Last week, Sprint (NYSE: S) Nextel admitted it lost 1.3 million subscribers in Q408, a repeat performance of Q308 and part of a crystal-clear trend for the troubled carrier. When the company reports its Q109 losses, the number will include me. I joined the Sprint ranks last May when my new *Sony* Vaio TZ came equipped with an internal Sprint EVDO modem, agreeing to spend $80 a month. I ran into problems almost immediately with billing, receiving duplicate bills every month, but the service was good for the most part. Unfortunately, I also ran into problems with the Vaio, which was down a lot of the time and finally went away to Sony (NYSE: SNE) service land for an extended stay.
The replacement laptop lacked an EVDO card; *Sony* was dropping the Sprint connection and the new Verizon-equipped models weren’t in yet. I was willing to keep using Sprint but had no modem — and I had a major business trip that required constant access. I went to two Sprint outlets — a kiosk that referred me to a bigger store and the bigger store where suggested solutions including selling me a modem at full retail, extending my contract to qualify for a discount or getting a second account that would come with a free or reduced-price modem and a new number. Could I get credit for the time I couldn’t use the EVDO modem? No. Could I get a loaner modem? No. This being Sprint, I couldn’t get a SIM card that would work in the external modem I had. I finally gave up, went down the street and renewed a contract with *AT&T* for a modem I could use right away. (Actually, I couldn’t because the salesperson forgot to provision the modem, but that’s a different story.)
The Vaio TZ, by the way, turned out to be such a problem that Sony took it back. When I spent some quality time on the phone with a variety of Sprint customer service people, they made the duplicate bill go away and, when they realized why I could no longer use the service, terminated my contract. I still had to cancel the service — and that’s when someone offered me an air card for $50 if I would stay. If Dan Hesse and company want to figure out how to keep customers, they need to get the store-level customer service to equal the people I dealt with on the phone — and they need to give the stores the power to make things work.