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New mobile features boost calls to customer service

As wireless options become more complex, calls to customer service and time on hold increase, study says.

Unlike the stubborn driver who won't even consult a map as she ventures into unfamiliar territory, cell phone users are not afraid to stop and ask for directions from their service providers.

Wireless phone service subscribers have increased their calls to customer service to an all-time high as they grapple with new and complex services, according to a semiannual study released by J.D. Power and Associates.

In its mid-2006 report, J.D. Power said that 59 percent of wireless phone customers called their service provider within a 12-month period--the highest percentage since 2000, when the researcher began tracking such service inquiries.

"As customers capture still pictures or video, download ring tones, play MP3 files, and even

People also call, of course, to inquire about their bills. The report stated that 45 percent of customers called about service billing issues, and that 51 percent of those customers called to complain about charges they suspected were incorrect. (The report did not indicate whether the billing inquiries were related to new services.) Thirty-one percent of customer calls were related to call quality on the provider's network.

Not surprisingly, the study showed that customers made most of their service inquiries--74 percent--by phone. The overall increase in customer service requests may have also increased the time callers spend on hold. For the first half of 2006, it took an average of 3.59 minutes to reach a service representative, a 4.3 percent increase over the 3.44-minute average in 2005.

Visiting a retail wireless store was the second-most popular method of requesting help, with 22 percent of customers using that approach. Expect to wait an average of 8 minutes before speaking to someone, the study said. (And that does not include the walk or drive to the store.) Online and e-mail requests were least popular, with 4 percent using that method.

Hold time and "problem resolution efficiency" were also measured to determine overall customer satisfaction. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA ranked as the best in this area, followed by Alltel, Cingular and then Sprint Nextel.

J.D. Power predicts the number of service calls will rise as companies encourage new services, but warns that too many such calls can lead to customer dissatisfaction and defection to other carriers. Jumping to a different carrier is 50 percent more likely among customers who have called customer service, said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power.