T-Mobile hasn’t exactly been delighting its customers, but AT&T’s cell-phone service has been less satisfying in nearly every respect, according to a head-to-head comparison of data from the most recent cell-phone satisfaction survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
The findings (available to subscribers), based on the responses of more than 50,000 Consumer Reports.org subscribers surveyed last fall, suggest that the proposed merger of the two carriers would be a setback to T-Mobile customers were it to lead to service that more resembles AT&T’s than T-Mobile’s.
Here are the details:
T-Mobile is more pleasing for contract service. Though less satisfying than Verizon and Sprint, T-Mobile was still meaningfully better than AT&T at providing service with a contract plan. Indeed, AT&T got lower marks than T-Mobile on almost every attribute we rated. It was comparable with T-Mobile only on texting problems, where both AT&T and T-Mobile rated below average.
The disparity in prepaid satisfaction is even wider. The gap between AT&T and T-Mobile was larger still for service without a contract, via so-called “prepaid” plans. There, T-Mobile was more satisfying overall than Verizon, Virgin, and AT&T (with its Go Phone prepaid brand). Only Tracfone and Consumer Cellular beat it out.
Customer service is an AT&T Achilles’ heel. The gap between the carriers in satisfaction was highest when it came to customer support, especially for service provided by phone. That’s mostly because of AT&T’s sub-par scores in every aspect of customer service, from support on various modes (phone, e-mail, website) to success in solving problems (see chart below), and staff knowledge.
T-Mobile prevails over AT&T in almost all cities, too. City by city, T-Mobile was meaningfully more satisfying than AT&T in 20 of the 21 cities in which we had sufficient data to rate both carriers. T-Mobile also had notably fewer problems with dropped calls than AT&T. As far as reported problems with no service, however, the two carriers were fairly evenly matched; both generally rated average or worse compared with competitors across all cities in the survey.
More want to quit AT&T. When it comes to customers who are considering quitting their carrier, AT&T and T-Mobile had the most subscribers weighing such a switch. But by 10 percentage points, AT&T subscribers were more likely to say they were seriously thinking about making a move—as the chart below shows.
AT&T’s trend is troubling. T-Mobile has been essentially stable in its national reader score, reflecting overall satisfaction, and in many other attributes. AT&T, by contrast, has seen a marked slide in reader score and some other attributes between the surveys we published in 2010 and 2011, respectively. As the chart below shows, it’s become markedly less satisfactory to readers in resolving issues and has prompted a startling jump (of a full 13 percentage points) in the proportion of its customers who say they want to quit the carrier. (That hike may, in part, have reflected the anticipation, at the time we surveyed, of the iPhone coming to Verizon, ending the exclusive availability of Apple’s smart phone on AT&T.)
The bottom line. Our survey data finds precious little to cheer T-Mobile customers about the proposed merger or to clearly support the expected pitch from AT&T that the proposed takeover of its smaller competitor will improve service for current customers of both AT&T and T-Mobile.
The table below shows the pattern in reader scores, whether those who needed customer support had their issue satisfactorily resolved in a timely manner, and desire to switch carriers. And it demonstrates the trend for AT&T toward worsening scores in all three attributes.
|Carrier||Reader scores||Issue resolved||Seriously considering switching|
|From 0 to 100||PROPORTION OF YES RESPONSES||PROPORTION OF YES RESPONSES|
Bold face indicates scores that have changed meaningfully between 2009 and 2010. Based on surveys of Consumer Reports.org subscribers conducted in September 2009 and 2010. Reader scores reflect respondents’ overall satisfaction (on a 100-point scale) with their cell-phone service and is not limited to the two factors shown.