J.D. Power: Data sharing improves customer satisfaction

Shared-data plans make for more satisfied customers when it comes to an operator's customer-care service, according to a fresh report from J.D. Power.

The company's semi-annual assessment of wireless customer care found that overall satisfaction among customers on shared-data plans--which offer varying volumes of data for multiple devices as well as unlimited voice and text--is 778 on a 1,000-point scale. Customers on more traditional service and data plans scored 750 in terms of overall satisfaction.

J.D. Power attributed the difference in satisfaction levels to the profile of shared-data plan customers, particularly those who jumped at the chance to sign up for the plans once they were offered. "Not only are customers with shared data plans more loyal than those without a shared data plan, but they also have a more positive perception of their carrier, in addition to spending approximately $30 more per household overall," said Kirk Parsons, J.D. Power senior director of wireless services.

Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) Share Everything and AT&T's (NYSE:T) Mobile Share pricing packages represented innovations in mobile-broadband tariffing when they were introduced last year. Despite misgivings from critics, who charge the offers are confusing and expensive, shared-data plans are gaining traction. AT&T said that as of the end of the fourth quarter more 6.6 million customers, or 9 percent of its postpaid subscribers, had signed up for its Mobile Share plans. Verizon, which launched its Share Everything plans at the end of June, said that as of the end of the fourth quarter 23 percent of its postpaid customers were on the plans.

However, the operators may be dealing with higher call center costs as customers switch to data-sharing plans. Full-service customers on the plans contacted their wireless carriers more often during the past six months than did those with non-data share plans.

"It's not unexpected that customers who change or upgrade to these new mobile data share plans would initially be more likely to contact their carrier with questions or problems, particularly concerning how these service plans may potentially alter usage habits," said Parsons.

Shared-data plans appear to be gaining momentum. Although Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA are attempting to steal market share from AT&T and Verizon by using unlimited data offerings, a recent report from Strategy Analytics indicates many smartphone owners are actually seeking more pricing customization. More than 50 percent of U.S. smartphone owners who say they have unlimited data showed interest in plans that allow customization, speed guarantees or family data-sharing plans for multiple devices, said the firm.

In terms of operator customer-care rankings, J.D. Power placed Verizon Wireless at the top of its full-service carrier list for the fourth consecutive reporting period. Among non-contract carriers, MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), which is being acquired by T-Mobile, ranked highest in overall wireless customer-care satisfaction.

For more:
- see this J.D. Power release
- see this NBC News article

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Correction, Feb. 12, 2013: This article originally incorrectly stated that Verizon did not provide a figure for what percentage of its customers were on its Share Everything plans at the end of the fourth quarter. Verizon said 23 percent of its posatpid customers were on the plans at the end of the fourth quarter.