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Are good phones more important than good customer service?

August 16, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka



T-Mobile USA routinely gets rated as the top carrier when it comes to customer satisfaction of in-store purchases. JD Power & Associates has awarded T-Mo top ratings for as long as I can remember; yet, T-Mobile has been in fourth place among the top carriers just as long. Why? My guess is that despite demands for customer satisfaction, value, and deals, better phone options and network service is what really drives the needle in customer adoption.

T-Mobile, along with third-place carrier Sprint, received top honors in JD Power’s 2011 survey. The two carriers tied for first place with a rating of 755 out of a possible 1,000. However, they rank 4th and 3rd respectively in terms of subscribers.

AT&T and Verizon, which are the top two most-subscribed carriers in the U.S. (and the most expensive) didn’t have the most satisfied customers. AT&T has a 2-star rating while Verizon has a 4-star rating behind T-Mo and Sprint’s industry-best 5-star rating.

JD Power measures how customers rate the experience of visiting a retail store and ordering by phone or Internet. It is not a gauge of overall satisfaction with the carrier’s complete experience, and many consumers likely walk into a store knowing they want a phone from that particular carrier. That doesn’t take away from the peculiar trend of costumers gushing over T-Mobile’s level of service yet the reputation for great customer service hasn’t translated to great customer retention.

That made me think about customer service when someone is already under contract.

I’ve been a subscriber of all major carriers except Verizon, and I’d rate T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T in order of my satisfaction. However, depending on what city I lived in, I’d forsake the better service for a chance at an amazing phone or stronger network coverage. It might be a bit of stretch to draw this conclusion, but is customer satisfaction not as important as people assume? How else could you explain legions of people complaining about AT&T’s terrible service for years – in retail and network strength – yet the company has continued to bring in new customers since the iPhone debuted in 2007?

Consumers want and deserve better service. But I’m not sure that’s as big a priority as good phones and a good network. I’ve been vocal in my dislike for Sprint because of terrible customer service I received before switching to T-Mobile. However, that didn’t stop me from biting my lip and returning to Sprint in 2010 because the EVO outpaced all options available at T-Mobile. Despite offering me excellent service for 96 percent of my contract length, magenta got replaced with yellow.

Considering the latest JD Power rankings, maybe AT&T can learn something from the company that it’s trying to acquire. The JD Power Rankings show T-Mobile has clearly managed to communicate with customers even if they can’t always please them with phones.

via ZDNet