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Wireless carriers taking longer to answer customer service calls

August 15, 2008|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Nobody likes waiting on hold. If it's not the jazzy elevator music that drives you up the wall, it's the repeated "your call is important to us" message that serves not to calm you but instead to remind you that it's been a really long time and you're still on hold.

Wireless companies seem not to have gotten the memo. According to a J.D. Power & Associates study released Thursday, the average wait time customers endured before being connected to representatives at their wireless phone companies in early 2008 was 4.4 minutes, up 34% from the none-too-brief 3.3 minutes they waited in 2003.

The study tracked wireless carrier customer care in three areas: calls to customer service, visits to a store and questions via the Internet. Nearly half of all wireless customers contacted customer service within the last year, according to the study, and 75% of these customers did so by phone. (Maybe the other 25% couldn't call because their phones were broken?)

Some providers did better than others. On the score chart, which for some reason goes from 70 to 110 (although a J.D. Power spokeswoman said the scale had no limit), Verizon Wireless scored 103, Alltell Wireless scored 102, T-Mobile scored 100 and AT&T Inc. scored 97.

Sprint Nextel's score was much lower, at 79, making it the only provider that didn't get a rating of at least "about average." It got two gold dots, which put it in a category simply labeled "the rest."

Sprint should take heed: Customers who are put on hold are 83% more likely to switch wireless carriers than those who aren't, said Kirk Parsons, J.D. Power's senior director of wireless services.

"With an increase in hold times, providers run the risk of decreasing customer satisfaction and losing customers to other providers," he said. Sprint lost almost 1 million customers in the second quarter, as AT&T and Verizon gained subscribers.

"We've had issues with customer care," Sprint spokeswoman Kathleen Dunleavy said. "Improving the customer experience has been and continues to be our No. 1 priority right now."

Sprint is implementing a number of procedures, including checking in with customers in the second, fifth and 12th month after they've signed up for service to see if they have questions. Sprint also monitors customers' usage and recommends new plans if they frequently exceed their plans' allotments.

And on a positive note, Dunleavy said, Sprint's hold times are "stabilizing." Translation: They're not as bad as they used to be.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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