6 Ways to Get Better Cell Phone Customer Service

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Phone reps and cluttered websites wasting your time? Here's how to get your problems fixed faster, with less hassle.

Wireless customers with unlimited data plans have fewer and shorter problems with customer service than those with tiered/limited plans, a new J.D. Power study says.

Maybe that’s obvious – having unlimited data is less confusing than having to understand policy changes, make decisions about the right plan for your usage, or dealing with limits and surcharges from going over them.

But carriers have shifted toward tiered plans for consumers who increasingly own smartphones and tablets that gobble up data instead of minutes, and AT&T and Verizon are rolling out shared data plans this month. Those changes makes the rest of J.D. Power’s customer service surveys (one for the “full-service” contract carriers and one for the rest) more interesting. Here’s how JDP ranks the carriers’ customer service out of 1,000…

Contract carriers

  1. Verizon Wireless – 771
  2. Sprint Nextel – 764
  3. AT&T – 756
  4. T-Mobile – 722

Non-contract carriers

  1. Virgin Mobile – 750
  2. TracFone – 718
  3. Straight Talk – 705
  4. MetroPCS – 702
  5. Boost Mobile – 698
  6. Net10 – 677
  7. Cricket – 673

It’s interesting that the prepaid division of Sprint, Virgin Mobile, has higher customer service satisfaction than T-Mobile – and almost as high as AT&T. But other survey findings suggest insights for actually dealing with customer service at the company you’re with. Let’s combine those with some tips we’ve suggested before

1. Try online chat

Fully 40 percent of contract customers who resolved a service issue online in the past six months say they used an online chat function to talk to customer service. That’s a higher percentage than a year ago, and customers were happier with this solution than with digging through the website, looking up Web forums, or emailing the company.

You can find live chat links for Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Note that the links may only be visible when a representative is available (usually during normal business hours) and if you’re logged in.

2. Get the right person

Non-contract customers who got their problem resolved on the first try were much more satisfied than those who had to speak with multiple people. (The survey for contract carriers doesn’t mention this, but it seems obviously true.)

But before you contact anyone, make notes for yourself about what exactly the problem is – and make sure you can explain it clearly to avoid getting juggled between representatives or even departments.

3. Tap the app

Two-thirds of contract customers with recent customer service problems used a mobile app to contact their carrier, and they were more satisfied with the results than those who didn’t. These apps can also be used to check usage, pay the bill, and compare plans. They may also be easier to navigate than the carriers’ full websites.

4. Call during “off-peak” times

The best time of day to call is toward the end of the business day, often about an hour before the call center closes – you know, when everybody’s rushing to finish up work. The worst time to call is usually late morning or early afternoon, especially lunch hour.

5. Avoid new releases

The newest devices come with two customer service problems. First, the representatives aren’t that familiar with them yet. Second, they’re the shiny new toy everybody suddenly has to have, play with, and break (or at least learn how to use). In other words, they’re going to eat up a lot of customer service time.

6. Shut down the upsell

Reps have two job goals, which are often at odds: make the customer happy, and sell the customer stuff. This isn’t by choice: They often have scripts they’re forced to recite about new features and services, and their calls are monitored by managers.

While the initial part of their script may be unavoidable, “opt out” of the sales pitches ASAP. At the first opportunity to speak, politely and firmly say you have no interest in modifying your current service. And if it comes up in their script again later – you may even hear the wince and the apology in their voice – be a little more forceful and less patient.

Stacy Johnson

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