NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Customer love for the nation's telcos is a fickle thing. Who would have thought that AT&T (T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report, which is plagued with customer complaints about its spotty network, would land second place in a recent customer satisfaction survey?
In the mobile market, having the best customer service is just as important as having the best phones. After all, no matter how appealing that
Droid X might be, if consumers know that they won't be able to get the experience they want from the carrier that sells it, they might not want it.
To that end, JD Power & Associates recently revealed its ratings of the top telecoms in customer service for the first six months of the year. The results, in the following pages, might be surprising.
According to the research firm, overall customer satisfaction of service in the wireless industry is 775 out of a possible 1,000 points. That's a less-than-ideal figure, and it's safe to say that the tally should change dramatically over time as consumers change the way they get help.
While 60% of respondents still use the phone to contact customer service to handle their issues, JD Power said that 29% of respondents went to a retail store, up from 26% in a previous study six months ago. Those who used e-mail or a Web site to fix their issues increased to 11% in the first fix months of 2010, compared to 9% at the end of 2009.
Read on to see the how the top telcos fared.
No. 4: Sprint
Score: 2 out of 5
It doesn't seem to matter that
has the nation's first 4G network -- the company rounded out this list well behind its competition. The telco performed poorly in online, phone and even in-person customer service. The disappointing news comes on the heels of reports that the
, the device that was supposed to help put Sprint Nextel back on the telecom map, performed worse at retail than expected.
Sprint Stock Rating Report (S) Rating and Financial Analysis
No. 3: Verizon
Score: 3 out of 5
experienced the biggest customer service drop between the end of 2009 and June out of any company in the survey. During the previous period, the company received JD Power's top award for the best customer care. In six short months, it slipped into third place.
It is worth noting, however, that JD Power found that Verizon bested the competition with call quality -- or how well it's keeping customers connected to the cell tower. Verizon raked in the best ratings in five out of the six regions that JD Power tests; it lost to
in the north central region of the country.
Verizon Stock Rating Report (VZ) Rating and Financial Analysis
No. 2: AT&T
Score: 3 out of 5
Despite the plethora of complaints about its network's performance, AT&T placed second in the survey with 757 total points. The iPhone carrier performed especially well in its retail locations and online.
AT&T's strong online performance was surprising, given the telco's recent customer service problems with the launch of the
. On June 15, Apple started offering iPhone 4 pre-orders through AT&T's online site, in AT&T stores and on its own Apple store Web page. AT&T's systems were flooded with requests, causing issues with customers' orders. The problems weren't fully resolved until the
on June 24.
Apparently those issues didn't play a major role in this survey.
At&T Stock Rating Report (T) Rating and Financial Analysis
No. 1: T-Mobile
Score: 5 out of 5
Who knew? T-Mobile might have fewer U.S.-based subscribers than AT&T and Verizon, but it seems that it's more capable than the competition at delivering a viable customer experience.
T-Mobile beat the industry average by two points with a 777 out of 1,000 available points in overall customer-care performance. The company offered a superior experience to customers on telephone support, which helped it best the competition.
--Written by Don Reisinger in New York
Don Reisinger has been writing columns and blogs about the technology and video game industries for years. His work appears in some of the tech industry?s biggest publications, as well as in the
Los Angeles Times
, where he blogs about social networking. Follow Reisinger on Twitter @donreisinger.