Study Finds Cellphone Users Prefer Live Agent

Customer service issues that are handled by a computer automated response system (ARS) on the telephone generate significantly lower customer care ratings than those handled by a live agent, according to the J.D. Power and Associates Wireless Customer Care Performance Study released Jan. 25.

The semi-annual 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 automated response system (ARS); visits to a retail wireless store; and Internet connection. Within each contact method, processing issues such as problem resolution efficiency and hold-time 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 92 index points.

"One of the main factors contributing to this performance disparity is the quality of the response that is given," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and 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."

Among those wireless carriers in the survey, T-Mobile's customer service had the highest scores, followed by Verizon, Alltel, Cingular, and Sprint respectively. T-Mobile scored particularly high in overall satisfaction and holding time duration on the phone.

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