AT&T unseats Verizon in the J.D. Power rankings for the 1st time

Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) may be losing some of its edge when it comes to subscriber goodwill. Verizon has long dominated J.D. Power’s customer care rankings for mobile carriers, but on Thursday the global rankings company crowned a new king of customer service in the U.S.: AT&T(s t).

Ma Bell not only assumed the No. 1 ranking for the first time, it posted the highest score by any carrier in J.D. Power’s last three customer service studies. The current report polled 7,373 mobile subscribers over a six-month period ending in June. MetroPCS scored the highest in J.D. Power’s separate prepaid report, though its new parent T-Mobile(s tmus) ranked lowest among the full-service nationwide providers.

JD Power summer 2013 mobile rankings

Verizon many be the priciest carrier in the U.S., but it has maintained its commanding presence through its reputation for superior coverage, network reliability and customer satisfaction. One study certainly won’t destroy that reputation, but it’s definitely a chink in Verizon’s armor. Verizon has always touted these studies in its marketing, and you can bet AT&T will now do the same.

In fact, AT&T lately has been challenging Verizon’s claims to be the nation’s most reliable carrier, not just in public forums, but also in full-page advertisements in the Wall Street Journal. AT&T has also made frequent references to the growing number of studies that show its LTE network outperforming Verizon’s in many markets.

As for the customer satisfaction results, one reason AT&T may have gained ascendance might be due to the shifting ways subscribers are contacting customer service. J.D. Power found that customers are increasingly contacting their carriers online, versus over the phone or in store, when they have a service issue. Many of them are using the chat features not common in carriers’ websites, and in general satisfaction is higher when using those chat channels.

J.D. Power didn’t spell out which carriers ranked the highest in online customer service, but it definitely seems that the operators who invest more in online customer service will see their satisfaction scores increase.

JD Power summer 2013 prepaid rankings