There’s an interesting article in BusinessWeek about the problems going on at Sprint/Nextel and what they’re doing about it. I do not know a single Sprint customer that is pleased with their product and service. It’s really quite astonishing and it’s hurting the company something fierce.

I’m sometimes a defender of shoddy customer service. To be more precise, I get annoyed when people buy the cheapest product they possibly can and then are astonished when the vender they bought from cuts corners. People cringe at the thought of paying more than they have to, even if told that it will come with better customer service. A lot of people say they want good customer service the same way they say that they want the government to have a balanced budget. They like it in the abstract, but are unwilling to support doing what it takes to get there.

Sprint is different, though. It seems like it’s in a league that I reserve for Best Buy, Blockbuster, and health insurance companies. They seem to go out of their way to antagonize you because they believe that you need them more than they need you (which is true of insurance companies, not usually true of Best Buy and Blockbuster, and verifiably false for Sprint). Add to that Sprint’s nasty habit of prolonging contracts indefinitely and it creates a problem of almost Justice Department proportions.

A little over six months ago Sprint cut loose a lot of extremely dissatisfied customers. I was generally supportive of the move as it’s something that helps pave the way for an overhaul in customer service. Unfortunately, Sprint does what a lot of companies do: they pick the low-hanging fruit, but once tough decisions have to be made they abandon the endeavor altogether.

I’m a customer in the AT&T family and have been for the past four or five mergers. I got screwed when I was in Deseret and made the switch to a camera phone, but by and large I’ve been pretty happy with it. They’ve generally been quite upfront about when my contract is about to be extended, but better than that I’ve never had reason to fear a contract extension.

Sprint appears to be moving in the right direction:

Bob Johnson, Sprint’s new chief service officer, has eliminated limits on the amount of time service reps spend on the phone with customers. Instead, he’ll track how frequently reps resolve customers’ problems on the first call. Employees who don’t solve a minimum percentage on the first call won’t be eligible for sales bonuses. {…}

As for the allegations in the two lawsuits, Johnson says Sprint has implemented a zero tolerance policy for shoddy customer service, which includes a new focus on extending contracts only with detailed approvals from customers. Among other things, Sprint sends a letter to customers outlining any changes to their account, and customers have 30 days to cancel the changes.

I wish I’d had 30 days to cancel changes the one time I was screwed by the AT&T family, so it sounds good. These changes are always easy to talk about, though. The question is what happens when the bill comes due. The advantages of these sorts of move often take a long time to materialize. Layoffs and draconian HR policies reap results very quickly.

The most encouraging thing is their new metric system. There’s a saying that if you tell me how a man is measured I will tell you how he will behave. If you only care about call times, as is the case with a lot of call centers, you’re going to get people cutting calls as short as they can with the result of more calls and aggravated customers. When I worked the phone banks for CignalTV (via the largest phone bank outsourcing company), to their credit they accounted for more than simple call-times as part of their formula. Unfortunately they had some pretty rotten incentives when it came to sales.

They never got called on it the way that Sprint has, though, and Cignal didn’t face the kind of competition that Sprint does. Hopefully it all has an effect.


Category: Market

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5 Responses to Sprint On Out The Door II

  1. bobvis says:

    I think part of the problem is that consumers have trouble getting good information on how good a particular carrier is. It’s 10000x better since the Internet, but how easy is it really to find out how bad Sprint is–let alone in your particular geographic area? Most consumers have to be burned personally before they find out their mistake. On top of that, they may assume other carriers are just as bad. It took years of shoddy service and finally number portability before I switched from Sprint to Verizon.

  2. trumwill says:

    The best way is to ask people that you know. You’ll get mixed reviews from even the good carriers, but the bad ones are outed pretty quickly. Pay particularly close attention if the complaints are very similar in nature.

    You’re right about being burned before they realize their mistake. That’s one of the problems with the contract structure that cell phone companies have in place. They make it difficult to try them out before you’re saddled with a significant commitment.

  3. Abel says:

    I’ve been a happy T-Moblie customer for 7 years (goign back when they were VoiceStream). No problems with phones, service, or customer service. I hear horror stories from friends and family members who use other services. Sprint sucks.

  4. Peter says:

    Why do you dislike Best Buy’s customer service? Eliminating commissions has made for a much lower-pressure atmosphere.

  5. trumwill says:

    Abel,
    I don’t know a whole lot of people that use T-Mobile, but of those that do use it I don’t know of anyone that is unhappy with it.

    Peter,
    Did Best Buy ever work off of commissions? I used to like to shop there because the salesmen were so much less pushy there than at Circuit City where it was obvious that everyone was on commission. Anyhow, it was stuff like this and this and this that I had a problem with. There was also a case where they called the treasury department on someone for using too many $2 bills and a problem that I personally had where a $50 gift card ended up requiring me to spend $40 because of a mistake that they made in order to use the $50 gift card. In short, I hear over and over again stories about Best Buy that don’t seem to happen at other retailers. I don’t boycot Best Buy the same way I do Blockbuster because it’s too danged convenient, but I take the same attitude that if Best Buy gets an opportunity to screw you, they will do so without hesitation.

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