The semi-annual study, now in its fourth year, analyzes responses from customers who recently made a wireless retail purchase. The survey examines major wireless carrier-branded stores and considers four factors: sales staff, 51%; store display, 17%; store facility, 16%; and price/promotion, 16%.
Among the carriers that do a good job of making consumers smile, Verizon Wireless ranks highest in customer satisfaction, as compared to major wireless carrier-owned retail stores.
The 6,311 wireless customers who completed a retail sales transaction within the past six months took the survey in April or July.
Customers say Verizon Wireless performs particularly well in store facilities, store display and price/promotions. Based on a 1,000-point scale, Verizon Wireless ranks No. 1 with 726 points; T-Mobile, 725; AT&T, 708; Alltel, 695; and Sprint Nextel, 679.
When asked to translate the numbers to grades from A through F--A being the highest, and F, failing--Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, says: "Both Verizon and T-Mobile get an A. AT&T gets between a B and C. Alltel comes in with a passing grade, and Sprint Nextel fails."
The findings reveal that overall satisfaction with wireless retail salespeople declined seven points--to 709 points--since the last reporting period in May, and down 12 points from a year ago. Customer satisfaction has steadily dropped since the study's inception, according to Parsons.
Several industry changes have led to the decline, such as the increase in new products and services and the expansion of competitive retail sale channels, from physical stores to Internet sites.
Cuts in sales staff at big-box retailers trying to reduce costs and raise profits also contribute to the decline in customer satisfaction. Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and others try to replace personal one-on-one service with kiosk information centers, but the knowledge and expertise that sales staff provide proves important to an overall positive experience. Improving customer satisfaction increases the likelihood that customers will come back and buy more.
"Retail stores try to offer consumers some sort of way, such as kiosks, to provide information about basic service plans without sucking time away from sales reps trying to sell something," Parsons says. "These stations or kiosks help with time management. They're used as a waiting queue. If a salesperson can't get to customers immediately, at least they are recognized and can find some answers to questions on their own."
Customers who are delighted with the sales process are seven times more likely to visit the same retail store again for future purchases, compared to customers who are not as pleased. In addition, the likelihood of recommending a store to friends and neighbors is nine times higher among delighted customers compared with those who have low satisfaction. Enhancing customer satisfaction and increasing loyalty levels can translate into significant additional revenue for wireless carriers.
The study also finds the average wireless retail sales transaction takes approximately one hour to complete from the time the customer enters the store to the time the final paperwork is finished and the cell phone is received. This is an increase of nearly four minutes from the last reporting period in May.
Among customers who visited a retail store in the past six months, more than 60% did so to purchase a new cell phone, while 62% upgraded or replaced an existing phone. Fifteen percent of customers visited the wireless retail store for the first time.
The retail satisfaction rating registers 18% lower among customers who report they were pressured during the sales process. The average overall rating among customers who report experiencing no sales pressure is 736 on a 1,000-point scale, compared to 607 among those who say they were pressured. That's a difference between an A+ and an F.