May 17, 2011, 4:35 PM — If the latest report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index is any indication, AT&T's proposed $39 billion merger with T-Mobile USA is a marriage made in hell -- at least for subscribers.
AT&T Mobility ranked dead last among wireless carriers for making subscribers happy, with a 66 percent satisfaction rate. It's the third consecutive annual decline for AT&T in the ACSI survey and the company's worst showing since 2006, when it was rated satisfactory by only 63 percent of customers.
T-Mobile USA, meanwhile, finished third out of the four major wireless carriers with a customer satisfaction rating of 70 percent, down from last year's 73 percent, T-Mobile's best showing since ACSI began charting it in 2005.
As it did last year, Verizon Wireless shared first place (72 percent satisfaction), this time with Sprint Nextel.
The No. 3 wireless carrier in the U.S., Sprint has had a remarkable run over the past three years in terms of pleasing its customers. In 2008, Sprint had a satisfaction rate of only 56 percent, by far the lowest score among all major wireless carriers since ACSI began grading them eight years ago.
Since then, however, Sprint's satisfaction rate has gone to 63 percent in 2009 to 70 percent last year to its current 72 percent. It must be doing something right.
Sprint, of course, is fiercely opposing the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile USA, arguing (correctly so, in my opinion) that leaving two carriers (AT&T/T-Mobile and Verizon) with the lion's share of the wireless market would result in a duopoly that would be bad for consumers.
Interestingly, the actual top-rated category was "All Others," which scored a satisfaction rate of 77 percent. This category is defined by ACSI as "an aggregate of a representative number of customer interviews from each of potentially hundreds of smaller companies within the industry."
So for wireless customers, it appears that smaller is better. Or at least more satisfying.