Can you guess which U.S. wireless provider makes its customers the happiest? Hint: It's not AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint or T-Mobile. It's a relatively small, independent company you may have never hear of, called Consumer Cellular, at least according to a recent consumer satisfaction survey.
Consumer Cellular sits at the top of a ranking based on a survey of nearly 90,000 Consumer Reports subscribers. Not only did Consumer Cellular top the charts, all of the companies that scored the highest in overall consumer satisfaction were small carriers. And not one of the "Big Four" carriers received a high score, according to the ranking.
Survey respondents graded their carriers on eight metrics: value, voice, text, Web problems, data, phone support, staff knowledge, and staff courtesy. The four companies that scored the highest are Consumer Cellular, with a composite score of 89; Ting, 88; Republic Wireless, 87; and Cricket, 85.
The Big Four carriers all scored much lower, but T-Mobile lead that group with a score of 73, followed by Verizon at 70, AT&T at 68, and Sprint at 67.
What's it all mean?
The most important thing a consumer should take away from the Consumer Reports findings is the realization that there are more than four choices of wireless carriers in the United States. Just because a carrier is small, that doesn't mean it isn't worth a look.
Obviously, price is a big factor when choosing a wireless carrier, and even though "value" is one Consumer Reports' metrics, you should check price carefully before considering a switch to Consumer Cellular or another service provider.
It's also worth noting that none of these small carriers have their own networks. They all utilize one or more of the Big Four's networks. Consumer Cellular, for example, uses both the AT&T and T-Mobile networks, while Ting and Credo Mobile resell Sprint's wireless service.
You'd think that voice service from Ting and Credo would have the same rating as Sprint, but that's not the case. Ting received the next-to-the-highest voice rating, while Sprint got the lowest, and Credo was right in the middle.
Consumer Reports spokesman James McQueen says the company sees the same thing every year it does the survey. They don't know exactly why, but McQueen thinks different carriers' customers perceive quality differently, even if they use the same network. And 80 percent of the people surveyed are Big Four customers, so the sample size of people who use the smaller companies is much smaller.
Still, the overall ratings offer unique insight, and it's probably no coincidence that Consumer Cellular received the highest Consumer Reports score in five of the last six years.