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Hold times increase for wireless customers*

August 14, 2008 |  4:04 pm

Hold Nobody likes waiting on hold. If it's not the jazzy elevator music that drives you up the wall, it's the repeated "your call is important to us" message that serves not to calm you, but instead to remind you that it's been a really long time and you're still on hold. Considering all the voice prompts you have to follow even to get on hold, it's a small miracle that people persevere and talk to customer service representatives at all.

Wireless companies seem not to have gotten the memo. According to a J.D. Power and Associates study out today (available here as a PDF download), the average amount of time customers waited to speak to a representative at their wireless phone company in early 2008 was 4.4 minutes, up 34% from the none-to-brief 3.3 minutes we waited in 2003.

The study tracks wireless carrier customer care in three areas: calls to customer service, visits to a store and questions via the Internet. Nearly half of all wireless customers contacted customer service within the last year, according to the study, and 75% of these customers did so by phone. (Maybe the other 25% couldn't call because their phones were broken?)

Some providers did better than others. On the chart, which for some reason goes from 70 to 110 (a J.D. Power spokeswoman said that the scale in fact has no limit), Verizon received a score of 103; Alltell, 102; T-Mobile, 100; and AT&T, 97. Sprint Nextel's score was much lower, at 79, making it the only provider ...

... that didn't get an "about average" or above rating. It got two gold dots, which put it in a category simply labeled "the rest."

Sprint should take heed: Kirk Parsons, J.D. Power's senior director of wireless services, said customers who are put on hold are 83% more likely to switch wireless carriers than those who aren't. "With an increase in hold times, providers run the risk of decreasing customer satisfaction and losing customers to other providers," he said. Already, Sprint lost almost a million customers in the second quarter, as AT&T and Verizon gained subscribers.

"We’ve had issues with customer care," Sprint spokeswoman Kathleen Dunleavy said. "Improving the customer experience has been and continues to be our No. 1 priority right now."

The company is implementing a number of procedures, including checking in with customers in the second, fifth and 12th month after they've signed up for service to see if they have questions. Sprint also monitors customers' wireless usage and recommends new plans if they are going over their minutes frequently.

And on a positive note, Dunleavy said, Sprint's hold times are "stabilizing." Translation: They're not as bad as they used to be.

Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers wireless, marketing and the L.A. tech scene

Photo by JCardinal18 via Flickr

* A previous version of this post incorrectly credited the photo to Karin Rosenthal
 

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