Customer satisfaction with residential local and long-distance phone service performance and reliability across four US regions has fallen 6%, to 7.4 on a 10-point scale, year-to-year in 2011. “Service outages due to severe winter weather have had a notable negative impact on satisfaction with telephone service performance and reliability,” according to J.D. Power and Associates’ “2011 U.S. Residential Telephone Customer Satisfaction Study.”

J.D. Power researchers examine five factors in determining overall customer satisfaction: performance and reliability — the most influential — cost of service, billing, offerings and promotions, and customer service. With the performance and reliability rating having dropped so sharply, satisfaction with the service provider’s ability to keep service outages to a minimum, an attribute that contributes to the statistic, experienced the largest decline.

“The brutal winter weather that plagued much of the country clearly took a toll on service levels,” said Frank Perazzini, director of telecommunications at J.D. Power and Associates. “In fact, the proportion of customers who contacted customer service to report an outage jumped to 21 percent in 2011 from 12 percent in 2010.”

Effectively managing customer expectations is the key to maintaining customer satisfaction regarding service outages and restoration of service, he added. On average customers are advised that service will be restored within 30 hours, while the average time it took to restore service was 25 hours. Average overall customer satisfaction among customers whose service was restored approximately three hours earlier than the time quoted was 705 on a 1,000-point scale, while that for those whose service was restored three hours after the time quoted averaged 591.

Results of the study also showed that the percentage of of customers who replace wireline phone calls with alternatives such as cell phone, text messages and emails remained relatively unchanged in 2011 as compared to 2010.

The use of Internet calling services, such as Skype and Vonage, has increased, however, to 21% in 2011 from 16% in 2010. Those who use VoIP services are “significantly less satisfied” with their residential wireline service provider, with an average ranking 622, 14 index points below the industry average 636. They’re also more likely to switch wireline service providers as compared to the industry average — 23% vs. 16%.

Looking across the study’s four regions, Cox Communications ranked highest in the East for overall customer satisfaction with a 659 rating. Optimum Voice followed with 647, and Verizon ranked third with an overall score of 640.

Bright House Networks topped the rankings in the South with a score of 704, followed by Cox with a score of 680.

WideOpenWest came out tops in the North Central region with a score of 721, followed by Cincinnati Bell with a 665 and AT&T with a 631.

Cox also ranked highest in the West, with a 669. CenturyLink, at 639, and Comcast’s Xfinity, with a score of 634, followed.

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