ACSI: T-Mobile Emerges as Top Mobile Service Provider

In an industry often criticized for poor customer satisfaction, T-Mobile rose to the top, beating out competitors AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. On ACSI's 100-point scale, T-Mobile earned 74 points while Verizon and AT&T both earned 71. Though the victory margin is slim, T-Mobile's improvement is noteworthy—the carrier's score grew by 4 points. Sprint was the most-improved carrier, raising its score from 65 to 70 this year, but the company fell behind its three primary competitors overall.

As in every industry, consumer expectations are growing, but customers in the mobile space are particularly demanding. "Mobile devices have become more than a lifeline. They are a critical 24/7 personal information center. Which could you more easily live without for three days: your TV, fridge, washing machine, or your phone? No contest. Therefore, the demands for great service are higher for the mobile phone and therefore all cell service providers," says Chip Bell, author and customer service expert.

Despite being relatively small compared to its competitors, T-Mobile sold more smartphones than any other carrier on the list over the last quarter. Its recent success can be attributed to a number of key changes that it has made to its business, including eliminating data overage charges and getting rid of data caps for music and video services. Most notably, T-Mobile did away with contracts, allowing customers to purchase plans that do not commit them to strict annual plans—a practice that Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon have since adopted as well.

Still, there's something to be said about being a disrupter that other companies eventually "copy," says customer service expert Shep Hyken. "Great customer experience starts with instilling confidence in a customer," Hyken says. "The company is willing to take that risk and say, 'We know you’ll like our service, and if you don't, we won't make it a hassle for you to change providers.' T-Mobile puts their money where their mouth is by making it easy to leave," he adds.

Though other companies have taken some moves from T-Mobile's playbook, neither Verizon nor AT&T have eliminated data overage charges. "Realistically, the overages are negligible, because the customers that use less data usually make up for the customers that go over in data," Hyken points out, but because it's an opportunity for Verizon and AT&T to make extra money, they jump at the chance. "It all comes back to trust," Hyken says; if companies trust their customers, they'll repay the favor with loyalty.

In addition to looking at top performers in individual industries, the ACSI also evaluates how industries perform overall. The mobile industry outshone Internet and cable providers this year, which Hyken says is unsurprising. "Cable and Internet providers are notoriously laggards when it comes to service and satisfaction," he says, and they face much of the same criticism that mobile providers do. Thanks to cordcutting, poor satisfaction scores can be particularly troublesome for cable providers, and many are facing the reality that creating more flexible contracts and packages—in a manner similar to what T-Mobile has done—may be the direction they need to take.

"Their reputation hurts them—it's going to be tough for the industry to climb out of the hole," Hyken says.  

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