While still no one's version of the most customer-friendly of industries, the wireless category is improving when it comes to customer satisfaction.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the wireless industry as a whole received a score of 71 (on a scale of 100), down slightly over last year's score, but still much higher than it was four years ago.
"This is an industry that is doing a significantly better job with customers than they were five years ago," David VanAmburg, managing director of the ACSI, tells Marketing Daily. "It was one of the worst industries in [the Index]. Now it's getting closer to the average of all goods and services in the U.S."
A main reason for the increase in overall industry scores improving is that many of the barriers to switching carriers -- such as not being able to transfer phone numbers or a relative parity among devices from carrier to carrier -- are being removed, increasing competition. "We're seeing some opening up of the industry," VanAmburg says. "They're being put in a position to have to do better."
The increased level of competition may also have an impact on the smaller, regional wireless providers such as TracFone and U.S. Cellular, which had a higher aggregate score of 77. "We tend toward 'smaller is better' in the [overall index]," VanAmburg says. "Within the industry, the smaller carriers have been significantly higher than the big companies."
Individually among the big four wireless carriers, Verizon Wireless's rating dropped 1% for the second year in a row (to 72); Sprint Nextel's score increased 3% over last year's score to 72 as well. In the past three years, Sprint has increased its Index score from 15 points below, the second-worst in the category, to claim a share of the industry lead. "Sprint has struggled, but they're apparently on their way back," VanAmburg says.
As they negotiate the waters of regulatory approval for a merger, both AT&T and T-Mobile saw their scores drop 66 and 70, respectively. AT&T's score is the company's worst score since before the launch of the iPhone.
"What that means for a merger is anyone's guess," VanAmburg says, "whether a [merged company] will be greater than the sum of its parts."
Among device companies, customer satisfaction also dipped slightly, down 1.3% to 75. Motorola topped the list with a score of 77, while Nokia lost 4% to 73. "Motorola has come out on top, meaningfully ahead of everyone else because they're the best quality," VanAmburg says. "It isn't about price or value because that's all about the same. It's the quality above everything else."