• March 1, 2007
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Cellphone Users Prefer Live Agents to ARS

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The semiannual study provides a report card on wireless phone carrier customer care performance based on customer experiences with telephone calls to a service representative and/or ARS, visits to a retail wireless store, and email or Internet connection. Within each contact method, processing issues such as problem resolution efficiency and hold-time duration are also measured.

Overall, customers who speak with a live agent on the telephone provide an average index score of 127 points, which is significantly higher than the industry average of 98 points. However, customers contacting their carrier through an ARS system rate their experiences significantly lower, averaging just 92 index points.

"One of the main factors contributing to this performance disparity is the quality of the response that is given," explains Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power & Associates. "A service representative— either over the phone or in person—has the ability to answer customer questions and clarify answers. This flexibility is very limited in both ARS and Internet contact methods."

Walter Rolandi, founder of the Voice User Interface Co., is not surprised by the results. "I don't need a survey to tell me that people do not want to talk to a machine when they're having problems," he says. "When they're calling in, they're probably already upset and they want to talk to a person who understands what they're going through."

Scores for the ARS contact method dropped 5 percent to 92 points compared to an average of 97 points six months ago. The largest declines were reported for customers experiencing too many prompts before getting to the desired menu and a lack of relevant menu options to address their needs.

"That's typical," Rolandi explains. "If the interface of the machine is easy to use, most people will not mind, but that's usually not the way it is. Most of the VUIs are just these time-consuming, laborious chores to get through."

"As more companies strive to save operating costs by encouraging customers to contact Internet- and computer- based customer service programs, they run the risk of increasing the rate of customers who will switch carriers, especially as the number of contacts needed to resolve issues rises," Parsons says. "Since future churn levels are four times as high among those who rate their wireless carrier below average in customer care, the challenge for wireless providers is to offer an easy and efficient customer care transaction experience."

For a fifth straight time, T-Mobile ranked highest among the five largest service providers by creating a positive experience among customers who contact it for service or assistance. With an index score of 107 points, T-Mobile performs well across all factors that determine overall satisfaction, particularly in the ARS and retail contact channels, and in the overall hold-time duration on the phone. Verizon Wireless (101), Alltel (99), Cingular/AT&T (94), and Sprint/Nextel (92) respectively, follow T-Mobile.

The study also identified several wireless customer care patterns:

  • More than half (55 percent) have contacted customer service for assistance within the past year, a nearly 7 percent decline from six months ago.
  • The average number of contacts necessary to resolve an inquiry by phone is 1.87—up from 1.76.
  • Seventy-three percent of contacts are done by phone; 24 percent through their provider's retail store; and only 3 percent by email or Web.
  • The average initial reported hold time on calls to the customer service department is 3.58 minutes.

The 2007 study is based on responses from nearly 14,000 wireless customers who contacted customer care within the past year.


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