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Summary:

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-clea…

imageLast 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.

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  1. I agree with you completely. I used to be a customer for years. However, the benefits of free cellphones from other carriers convinced me to change. Sprint never offered to provide me with a free or significantly discounted cellphone. In fact, one time I bought a new cellphone (without a discount) and they made me sign two year contract in order to renew. I already had the cellphone and had no choice but to join. But, once that contract was over, I was off to greener pasture, where you get free cellphones and to renew a contract.

  2. I couldn't agree more. Before my Son had his own Sprint account, we had him on our "family" plan or so I thought it was. There were crappy phone problems and every month I had to spend an hour or two getting the bill straightened out over things Sprint changed(on their own) with my service or things added without my approval as the account holder. Every month! It always seemd like the folks I would talk to at customer service could do little, but the folks in "retention" could work miracles.

    Perhaps the problem is that Dan Hesse is not a victim of his own company. I'd imagine his service is free or nearly so and there is no monthly to deal with.

    That said, it so often seems like one customer service agent is not on the same page and another and that happens often because I've made calls on a land line and been disconnected only to call back and start over with the WHOLE STORY. Once in the course of dealing with problems, the agent I was on with offered me a better family plan. I wanted to think about it so could I call him back. He gave me a number. Could I get back to him? Nope, and no one knew where he was either even with the number he gave to me. After talking with 11 different agents over two days(we had to start over and some said he couldn't offer me the plan) it finally got done by a wonderful agent in Bristol, Va or WVA. It's just so typical of Sprint and it seems like it NEVER changes.

    Sprint really has mastered the art of "Customer Disservice". When that's fixed, they might start getting subscribers.

    Oh, and one other thing. At one point last year I was so fed up that I decided to cancel Sprint. So now, even though I had a "Family Plan" which to me meant I'd pay some $200 to cancel, I somehow now had FOUR SEPARATE PLANS(since we had 4 phones) and would own 4 x $200 to cancel. How about that?

    Still, all the carriers would have you belive cellular service is expensive, but when they have NO LAND LINES to put in and thus avoid a boatload of infrastructure costs, I have a hard time believing cellular service costs more to provide than land lines. IOW, the cellular industry as a whole is hosing the consumer.

    Tme for some reform and maybe regulation.

  3. Staci– I’m sorry to read about your experience while you were a Sprint customer. If there’s anything we can do to earn your trust and win you back as a customer, please let me know.

    But I also want to reassure your readers that Sprint does take improving the customer experience very seriously and we’re working very hard to do so. Two of our primary goals with regard to our retail stores are to drive higher customer satisfaction and improve the overall consistency of the retail store experience whether a customer visits one of our Sprint-owned stores or a Preferred Dealer store.

    Also, I believe since you’ve left Sprint we launched our Ready Now program in our 1,200 retail stores, which offers personalized set-up and instruction to customers about their devices. The store associates are basically trained to show customers how everything works and answer any questions before they leave the store with their new device.

    This is one of many efforts to improve customer service in our stores and we are already seeing early success in terms of higher customer satisfaction since we implemented the program in the fall of 2008.

    Roni Singleton
    Sprint Public Relations

  4. Mobile Customer Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    The Sprint EVDO USB dongle from Novatel work great. Never had a problem with the hardware or the service and I can use it in my home Mac or work PC.

    Buying a Sony Vaio laptop was a big mistake.

    To be fair, ya know journalistic integrity and sh**, please tell us about your experience with the ATT modem not working out of the box :-) because of poor customer service.

    Customer service experience has to change as the country reaches maximum teledensity — great customer experience is a means to differentiation. For many customers, their annual charges from the mobile network provider exceed $1000, esp customers like Stacey who have a data card and a mobile phone with, likely, data services. So, if customers have a bad experience they will choose to leave. The provider that gets this right will have a strong leg to stand on.

  5. Don't buy anything from Sprint. These people are laying off their IT people in great numbers. They will be understaffed to perform the work necessary to function. You will see the tremendous impact shortly as customers.

  6. Staci D. Kramer Thursday, February 26, 2009

    @ Roni — Thanks for the reply here and I'm glad Sprint is working on issues at the store level. Unfortunately, until someone at the store is empowered to take a step that might save a customer — like giving a credit or figuring out a way to give someone access — it wouldn't have helped in my case. I actually was told my situation was like buying a car, having an accident and still having to make the payments even if the car was in the shop. That didn't solve the situation either. If he had been able to make the same $50 for a new air card offer as the phone rep, then I might still be a $1,000 a year customer.

    @ mobile customer — the provisioning problem with AT&T was the fault of one new clerk at a store I gone to for years. I was frustrated beyond belief but the tech issue was resolved efficiently at another store and the customer service at my local store before and after in a variety of situations also played in AT&T's favor.

  7. The future for data is prepaid. The WiFi or WiMax model will rule. Pay for it when you need it (PAYG) or pay a reduced monthly rate for backup broadband access in addition to my regular account. As soon as carriers figure that out, they'll make up any lost revenue in volume.

    I dont want to buy a laptop and pay monthly 3G data subscription for a business trip here and there. I may buy a laptop equipped with 3G but keep a prepaid subscription for emergencies.

  8. best way to deal with sprint is to threaten to cancel your service.

    once you do that, they put you in the priority queue and start throwing all sorts of deals at you.

    not the best way to do business but nice if you are a wily consumer…..i make out like a bandit everytime….

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