Say what? AT&T ranked highest for customer care satisfaction of the nation's full-service wireless carriers in a J.D. Power survey of more than 7,000 customers released today.
It was the first time AT&T received the top scores in the survey since it has been conducted annually going back to 2003.
The company has faced customer complaints for poor network coverage in some major cities, especially since its exclusive launch of the first iPhone six years ago. But the J.D. Power study doesn't look directly at network performance issues.
AT&T now claims it has the most reliable 4G LTE network.
J.D. Power said AT&T performed particularly well when customers asked for service in stores or online. In four of five customer service areas, AT&T ranked above average.
AT&T got the highest rating of 795 in the survey, based on a 1,000 point scale, while Verizon Wireless got a 790.
The average ranking for full-service providers was 786, and both Sprint and T-Mobile fell below that threshold. Sprint got a 771 rating, while T-Mobile got a 760.
For traditional non-contract carriers, MetroPCS came out on top, with a 770, while both Cricket (at 750) and Virgin Mobile (at 773) beat the average ranking for non-contract carriers in the category.
Both studies were based on the experiences of current customers who had contacted their carrier's customer care department during January through June.
"Being highest in customer service is yet another reason for customers to choose AT&T," said Ralph de la Vega, president of AT&T Mobility, the wireless division of AT&T.
AT&T said the use of tablets to help complete faster retail checkouts in the past year is among a number of other improvements made to its customer service operation. Also, the carrier expanded the number of online chat representatives to help manage accounts at att.com.
A new retail store design has also helped customers easily find the right products, AT&T said.
"AT&T has been working hard to improve customer care in recent years, and it looks like they are doing a great job, according to this new J.D.Power study," said Jeff Kagan, an independent analyst.
AT&T separately announced that it has begun rolling out a new store design nationwide with the opening of a new store in LaGrange, Ill. The design was explained in an AT&T blog and video.
The focus of the new design is to allow customers to experience technology they may buy, a concept popularized by Apple stores and others.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.