Peter Leppik, CEO, Vocal Laboratories

NewsBlast What variables and methods were considered in measuring the quality of service?


Peter Leppik From our pool of about 50,000 panelists, we recruited existing customers of the four wireless companies to participate. When a participant had to call customer service for any reason, we recorded the phone call, and asked the participant to complete a survey about the experience.


From this data, we compiled statistics comparing the four companies on caller satisfaction, call completion, automation rate, frustration rate and average call time.


NB The SectorPulse report looked at AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and Cingular. What about T-mobile, Alltel, Liberty Wireless and Nextel?


PL This was our inaugural SectorPulse report, and we focused our research on the largest companies, to ensure we had data to make meaningful comparisons. SectorPulse is an ongoing subscription-based service, and we plan to add additional companies in future reports. We also plan to begin SectorPulse studies looking at other markets, depending on client interest and our ability to generate enough data.


NB What were some of the key findings from this research?


PL Of the four companies, Verizon Wireless came out on top in just about every metric we looked at. They had the highest customer satisfaction, the highest rate of call completion, the highest automation rate and the shortest average call time.


We also noted a wide range in caller satisfaction scores. Verizon Wireless was the best, with Cingular in second place, SprintPCS in third and AT&T Wireless fourth.


Finally, with the only exception of Verizon Wireless, Call Completion scores were well below the median in our historical database, with AT&T Wireless, Cingular and SprintPCS all scoring in the low-70s. That means that a typical caller in our study had only a 70 percent to 75 percent chance of getting his or her problem solved or question answered on the first call.


NB What are some reasons that Verizon Wireless was awarded an "A" in caller satisfaction?


PL Our Caller Satisfaction score is a measure of the number of callers who were very satisfied with their experience minus the number who were dissatisfied. We compare each company to all the customer service operations we've studied in the past, and rank them by quartile. Since Verizon Wireless was better than at least 75 percent of the companies in our database, they earned an A.


Our database, by the way, consists of companies across all different industries, so it wasn't just that Verizon had satisfied callers compared to the other three wireless companies. Their customer service did better than 75 percent of everyone.


NB How come AT&T Wireless rated poorly?


PL A lot of our study participants were dissatisfied with the customer service they got from AT&T Wireless. AT&T Wireless earned a D in our Caller Satisfaction benchmark, which means they had a lower satisfaction score than 75 percent or more of the companies in our historical database.


In looking at the kinds of complaints the study participants registered, we noticed a lot of people complaining about the hold times to get an agent, and there were several people who experienced hold times of over 15 minutes. We think that AT&T Wireless' customer service operation was simply overwhelmed by the call volume. In addition, they had the second lowest automation rate of the four companies, so a lot of callers who maybe could have used self-service were waiting on hold for agents instead.


NB What was the average wait time for all four wireless companies?


PL Call times, including time spent on hold and time talking to an agent, as well as time spent in automation, ranged from an average of about four and a half minutes at Verizon Wireless, up to a little over seven minutes at SprintPCS. These averages include time spent in multiple calls, so if a caller didn't get an answer the first try and called back, we included both calls in the calculation.


This is a significant difference. It means that, for the average caller in our study, a Verizon Wireless customer got an answer over two and a half minutes faster than a SprintPCS customer.


NB Among the companies that didn't fare well, is it possible that a part of the poor customer service could also be attributed to people whose native language is not necessarily English?


PL The biggest complaints we saw by far were: Problems in navigating to an agent; long hold times; confusing self-service systems; and unfriendly agents. We did see some complaints about poor language skills, but those complaints weren't nearly as common as the big four.


NB What information if any were participants given before the study?


PL Study participants were people who were going to call customer service anyway, and we simply recorded their calls and had them complete a survey. We didn't instruct anyone as to what to say or do during the call.


NB Does the wireless study mention the quality of wireless service among all the four?


PL In this study, we only looked at the quality of customer service among the four companies. In future studies, we're planning to also take a look at other issues such as service offerings, what would induce customers to change carriers and where customers would like to see their wireless company improve.


NB Can you share some of your personal experiences in dealing with customer service with mobile phone providers?


PL I've been a customer of four different wireless phone companies, two of which no longer exist. I think I've had just about every bad customer service experience, including long hold times, billing mistakes, contract problems, bad IVR systems and incompetent agents.


The unfortunate fact is that no company has a monopoly on bad customer service, and too many companies treat their loyal customers terribly, wasting a lot of goodwill in the bargain.


Providing an outstanding level of customer service doesn't have to be an expensive proposition, but it does require some attention to detail and the commitment to making things work properly. For a variety of reasons, most companies treat the customer experience on the phone as an afterthought, rather than as the most important means they have to make a positive impression to the customer.

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