J.D. Power: Carriers Improve Customer Service

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Wireless consumers are more likely to work with their service providers either through retail channels or via the Web than they have been in the past, and they are more satisfied with the experience, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates.

Although an average of 60% of customers still use the phone for customer care issues, other channels -- particularly retail and online -- are growing. According to the company's Wireless Care Customer Performance study, 29% of customers visited a retail store regarding their customer care inquiry or issue during the first six months of 2010, compared with 26% in the final six months of 2009. At the same time, 11% of customers contacted their service providers either via e-mail or online in 2010, up from 9% in the last half of 2009.

"Customers are going to other venues more than we've seen in the past," Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, tells Marketing Daily. "Where you go determines your expectations of the service you're going to get, and it depends on the problems you have."

Said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates: "There are a number of reasons for this, such as an increase in retail store locations; the expansion and efficiency of online methods, especially the speed of communicating with a live representative via online chat messaging; and general overall improvement in satisfaction performance, especially within the retail store channel."

Consumers are also finding more success and satisfaction through these retail channels. According to the study, overall satisfaction among customers who have visited a retail store averaged 775 on a 1,000-point scale, an increase of 23 points from the previous study. The retail channel provides much more satisfaction than other channels for customer care, the company found.

This improvement of customer satisfaction correlates with the efforts that wireless carriers have made to improve their customer care experience, particularly online -- where new features such as online chat have been added, Parsons says. "There's more information available and in terms of navigation it's easier to find what you're looking for," he says. "Just looking at the Web sites, what you can do now as opposed to a year ago -- a lot has been added."

Among the individual carriers, T-Mobile ranked highest in customer satisfaction, with an overall index score of 777. AT&T followed with a score of 757, while Verizon and Sprint fell below the overall industry average of 753 with scores of 749 and 734, respectively.

And what are they searching for? According to the study, 39% of wireless customers contact their carrier for service- and equipment-related issues, while 34% have billing concerns. A quarter are protesting incorrect charges, while 23% inquire about price or cost.

Customer satisfaction can have a lasting impact on customer loyalty. According to the study, customers who say they "definitely will not switch" carriers within 12 months have an average customer care index score of 827, while those who say they "definitely will switch" have an average score of 602.

As the wireless market matures and wireless carriers reach relative parity when it comes to networks and devices, customer care will become even more important for building business, Parsons says. "There's a good experience and there's a great experience. The carrier has an opportunity to raise that. It's not just about making a customer happy, it's actually exceeding that," he says. "It's an opportunity for the carriers to use the care experience as a way to build loyalty. In today's wireless market, a lot less new customers are coming in, and it's really about stealing customers from your competitors."

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