• February 7, 2011
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Less Automation Needed to Elevate Satisfaction with the Wireless Customer Experience

Customer service issues that are personally handled by service representatives, either over the phone or at a retail store, are significantly more satisfying to customers than are automated response interactions, according to the J.D. Power & Associates 2011 U.S. Wireless Customer Care Performance Study.

Now in its ninth year, the semiannual study provides a detailed report card on how well wireless carriers service their customers in three contact methods: telephone calls with customer service representatives (CSR) and/or automated response systems (ARS); visits to a retail wireless store; and on the Web. Within each contact method, the study measures satisfaction and processing issues, such as problem-resolution efficiency and hold-time duration.

Overall, among customers who speak with service representatives without going through automated response systems, the customer care index score averages 774 on a 1,000-point scale, well above the industry average score of 739. Among customers who use other methods of contact, satisfaction is considerably lower:

Overall Customer Care Index Scores Based on Contact Method

(on a 1,000-point scale)

Contact method

Index score

Telephone call with customer service representative


Industry average


Retail store


Automated response system*


Web-based contact


The study finds one of the main factors contributing to this performance disparity is the quality of responses provided. A service representative—either over the phone or in person—can answer both initial and follow-up questions from a customer and clarify answers. This kind of flexibility is very limited in both ARS and Web-based contacts.

"As more companies encourage customers to contact them on the Web to save operating costs, they run the risk of increased customer churn if the number of contacts needed to resolve a complaint or issue rises," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. "Switching intent is four times as high among those who rate their wireless carrier below average in customer care, so the challenge for wireless carriers is to offer an easy and efficient customer care transaction experience."

The majority (51 percent) of telephone contacts are resolved primarily via service representatives. The study also finds customers are most satisfied with their experiences when they can reach customer service representatives quickly and spend only a brief period of time using automated systems to resolve their problems.

"While customers tend to be more satisfied when they can reach a service representative quickly, heavy reliance on live representatives is much more costly for wireless carriers," Parsons said. "If wireless carriers can drive improvements in satisfaction with non-human interaction channels, overall customer care performance scores will improve dramatically by making the process more intuitive and efficient, and likely so in a much more cost-effective manner."

T-Mobile ranks highest in wireless customer care performance for a second consecutive time with an overall score of 758. T-Mobile performs particularly well in phone contacts that originate in the ARS channel and are then transferred to live service representatives, and through phone calls made directly to CSRs. Verizon Wireless follows in the overall rankings with a score of 743 and performs well among customers who contact their service representatives directly and among customers who contact their carriers online.

The study also finds several key wireless customer care patterns:

  • Overall, 36 percent of wireless customers contact their carrier due to service and equipment-related issues, while 32 percent contact for general billing issues; 28 percent for incorrect charges; 23 percent for call quality; and 21 percent for price or cost.
  • Wireless customers who indicate they have had positive care experiences are more loyal and are, therefore, less likely to switch carriers in the future, on average. Among customers who indicate they "definitely will not switch" carriers in the next 12 months, customer care index scores average 810, compared with just 566 among those who say they "definitely will switch"—a difference of 244 points.
  • Although the vast majority (88 percent) of customers get through to their carriers on their first try, 12 percent are misdirected or put on hold for too long and must make more than one contact. The average wireless customer spends 6.24 minutes on hold when trying to reach their carriers via phone—a substantial increase from 5.27 minutes just six months ago.

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