ACSI: TracFone, regional carriers rank higher in customer satisfaction than Verizon, AT&T

América Móvil's U.S. MVNO, TracFone Wireless scored the highest in terms of customer satisfaction among U.S. wireless carriers in the latest survey from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Wireless carriers overall saw a drop in customer satisfaction in 2015 from the 2014 reading, dropping 2.8 percent down to a ranking of 70 from a near 73 ranking last year, on a scale of 0-100. The study noted that consumers generally prefer wireless carriers to cable companies and wired ISPs, but that wireless operators ranked among low-scoring industries in ACSI's survey, along with health insurance companies, airlines and social media websites.

David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI, said that the wireless industry is struggling to keep pace with consumers' expectations for network coverage, reliability and data speeds. "The industry's tendency is to put out all the cool stuff and then have to play catch up with the infrastructure behind it," he said. 

"It's not an unusual phenomenon in technology," he added. "People want more, faster."

TracFone scored a 77 on the scale (and was not measured last year), while Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) fell to 71 from 75 in 2014.

Interestingly, the ACSI report concluded that outside of Verizon, AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), customers actually preferred smaller, regional carriers like U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM), C Spire Wireless and nTelos Wireless. The category of "all others" had an aggregate score of 79 on the 0-100 scale, up from 78 in 2014. Those carriers tend to have cheaper rate plans and fewer fees, which wins them points with consumers, ACSI said. Regional carriers also have fewer customers to tend to in customer care.

AT&T and T-Mobile tied at 70, and were up marginally from last year when AT&T had a score of 68 and T-Mobile had a 69. Sprint came in last, with a score of 65, down from 68 in 2014. Sprint has been working to improve its network and expand LTE coverage following disruptions in service as it modernized its network. More recently, Sprint launched its "Direct 2 You" program, which will send fleets of Sprint-trained employees to customers' homes and office to help them set up their smartphones.

While wireless carriers have been busy expanding their LTE networks and improving speeds, consumers reported no significant improvement in the range of voice and data plans available to them in 2015 compared to 2014, according to the survey.  

In terms of other wireless customer experience benchmarks, the ACSI survey found customers gave call centers a rating of 70, up from 66 last year. The courtesy and helpfulness of in-store staff received a rating of 80, up marginally from 79 last year. However, the rating of network coverage fell to 76 in 2015 from 79 last year, and the ease of understand a bill fell to 75 from 79.

The ACSI is an independent national measure of customer satisfaction with the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. Each year, the ASCI surveys around 70,000 customers about the products and services they use the most. The data serve as inputs to an econometric model that benchmarks customer satisfaction with more than 300 companies, 43 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as more than 100 services, programs, and websites of federal government agencies.

For more:
- see this ACSI report

Related Articles:
Sprint's 'Direct 2 You' program will have employees drive to customers to set up phones
U.S. Cellular to shut down 'Rewards' program for customers on Sept. 1
Operators can spend tons on marketing, but even satisfied customers can still leave
Verizon outranks Sprint, AT&T in customer satisfaction study