Customer satisfaction is hard to come by when it comes to cell service, and the best companies clearly work at it.
Everybody loves to hate on AT&T. It comes as natural as hating the Yankees, for anyone outside of New York. America loves underdogs. Nobody hates the Cubs.
If it weren’t for members of the Apple cult, whose products come with AT&T service contracts as part of the deal, AT&T’s problems would be a lot bigger.
The latest Consumer Reports Customer Satisfaction Survey ranks AT&T dead last among the major cell-phone service providers. It wasn’t even close. AT&T scored a satisfaction survey score of 62 on a scale of 100.
The other major carriers didn’t do much better: T-Mobile scored a 64. Sprint scored 66, and Verizon scored 72. The top performers, according to the Consumer Reports survey of more than 63,000 cell service subscribers were Consumer Cellular, U.S. Cellular and Credo Mobile.
Small, niche cell providers get better Reviews
How does that comport with the experience of Viewpoints Reviewers?
Smaller, specialty and regional carriers tend to fare best. And turns out, your favorite among cell phone providers isn’t exactly one of the biggies, either: The top-rated cell provider on Viewpoints is Mobal, which sells international cell phones. It’s rated 90/100, based on 55 Reviews. Page Plus, a prepaid cell phone provider, with 88/100 is a close runner-up, though with only 18 Reviews. Next are regional carrier CellularSouth (now C Spire) (80/100) and Kajeet (79/100), which markets cell phones for children.
U.S. Cellular, Verizon: Best family plans, contracts
Of the companies that serve a mass audience, U. S. Cellular (78/100, based on 74 Reviews) and Verizon Wireless (75/100, based on 692 Reviews) are most popular. Both companies get high marks for their family plans and contract terms. (Incidentally, these results mirror the Consumer Reports survey — a good sign that the consumer sentiment is geniune.)
The next household name is T-Mobile, with 396 Reviews and a rating of 71/100. 568 Reviewers weighed in on their satisfaction (or lack thereof) with AT&T Wireless, which garners a 66/100. Of the major cell carriers, Sprint comes in last on Viewpoints with a rating of 61/100, based on 350 Reviews.
What customers say
Mobal, top-rated overall, is an international niche provider:
“I recently purchased the Mobal Budget Phone for an upcoming trip abroad because I wanted easy access to my family back home. The phone arrived within a matter of a few days and came with easy-to-understand directions for phone set up and calling instructions. I especially like that the phone is light weight and the phone manual and Mobal User Guide both fold up nice and small to take along for quick reference and troubleshooting.” – Tini2002
U.S. Cellular shows up as a top-finisher in both surveys, though. Why is that?
“I’ve had service through US Cellular for about six years, and during that time I haven’t had one single bad experience. That says a lot. I have reliable reception, even when I’m out of town. The only place it doesn’t seem to pick up well is hilly or areas will mountains.” –jasyjen
“We’ve had US Cellular for a little over three years now. We have had no problems with them whatsoever. There have been instances where unexplained fees have shown on my bill. A call to a US Cellular Customer Service rep is pretty painless to make. They are friendly and strive to make the customer happy. The charges have been removed due to both instances, I was never explained as to why I would be charged them in the first place.
Good service and I like that all my incoming texts are free. We have a pretty basic family plan…just the two phones. We added a $5 text package for mine since I do text. I don’t usually go over my allowed 250 (I think) texts a month. I like you can choose from two different pans, depending on your needs for roaming.
Their website is fairly easy to navigate. As with many service type providers, I do find their billing statements a bit confusing at times.
All in all…we like them and will continue to stay with them.”–hmerri
Verizon scored solidly in both surveys. Why? Well, you might pay a bit more. But customers like the service.
“If you are tired of dropped calls with AT&T, consider switching over to Verizon Wireless. We made the switch over a year ago and kissed all those dropped calls goodbye!”—BayouBengal
“There has always been a huge debate about which wireless carrier is better, Verizon? or AT&T? I would have to say Verizon. I may be a little biased because I am a Verizon customer, but I have been an AT&T customer before as well, and have many friends who are AT&T customers so I know both wireless carriers pretty well. I think Verizon is the best because it has the most coverage. The only areas I know of where I don’t receive much coverage is when I’m back home visiting my dad in rural Pennsylvania. But I still receive enough coverage (about one bar, sometimes two) to send/receive text/picture messages. I have even been able to answer a call before. Verizon Wireless has great customer support. I have never experienced any problems with their customer support. The prices are reasonable, seeing as I have four phones on my plan, the price is right where I would expect it to be. One thing I don’t like is there are no rollover minutes, that was one thing I really liked about AT&T service, if Verizon Wireless got rollover minutes they would become a powerhouse.” –sms3449
So what about AT&T? Does it deserve the doghouse slot in Consumer Reports? Viewpoints reviewers say no – though AT&T is certainly not without its problems:
“We have been customers of AT&T for six and a half years. At the time we wanted a good family plan so we switched from Verizon. Most of that time they were pretty good but the last contract we signed also included an air card (unlimited) and recently we were told that we did not have an unlimited plan and our account was blocked and we could not access the internet. Tech support unlocked it and we never incurred extra charges because we were on an unlimited plan. After spending hours and hours trying to get the problem fixed and talking to a supervisor, I was told that the only way they would unblock our account was if we changed to another plan. We refused as we knew our account was unlimited. What a way to try and get people of unlimited plans by not being truthful with them. Since we have learned that last summer they have been moving people off unlimited plans. Now that our contract expired, we moved to T-Mobile and are paying MUCH less with no contract at all.”–kjr
“AT&T is a real good cell phone company. I have had them for a cell phone company now since before they bought it from Cingular. What I like about the company is there is that you can make it to where you have a certain amount of unlimited amount of minutes that you can use for the month . If you don’t use all of those minutes it rolls over to the next month. Another thing that I like about this company a lot is that everyone that you call that has a AT&T phone it doesn’t take away any of your minutes to call them. It is free to call them. Most of the people I call has a AT&T cellphone so that makes it real nice. They have family plans too and I have that. To where it cost $10 more a month per family member that you add to your family plan and I hardly ever have problems get a connection to be able to talk on the phone like I hear a lot of people do on other cellphone company phones. You can talk all over the United States and can still talk.” –Margeryann
Looking over the actual customer experiences as reported by Viewpoints Reviewers, all the top-ranked companies were generally able to execute. There are no pervasive reports of ultra-long hold-times, though a few Verizon customers had trouble navigating the Web portal. My recommendation – if you have an AT&T unlimited plan, keep it to yourself. They are trying to move people off the unlimited plan, and when I tried to add a newer functionality (the ability to use the iPhone as a WiFi hotspot, they tried to get me to give up the unlimited data plan. No deal.)
If you don’t have an unlimited plan with AT&T, though, and you get a lot of dropped calls, try Verizon. If you want good customer service at a reasonable price, U.S. Cellular might be a good bet and shows up strong in both surveys.
Editor’s note: If you have professional experience with cell providers, Viewpoints is recruiting experts in priority product categories to write for our blog. Check out this overview of the Viewpoints Category Expert Program, including qualifications, compensation and how to apply.