thorny. Windows 8, criticized by users for its interface, has not derailed customer satisfaction for Microsoft, but it has not helped either.

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No advertising or other promotional use can be made of the data and information in this release without the express prior written consent of ACSI LLC.

Read more: ACSI: Customer Satisfaction with Wireless Phone Service, - FierceWireless