U.S. broadband backlash: Study says internet providers last among all industries

When it comes to customer service, there are some companies, like Chick-fil-A or Trader Joe’s, that go above and beyond and it shows in their American Customer Satisfaction Index scores, the country’s only national cross-industry measure of consumer approval.

Others, like traditional TV and internet service providers (ISPs), are not known for their customer satisfaction. In fact, both industries tied this year at the bottom of all ACSI rankings across 10 economic sectors and 46 key industries.

“While many firms post gains this year, [internet] service is largely considered to be slow and unreliable, and competition is limited in many areas. Most ISPs are still falling short of providing good service at an affordable price,” according to the full ACSI report released in May 2019.

Top 5 ISPs based on customer satisfaction

  • Verizon Fios – 70/100
  • AT&T – 69/100
  • Optimum – 63/100
  • Xfinity – 61/100
  • Cox – 60/100

Internet service provider customer satisfaction rankings for 2019

ISPs overall received a score of 62 out of 100 as the industry standard benchmark for 2019, the same as last year. Leading the pack was Verizon’s Fios service earning a 70 out of 100 again for the second year in a row. AT&T internet was right behind with a score of 69 out of 100, an increase of 1% over 2018.

Out of the 11 ISPs evaluated, plus a group of smaller internet service providers grouped together as “All Others,” eight saw a 1% to 6% increase in their overall customer satisfaction scores in 2019. One provider, Verizon mentioned above, stayed the same while another three saw their scores decrease 2% from last year.

Mediacom, which provides internet service to about 2.34% of the U.S. across 22 states, according to the FCC, saw the greatest improvement in their customer satisfaction rating. They jumped from 53 out of 100 in 2018 to a 56 in 2019, a 6% increase.

Providers, where customer satisfaction decreased 2% year-over-year, include Optimum, Suddenlink and Spectrum. Both Optimum and Suddenlink are owned by the same parent company, Altice USA.

How are internet service providers ranked?

The ACSI has been collecting data on ISPs since 2013 using more than 30 data points to evaluate the industry. Some of these key metrics include “customer expectations, customer perceptions about the value and quality of their actual experiences, customer complaints and customer retention.”

The ACSI conducts interviews annually with hundreds of customers on recent experiences with their internet service providers and specifically asks for their input on a set of critical elements that include:

  • Reliable speed and service
  • Interruptions/outages
  • Data transfer speed
  • Peak-hour performance
  • Video streaming
  • Variety of plans
  • Email, data storage and internet security
  • Understanding the bill
  • Store/service center staff courtesy and helpfulness
  • Store/service center transaction speed
  • Quality of mobile app
  • Reliability of mobile app
  • Call center
  • Website

Trends among internet service providers’ customer satisfaction

Using data going back to 2013, we can start to see some trends among ISPs. Since that time, the industry-standard benchmark has decreased from 65 out of 100 in 2013 to 62 today.

In fact, out of the 11 ISPs evaluated, plus the group of “All Others,” only two providers — AT&T and Optimum — have managed to increase their customer satisfaction ratings over the years. Every other provider has dropped 1 to 8 points since 2013 (or since 2015, for a few providers).

What’s interesting for 2019, is that for the internet service industry overall, where providers saw the most gains were in mobile app scores, where interacting with a person was not required. In fact, the ACSI specifically pointed out that Mediacom — which had the most improved score of 2019 — has a “best in class” mobile app according to its users.

Overall, mobile apps for the internet industry received 78 out of 100 for quality and 77 out of 100 for reliability. This was the first year the ACSI asked about mobile app experience.

Across the industry, the only customer experience benchmarks to not stay the same or improve were those related to in-store experience or billing. Scores of “Courtesy and helpfulness of store/service center staff” and “speed of store/service center transaction” both decreased by one point year-over-year, while “ease of understanding bill” also decreased one point.

According to the full ACSI report, though, in-store services aren’t the worst aspect of ISPs. Their inability to offer more plans and call centers are ranked last.

“The worst aspects of the customer experience, however, remain the lack of internet plans (edging up to 65) and service via call centers. While call center satisfaction is the low point across most telecom industries, ISPs sit at rock bottom (60) — despite slight improvement,” the report states.

Additionally, despite internet service providers making progress increasing speeds and performance, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Three benchmark points related to performance — “internet speed reliability (consistency of speed and service),” “overall data transfer speed” and “performance during peak hours” — received a 69 out of 100.

“Video streaming quality” also received a score of 69, while the “ability to keep service interruptions and outages to a minimum” scored a 68.

The future of customer satisfaction for internet service providers

While individual providers made marginal improvements year-over-year, the industry as a whole has been struggling to improve — let alone even maintain — their customer satisfaction scores.

Mobile apps and websites appear to be helping the industry, but it’s clear that internet service providers need to make investments in customer satisfaction not only within their own industry but across U.S. industries as a whole.