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Latest Consumer Reports Survey Not Kind To AT&T
Company ranked dead last for wireless satisfaction in 19 of 24 cities
by Karl Bode 06:34PM Tuesday Dec 01 2009 Tipped by FFH See Profile
Straight off of AT&T and Verizon's multi-week network quality snark fest, Consumer Reports has issued their latest survey of wireless carriers and phones, and it probably won't make AT&T particularly happy. The survey itself is available to subscribers only, but we can tell you that the findings generally mirror other recent surveys of the wireless sector -- namely putting Verizon at the top in terms of customer satisfaction, while placing AT&T at the bottom.

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The firm polled 50,000 readers across 26 different U.S. cities, and found that AT&T ranked dead last in customer satisfaction in 19 of those cities. AT&T has been receiving considerable grief for a network that was unprepared to handle iPhone traffic in large markets like New York and San Francisco; the findings suggest that AT&T's problems are not isolated to those markets.

Verizon meanwhile took the top spot in the majority of markets surveyed, and has been cleaning up in such surveys for much of 2009. AT&T, on the other hand, has traditionally ranked at the tail end of such surveys. You can take your pick of last place AT&T showings, be the survey from Consumer Reports, JD Power & Associates (see the latest customer care, retail sales and call quality surveys), or the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

Such findings are at apparent odds with AT&T claims that they offer the best customer "experience", and how CEO Randall Stephenson sees his company's performance. Stephenson consistently crows how AT&T has the lowest customer defection rate in the industry -- citing network performance as the reason (not the allure of the iPhone, long term contracts, or early termination fees). In response to the latest Consumer Reports study, AT&T tells the Wall Street Journal blog the findings are "anecdotal," again citing the company's low customer churn rate.

A handful of complaints can perhaps be called anecdotal. AT&T ranking last in most major customer satisfaction studies throughout 2009 is reasonably more scientific. The use of churn rate as a meaningful customer satisfaction metric should be tested next summer when AT&T is expected to lose their exclusive iPhone distribution agreement with Apple.

In terms of the industry as a whole, the Consumer Reports study found that overall, customers are increasingly satisfied with wireless service. That's not as exciting as it sounds -- wireless carriers have traditionally ranked among the worst across any industry, and now they're closer to the median, says Consumer Reports. High prices are still a complaint among many consumers, but users cite better connectivity and fewer annoyances like stealth extensions of long term contracts after service changes -- a practice the wireless industry stopped out of fear of pending federal regulation.

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