If you own a mobile phone then at some point in time you’ve likely contacted your operator’s customer service about coverage problems, slow speeds dropped calls or to protest some mysterious charge that appeared on your bill. Carriers have massive call center operations to handle that flood of questions, but increasingly their customer care outfits are moving on to Twitter (TWTR), putting out fires in 140 characters or less.
All of the big mobile operators—and many of the small ones—now have dedicated Twitter handles for customer care, but according to a quarter-long study by social marketing analytics firm SocialBakers, some carriers are a lot more responsive than others when it comes to fielding Twitter questions. Namely, Sprint (AAPL) led the pack, while AT&T’s (ATT-INC) social media manners fell short. T-Mobile (TMUS) customer service had the distinction of being the most active, SocialBakers found.
Between April 1 and June 30, SocialBakers looked at every tweet with a question mark in the text that was sent to an operators main Twitter handle or accounts set up specifically for customer service (@ATTCares or @TMobileHelp, for instance). The company found that Sprint had the highest response rate, responding to 68% of the 12,717 questions sent its way. Sprint also had the fastest response time, tweeting back in 20 minutes on average.
AT&T had the most questions, 25,847, sent to its accounts, but its response rate was 50%, meaning it only answered one out of every two queries. It also took much longer for AT&T’s typical response: 89 minutes. Verizon did better, responding to 54% of its 19,125 questions, but it took it took an eternity to deliver those responses. The average tweeter waited 3 hours and 33 minutes to hear back from Verizon.
T-Mobile had the second best response rate, answering 66% of questions, and the second best response time, 87 minutes. But considering T-Mobile’s small size—it’s half the size of both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T—it saw an enormous amount of traffic on its Twitter feed. It received 22,641 questions in the three-month period SocialBakers tracked. That’s nearly double the amount Sprint received and about 3,500 more than Verizon. It also responded to more overall questions than any other carrier.
T-mobile might have had higher activity rates because there were a lot more problems and complaints, but it’s also likely that its customers might just be more Twitter savvy. T-Mobile’s marketing skews much younger than the other carriers, while Verizon and AT&T focus much more on family plans. I suspect there also may have been overlap between T-Mobile’s US Twitter account and those of other Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobiles worldwide (some of those questions might have been in German or Czech).
Though Sprint didn’t see the same volume of questions that T-Mobile did, its response rate and especially its response time (four times faster than any other operator’s), shows it’s taking social media seriously as a customer service channel. That makes sense considering its new CEO Marcelo Claure has made customer service and retention a priority in his attempts to turn around the struggling carrier.
Sprint recently fell from No. 3 to No. 4 in terms of overall customers among the U.S. operators, but in its last earnings call it revealed it had made big strides in lowering its customer turnover rate. Claure recently introduced new data analytics technology in its call centers that help customer service reps anticipate a customer’s problems or desires before they even pick up the phone.
Sprint has also picked up on another tech trend apart from social media: the on-demand economy. It’s started hand-delivering smartphones directly to customer’s doorsteps in a few cities, helping customers configure them on the spot.