Which Wireless Phone Company Has The Best Service?

Last Updated Aug 5, 2011 12:12 PM EDT

How good is your cell phone service? A new survey by Vocal Laboratories suggests that may be the wrong question; it's probably more a matter of "how bad"?

Consider the all-important call satisfaction numbers. Those are defined as the number of customers who say they're "very satisfied" with their wireless call.

Here are the second-quarter scores:

1. Verizon â€" 66 percent
2. Sprint â€" 64 percent
3. T-Mobile â€" 60 percent
4. AT&T â€" 56 percent

Essentially, customers are giving every company a failing grade. But that's not the worst of it. Look closer at the results, and you'll notice that a majority of the companies' scores are falling.

For example, AT&T is down from 66 percent from the same quarter a year ago, and off 13 percent from the previous quarter. T-Mobile is down five percentage points from last year; Sprint is off by four percentage points. Only Verizon's scores rose - from 61 percent to 66, the highest in the survey, but still dreadful. It means more than one-third of customers aren't satisfied with their call.


Vocal Labs says there's no reason to panic. AT&T's precipitous drop was temporary, and subsequent numbers suggest it is back to levels from the previous year. (Full disclosure: I'm an AT&T customer. I made five calls yesterday afternoon, and four were dropped. So I'm not convinced.)

The other key number is call resolution, or the percentage of customers whose problem was resolved on the call. Here, too, the numbers are disappointing.

1. Sprint â€" 69 percent
2. AT&T â€" 66 percent
2. Verizon â€" 66 percent (tie)
3. T-Mobile â€" 65 percent

These are terrible scores. Nearly one-third of customers aren't getting fixed, give or take a few percentage points. The trend is relatively flat over the previous four quarters. AT&T is the only standout, rising six percentage points from the same quarter in 2010.

The rest? Meh.

Sprint is down a percentage point from a year ago; T-Mobile is off three points. Verizon edged four points higher.

Here's the full report (PDF).
It's interesting to compare these results to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index results.

The ACSI assigns a score out of 100 based on its survey, and it confirms that wireless phone services are not loved by their customers.

1. Sprint - 72
1. Verizon â€" 72 (tie)
2. T-Mobile â€" 70
3. AT&T â€" 66

Is it any wonder customers are fed up with their wireless phone service? No amount of spin or explanation can keep a rational consumer from concluding that cell phone service is bad, and getting worse.

With the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile looming, it's difficult to image service improving any time soon.

What do you think? Please send me your stories of customer service (good and bad) received from a wireless phone company. Here's my email address. And take a minute to vote, too.


Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He's the author of the upcoming book Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals, which critics have called it "eye-opening" and "inspiring." You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: BFS Man/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.