Customers of Sprint are the most satisfied of the three major long-distance carriers, according to a new survey by J. D. Power and Associates, a marketing firm best known for its customer satisfaction reports on the auto industry.
In a small but telling sign of how information and communication industries are playing a bigger role in the U.S. economy, Power plans to add surveys of local phone carriers, cellular phone companies, and cable and satellite TV providers. The long-distance survey is the firm's second such annual report.
"We're applying the same skills to other industries that are getting competitive," said Zaiba Nanji, director of telecommunications services at J.D. Power. "It's getting confusing for consumers, but consumers are going to be in the driver's seat" as communications industries are deregulated, she said.
Power reported that many of the 6,100 consumers surveyed are satisfied with their existing carrier, but said switching carriers will remain common as local phone companies and cable TV companies jump into long distance.
Almost two-thirds said they would be likely to direct all their telecommunications business to one carrier. Of those, 60 percent said they would choose the long-distance carrier they use now.
Sprint scored high for offering low prices, but especially high for offering easy-to-understand pricing plans, Power found. Nanji and others laid that consumer opinion at the door of Sprint's ubiquitous "dime a minute rate" advertising campaign, touting a program that charges 10 cents a minute for domestic calls made on evenings and weekends.
"It has been our most successful pricing plan ever," Sprint spokeswoman Juanada Teas said. "When you pick up the phone to talk, you know what you're going to pay."
AT&T; Corp. ranked second in customer satisfaction in the survey and MCI Communications Corp. placed third. Smaller long-distance carriers were not ranked because of the difficulty in identifying a reliable sample of their customers, Nanji said.
Last year, Sprint won out among users who spend more than $50 a month on long distance, but AT&T; was the top-rated carrier among the much larger group of consumers who spend less than $50 a month on long distance.
An AT&T; spokeswoman said she had not seen the survey. MCI spokesman Michael Tierney said the company was encouraged by consumers' preference to consolidate their communications business at one firm, believing it will help MCI's MCIOne package that includes local services, long distance, cellular and Internet access on one bill.
Brian Adamik, vice president of the Yankee Group, a Boston telecommunications consulting firm, said AT&T; still has a more commanding market share among residential customers than it has among business phone users. But he said Sprint's pricing plans are making inroads.
In a survey last year, 76 percent of households used AT&T; for residential long distance, compared to 11 percent for MCI and 4.2 percent for Sprint, Adamik said. Yankee has not yet updated that research this year.
Pub Date: 8/23/96