Cell phones have never made customers happier -- wireless carriers, not so much

Customers report less satisfaction this year with data speeds, call reliability and the range of plans offered by their wireless carriers, according to a new survey.

Smartphone sales have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but cell phones are making customers happier than ever, according to a new survey. The same can't be said for wireless carriers, as customers report less satisfaction this year with data speeds, the range of plans offered and dropped calls. 

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The new data comes from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which uses data from roughly 500,000 customer interviews annually to measure customer satisfaction with more than 400 companies in dozens of industries. On Tuesday, the ACSI put out its latest Wireless Report, based on surveys conducted over a 12-month period ending in March 2020. 

On a scale of 0 to 100, customer satisfaction with cell phones this year reached an all-time high of 80, the according to the ACSI report. Customer satisfaction with cell phones has seen a net gain of 16 percent over the past 15 years. 

However, when it comes to wireless network operators, most aspects of customer experience have weakened year-over-year. The industry gets its highest score (80, down from 81 last year) the question of courtesy and helpfulness of store or service center staff. 

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Similarly, customer satisfaction fell by one point in the areas of call quality, call reliability, network coverage, the range of voice and/or data plans available, website satisfaction, mobile app reliability, data upload/download speeds, and the ease of understanding bills. 

Overall, the wireless industry saw its customer satisfaction rating drop 1.3 percent to a score of 74. 

Xfinity Mobile, Comcast's MVNO wireless carrier, was ranked by the ACSI for the first time this year and received a high customer satisfaction score of 79 — topping the full-service MVNO category. 

The ACSI also provides a unique rating of network quality based on customer evaluations of call quality (clarity and strength), call reliability (dropped calls), network coverage and data speed. Verizon once again ranks first with a score of 80. 

T-Mobile's network quality score remained unchanged at 77, while Sprint -- which just last month completed its merger with T-Mobile -- is last in line with a score of 72. The report notes that T-Mobile's 4G coverage is more than double that of Sprint, meaning Sprint customers with compatible phones could eventually get better service. 

Similarly, T-Mobile's customer satisfaction ranking was the highest among network operators at 76, while Sprint's was the lowest at 66. 

"The [merger] could spell customer satisfaction trouble for the new entity as it integrates networks and service plans over the next few years," the report says. 

According to the report, data shows that most mergers negatively impact customer satisfaction, at least in the short term.