Comedian Louis C.K. does this marvelous bit where he berates consumers about how spoiled they are about technology today. How folks have come to take for granted what a mere decade ago would have been called 'science fiction.' How, he says, "Everything is amazing right now and nobody's happy." Or satisfied.

Mr. C.K. tells the story about someone making a mobile call who pushes the phone's "call" button and becomes immediately impatient about how long it takes to get connected. Louis screams, "Give it a second, it's going to space! Can you give it a second to go to space?"

It's a great example of what has happened to consumer expectations and how consumers really evaluate brands. Over the past 15 years customer expectations have increased by about 24% in virtually all categories. More so in technology areas. Consumers aren't always able to rationally articulate needs, desires, or real expectations in the category. Nor are they able to assess brand on a purely rational basis. They just aren't. So assessments like those about tech brands can be misleading or inaccurate.

It's one of the reasons that we rely on loyalty and engagement assessments rather than satisfaction measures. There's lots of satisfaction measures out there, but they all suffer from the same limitations: to be reflective of the real marketplace you need to measure the degree of consonance – or alternatively, the gap – between expectations and performance. Satisfaction metrics usually don't measure expectations the way real loyalty measures do because it's difficult to translate real, emotional consumer expectations to a 1-to-7 scale. So we do it by fusing emotional and rational aspects of the category via a psychological questionnaire (with a test/re-test reliability of 0.93, used in 35 countries in B2B and B2C categories) that tells us how consumers are going to behave. It's particularly accurate for technology brands.

Following Louis C.K.'s lead, we decided to take another look at how the major US wireless carriers – the guys who have to send the signals to space – ranked in this year's Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. Our metrics are from nearly 50,000 actual brand customers, 18 to 65 years of age, drawn from the 9 US census regions. Big numbers and real customers who reflect the general US population. Not some group opinion that can't be generalized to wireless customers at large. Anyway, here's what consumers from all over the United States thought about wireless carriers and how they rated for loyalty:

  1. ATT Wireless
  2. Verizon Wireless
  3. Sprint PCS
  4. T-Mobile

The really wonderful thing about loyalty and engagement assessments is that they correlate very, very, very highly with consumer behavior, which is the true marketplace acid test. Or jackacid test, depending upon which metric you pay attention to.

If, for example, you were to correlate our CLEI rankings with churn numbers – the wireless industry's term for customer disloyalty – you'd find a 0.80 correlation, which is the kind of correlation that usually has social scientists doing victory dances on their desktops.

There was a lot of talk earlier this year about the power of hardware driving wireless carrier loyalty. The iPhone being made available on the Verizon and Sprint networks was supposed to create a massive and long-anticipated "anti-loyalty" paradigm shift, with AT&T folks, unwilling to give up their phones, now free to run to another carrier. What happened? AT&T has continued to outsell Verizon and Sprint. And as of the 3rd Quarter of this year, 99% of their iPhone customers remained loyal to AT&T. Part of the reason they remain #1 on our loyalty list.

And market face validity is always better than scalar opinions. Always. For example, the Better Business Bureau, the only public source for company-specific complaints, recently released their 3-year trend data (that's their reporting interval) showing that AT&T had the fewest complaints and lowest complaint rate of the top-4 wireless providers, even in the face of Mr. C.K.'s observation that folks continue to presume on technology instead of appreciating the actual miracle it turns out to be.

Author Douglas Adams wrote, "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space."

Peanuts to customer expectations too. But brands that are able to better meet – even exceed – growing customer expectations always end up at the top of the list.

Even in categories that really do have to go up to space!