AT&T topped the first annual Tom’s Guide Carrier Support Showdown, for which we went undercover to evaluate how nine wireless carriers provide support not only over the phone but online at the their websites and through their social media accounts. MetroPCS finished in last place as a result of its minimal online support, but at least it offers strong around-the-clock phone support for its subscribers.
While AT&T was the clear winner in our special report, the other major carriers -- Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile -- also performed well, answering questions quickly and correctly with enough friendliness to make us not dread tech-support calls. We included several discount carriers specializing in prepaid plans in our look at customer support quality and were pleased to discover that a pair of companies -- Cricket Wireless and Boost Mobile -- came close to the Big Four in providing helpful support.
Here’s a closer look at the providers that came out on top in our cell phone support showdown.
1st Place: AT&T (93/100 Points)
In its ongoing battle with Verizon for smartphone supremacy, AT&T provides a superlative customer-support experience. Whether during business hours or late at night, our interactions on calls to AT&T were both friendly and fruitful, with phone-service reps providing detailed information and attentive responses. The carrier backs up that top-rate phone support with extensive online information, highlighted by a live-chat feature that proved to be every bit as productive as our tech-support calls. AT&T's timely responses to questions posed via social media sites also impressed.
2nd Place: Sprint (90/100 Points)
Sprint is putting a lot of effort into improving its standing among major cellphone providers. That strategy is paying off in customer service, where the carrier's friendly and thorough phone support vaulted the company ahead of all but one of its rivals. We also found Sprint to be responsive on Twitter and Facebook, and its online support proved to be a solid resource.
3rd Place: Verizon (87/100 Points)
Verizon rounds out our top-rated carriers on the strength of its information-packed support site and helpful chat feature. We were also impressed by how thoroughly Verizon's phone reps dealt with our tech-support questions.
How We Tested
Our staff went undercover to test three different components of tech support provided by the nine carriers: phone support, online support, and support provided via the carriers' Twitter and Facebook accounts. For each component, we tried to find the answers to two questions: How do I get photos off my smartphone, and how do I change my data plan?
To test phone support, we placed calls to each carrier at least twice: once during normal business hours and once late at night. We graded the carriers on their ability to answer the question, communicate clearly and respond to our call promptly.
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For online support, we searched through the resources on each carrier's website, looking for answers to both our device-specific question about the Galaxy S5 and our question about changing our plan. We also tested any live online support features that carriers provided.
Because more customers are turning to social media expecting tech support, we also posed questions to each carrier on both their Twitter and Facebook accounts. We noted how quickly carriers responded to questions over social media and how thorough their responses were.