Consumer Reports survey: AT&T’s the worst

Verizon Wireless now has something else to brag about in its AT&T-bashing advertisements, with a Consumer Reports survey ranking AT&T last in customer satisfaction.

The cell phone satisfaction survey polled 50,000 Consumer Reports readers in 19 U.S. cities. AT&T had the lowest score of the four major carriers, and Verizon finished first. T-Mobile came in second, and Sprint ranked third.

CRwireless

As All Things D notes, the low marks for AT&T extend beyond New York and San Francisco, where you could argue that a tech-savvy customer base of iPhone owners is gumming up the wireless pipes more than usual. However, in those cities, AT&T had even worse scores than their average across all respondents. Customers cited dropped calls, static and no service at all as particular problems. Only T-Mobile had negative marks in any of those areas in New York and San Francisco. Overall, AT&T was the only carrier whose voice service was given the worst possible marks, and its score also fell because of poor customer service.

Verizon, meanwhile, received positive marks across the board for service and customer care. Voice and messaging quality were most praiseworthy along with staff knowledge and ability to resolve issues.

In response, AT&T stressed that the survey is based on anecdotal feedback from a self-selected group of survey respondents. The best indicator of satisfaction is turnover, the company said, and last quarter only 1.17 percent of postpaid subscribers defected.

While I think AT&T may have a point about bias — word gets around that the carrier stinks, and that further tarnishes its image in subjective surveys — I don’t think you can simply point to turnover, or “churn rate” in industry jargon, to conclude that nothing’s wrong. A big reason is that switching carriers isn’t always easy with the phone you’ve got due to hardware incompatibilities. For example, the iPhone can’t connect to T-Mobile’s 3G network, and it can’t run at all on Sprint or Verizon. So while I love the iPhone, I’m stuck with AT&T.

Besides, AT&T’s biggest problems began after the iPhone came around in 2007. Anyone who entered a two-year service plan in 2008 hasn’t been given a chance to leave yet.

Still, AT&T said it takes all feedback seriously and will try to learn from it. I hope so, but in the meantime the carrier needs a better counter-attack against Verizon than this.