If you’re looking for the right cell phone provider, consider which companies impress their customers the most.
American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and J.D. Power, two companies that study consumer insights, have recently released the latest data on overall purchase satisfaction and customer service among wireless providers. In this article, I’ll take a close look at the study results and share the key takeaways you should keep in mind while shopping for a new cell phone service provider.
This article was updated in June 2023 and I review it every 12 months. Detailed notes on all updates can be found here.
Determining The Best Cell Phone Service Providers in America
When it comes to finding the best cell phone service provider, the most expensive plan or provider isn’t always the best option. In fact, customers report better customer care and a better purchase experience from discount cell phone service providers.
“I’ve got great news for you,” says money expert Clark Howard. “If you’ve been afraid to go to a little-known brand for your cell phone service, there’s new data that says believe it or not, there are discounters that offer much higher customer satisfaction than AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.”
To get a better idea of customer satisfaction among cell phone service providers, ACSI recently conducted a wireless phone service study. The study was based on interviews with 15,881 customers contacted between April 2022 and March 2023. Customers were asked to evaluate their recent experiences with their wireless providers to determine customer satisfaction.
J.D. Power also conducted two recent studies. The first study focused on customer support satisfaction. In this study, J.D. Power collected responses from 15,940 customers between July and December 2022 who had contacted their carrier’s customer care department within the past three months. J.D. Power evaluated customer care experiences across six factors: store service, phone service, website service, app service, social media service and text service.
The second study focused on customer purchase experience. The results published are based on responses from 14,519 customers who use any one of four purchase channels: phone calls, store visits, the carrier’s website or mobile app. Responses for this study were also collected between July and December 2022.
Each report separates wireless providers into three categories:
- Mobile network operators (MNOs). These are fully independent service providers that own the complete infrastructure used for hosting and managing mobile communications. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are MNOs.
- Full-service mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). These service providers have their own network infrastructure, but they rely on MNOs for their large networks of antennas to deliver service. Cricket Wireless, Metro by T-Mobile, Xfinity Mobile, Boost Mobile and Spectrum Mobile are examples of full-service MVNOs.
- Value mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). These “light” MVNOs take a more passive role in the network’s operational management leaving it to the MNOs from which they’ve purchased service. This allows value MVNOs to provide service at a cheaper cost. Mint Mobile, Consumer Cellular, TracFone and Straight Talk fall under this category.
Below, I’ll take a close look at each of the top-performing cell phone service providers in each of these three categories based on the latest data.
The Best Mobile Network Operators (MNOs)
T-Mobile ranks highest among MNOs on average based on the three studies. In the J.D. Power studies, T-Mobile earned a score of 829 (on a 1,000-point scale) in customer service and a score of 803 in purchase experience. In both studies, this is T-Mobile’s 11th consecutive win among MNOs.
ACSI found that AT&T earned a slightly better score than T-Mobile in 2023: 75 compared to 74 on a 100-point scale.
You can see how T-Mobile compares with other MNOs in the three studies here:
|MNO||ACSI 2023 Score (100-point scale)||J.D. Power Customer Support Satisfaction Score (1000-point scale)||J.D. Power Purchase Experience Score (1000-point scale)||Average Score|
*Score based on only one survey
Below, I’ll take a closer look at each survey’s results.
J.D. Power MNO Customer Care Results
J.D. Power MNO Purchase Experience Results
In the customer service category of J.D. Power’s study, T-Mobile scored 26 points above the segment average. Verizon Wireless took second place with a score of 794 while AT&T came in last with a score of 788.
When it came to purchase experience, T-Mobile earned 37 points higher than the segment average. AT&T came in second place with a score of 753 while Verizon Wireless was close behind with a score of 748.
In the ACSI study, T-Mobile maintained a steady score of 74 between 2022 and 2023. AT&T’s 3% increase to 75 surpassed T-Mobile’s score by 1 point this year while Verizon Wireless follows close behind with a score of 73. ACSI also included U.S. Cellular in the Mobile Network Operators category, which was not reported on by J.D. Power. U.S. Cellular’s customer satisfaction score was the only one to decrease from 2022 to 2023 in ACSI’s study.
The Best Full-Service Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)
Cricket Wireless (Review) and Metro by T-Mobile (Review) earned the highest average scores in the full-service MVNO category based on data from the three surveys. In J.D. Power’s purchase experience study, Cricket Wireless earned the highest score of 821. However, in the customer service study, Metro by T-Mobile earned the highest score (832). In ACSI’s study, Cricket Wireless and Metro by T-Mobile tied with a score of 76 in 2023. In all three studies, these two providers earned higher scores than T-Mobile, the top performer in the MNO category.
You can see each provider’s scores in all three surveys below:
|Full-Service MVNO||ACSI 2023 Score (100-point scale)||J.D. Power Customer Support Satisfaction Score (1000-point scale)||J.D. Power Purchase Experience Score (1000-point scale)||Average Score|
|Metro by T-Mobile||76||832||818||80.33%|
Below, I’ll take a closer look at each survey’s results.
Full-Service MVNO Customer Care Results
Full-Service MVNO Purchase Experience Results
As you can see, Metro by T-Mobile and Cricket Wireless earned the top two spots with scores within three points of one another in both J.D. Power studies.
In the customer care study, Boost Mobile (Review) earned a score of 825, which is three points higher than the segment average. Spectrum Mobile (Review) followed behind Boost Mobile with a score of 799. Xfinity Mobile (Review) earned a score of 795.
When it came to purchase experience, customers were most satisfied by Cricket Wireless followed by Metro by T-Mobile. Xfinity Mobile came in third just below the segment average with a score of 798. Boost Mobile followed with a score of 797 and Spectrum Mobile earned a score of 793.
In the ACSI study, Cricket Wireless and Metro by T-Mobile earned the same score (76) in 2023. Cricket Wireless maintained the same score from 2022 while Metro by T-Mobile showed the most growth with a 3% change from 2022 to 2023.
The only provider with a decline in customer satisfaction was Xfinity Mobile (-3% from 2022 to 2023) while Boost Mobile maintained the lowest score among full-service MVNOs both years (71).
The Best Value Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)
Consumer Cellular (Review) earned the highest score on average in the value MVNO category based on data from all three surveys. Mint Mobile (Review) followed closely behind. Again, it’s worth noting that the top two providers earned higher scores than T-Mobile, the top performer in the MNO category.
“J.D. Power’s new survey of the best customer service for cell phones shows that two of let’s call them ‘the off-brands’ have much, much higher customer satisfaction than the big three brand names. In fact, it’s not even close.”
You can see how Consumer Cellular and Mint Mobile compare to other value MVNOs in both categories here:
|Value MVNO||ACSI 2023 Score (100-point scale)||J.D. Power Customer Support Satisfaction Score (1000-point scale)||J.D. Power Purchase Experience Score (1000-point scale)||Average Score|
|Straight Talk Wireless||77||808||788||78.87%|
|Google Fi Wireless||76||N/A||N/A||76%*|
|Walmart Family Mobile||74||N/A||N/A||74%*|
*Score based on only one survey
In J.D. Power’s customer care study, Consumer Cellular earned the highest score in the value MVNO category for the 14th consecutive time with a score of 869 followed by Mint Mobile with a score of 864. The two traded spots in the purchase experience study with Mint Mobile earning a score of 862 in its first year of eligibility for the study and Consumer Cellular earning a score of 857.
Value MVNO Customer Care Results
Value MVNO Purchase Experience Results
The customer care study revealed that customers were most satisfied with Consumer Cellular followed by Mint Mobile with both companies earning scores over the segment average of 815. Straight Talk (Review) came in third place with a score of 808 and TracFone (Review) earned a score of 777.
When it comes to purchase experience, customers were most satisfied with Mint Mobile followed closely by Consumer Cellular. TracFone and Straight Talk also traded positions in this report with TracFone earning a score of 792 and Straight Talk earning a score of 788.
In the ACSI study, Consumer Cellular earned the #1 spot in 2023 with a score of 82. It also showed the most growth from 2022 (5%). Mint Mobile was the next-highest-scoring value MVNO with a score of 79 in 2023.
When it comes to choosing a phone service provider, you’ll first need to make sure you have service in your area. It’s also important to only pay for what you need. Finally, you want to choose a phone service provider that isn’t a headache. One way to avoid this is by choosing a company that’s known for impressing its customers.
Fortunately, you can save money on your monthly cell phone bill by switching to a cheaper phone service provider that offers better customer service.
“The reason you may not be willing to switch is you’re worried about customer service; you’re worried about network and all that. Obviously, people are exceedingly happy with Mint Mobile and with Consumer Cellular, and they are both so much cheaper than what you have to pay any of the big three.”
Based on J.D. Power’s customer satisfaction and purchase experience surveys as well as ACSI’s latest data, T-Mobile is the best mobile network operator on average. The company earned the highest scores in both J.D. Power surveys for the 11th consecutive volume while it was only one point below AT&T in ACSI’s 2023 survey results.
In the MVNO category, Cricket Wireless and Metro by T-Mobile rank highest for customer satisfaction across the board. In all three reports, Cricket Wireless and Metro by T-Mobile scored higher than T-Mobile.
Finally, in the value MVNO category, Consumer Cellular and Mint Mobile rank highest. Again, in both reports, Consumer Cellular and Mint Mobile scored higher than T-Mobile.
“That’s why we put so much effort at Clark.com into telling you about these alternatives,” says Clark. “We always talk about these discounters tentatively because people tend to grade a lower price more harshly than they do a higher price provider, but the truth is at least these lower price providers are putting a big smile on people’s faces and their wallets!”
You can compare plans from these service providers and more in our guide to the best cell phone plans in 2023.
Finally, check out which cell phone service providers other Clark.com readers are using in our Clark.com Community!
- June 15, 2023: Added data from ACSI’s latest study