Sprint... Lessons from the Company of NO!
This Rant addresses my business experience with Sprint. It's one of the most dysfunctional business dealings I've ever had. But as usual, in life's experiences, there are lessons to be learned.
Ranting about cell phone service is pretty easy to do. All carriers have occasional coverage issues. But based on our personal experience with ongoing outages, Sprint's network failing has gone far beyond an occasional issue. We certainly don't expect perfection with cell phone coverage, but there is a reasonable expectation to receive SOME cell service. Unfortunately, we have experienced Sprint's poor service and complete lack of ANY service on a regular basis for several months now. Sadly, poor and lack of any service seems to extend to their customer service department also.
Sprint is the company of NO. NO phone. NO Internet. NO texting. Their bad business practices result in NO service, NO caring and NO integrity. Thankfully... a closure to the "dramedy" has come, along with some great lessons I can share, so it's not all bad.
Lesson #1: How you handle a problem defines the character of the person and also the character of the company they represent. Things go wrong in business all the time. In our industry, it can be misprinted items, products that miss deadlines, or a lack of communication that escalates to a problem. A customer service issue is a great way to show how good you really are!
In our area, Sprint service has been out for over a month. As a result, the good, honest people in the front lines at the local Sprint store have been put in the line of fire dealing with Sprint's problems. Talking with them, they share our frustration with the situation. Those I talked with have been given no information. Seemingly they have no confidence that Sprint would help explain the situation or give any answers as to when their problems might be fixed. Or... how it should be handled with customers? At one point when I asked a Sprint store employee what we should do, he flat out told me "switch to Verizon."
Sprint had acknowledged my ongoing lack of service problems with credits over the last few months, along with ongoing, failed promises that the problems would be fixed. Ultimately we decided that they have significant issues that would not likely be resolved anytime soon. They were unable to deliver the service we are paying for. Throwing in the towel, we made the hard decision to switch carriers.
After hours battling Sprint's policies regarding our contract, "Bob," a "Senior Level Account Manager" at Sprint agreed to release us, waiving Early Termination Fees. [Ed. Note: The names in this story have been changed.] I asked Bob to confirm their contract release in writing before I made an investment (about $750) in new equipment with another carrier, but was told that was "against Sprint policy". ...Really?? Why can't such an agreement be documented so there are no misunderstandings?
Lesson #2: Consider reasonable options. When things go wrong it is customary to consider reasonable compromises to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes it's about working with the supplier and coming up with a fair resolution everyone can live with. If a proposal doesn't work for you, suggesting an alternative option helps to continue a conversation that can led to a mutually agreeable solution for everyone.
When we have switched carriers in the past, new phone costs have been offset through the sale of our current phones. However, Sprint refused to give us this option and demanded we return our phones.
We understand that the high cost of smartphones is subsidized through two-year contracts. Since Sprint required our phones be returned, I requested that they at least prorate the cost for the time we have used them, which was about 10 months (not including the time there was no service). This would be a fair compromise, and cover a portion of our loss. Bob, the "Senior Level Account Manager" at Sprint refused this proposal.
After not hearing from Bob for a few more days, I called into the customer retention department to get this resolved. This time I spoke to someone who said we would have to return the phones but offered an additional $55.00 credit to our account. They had no problem providing written documentation of this agreement, which I received via e-mail shortly after we spoke. This is puzzling, considering Bob insisted that a written confirmation was against company policy.
Lesson #3: Honor agreements that are made. Have integrity. In the end, even if you lose the customer, at least know you were honest and tried to do the right thing.
When my "Senior Level Account Manager" Bob eventually called back, he was surprised by the agreement someone else at Sprint had made. He promptly told me it was invalid. In another completely dysfunctional business conversation, I was told Sprint would not honor Sprint's written agreement. According to Bob we had a choice to waive the Early Termination Fees, a value of about $800.00, or take the $55.00 credit only. After choosing to waive the fees instead of the credit, I asked Bob again if he would document what we had agreed to. Again he said NO and that "I would just have to take his word on it." ...Really?? Why should I trust in him, or Sprint, at this point?
Lesson #4: It should go without saying, but don't lie.
In discussing ongoing service outages, Bob from Sprint told me cell coverage is blocked in theaters as an excuse for why they have NO service. That's interesting since Sprint is my local theater's sponsor. Their ads tell you to "Silence Your Cell Phone." Silencing your cell phone is not really necessary if you have Sprint service in my area... at least at this time. As a new Verizon customer, I recently had a "date night" with my wife at the movies. Oddly I had Verizon cell service in the theater ...Really Bob?? Cell service is blocked in theatres? That's just not the truth.
Lesson #5: When things go wrong, not responding will not help. It is not fun to have the hard, sometimes uncomfortable conversations that often go hand-in-hand with customer service problems. It can be easy to avoid returning a phone call and deliver bad news, or deal with an unhappy customer. But waiting just makes the problem fester. By promptly responding, customers at least feel like their problem is as important to you as it is to them.
Working through this mess, my account was "flagged" and I was unable to speak to anyone else but Bob. Days would pass without Bob returning my calls or e-mail. Frustrated and wanting to get this resolved, I reached out through social media.
I finally was able to talk to Christine, a helpful customer service rep from Sprint's "Social Care" department. This ultimately led to a connection being made with a civil manager at Sprint, Ron. Ron was understanding of the situation and acknowledged Sprint's issues. He was considerate and honest. Ron explained that Sprint management is adamant about getting the phones back if they waive Early Termination Fees, regardless of it being fair and despite them not being able to provide service. It's in all that little fine print that is in the contract that no one reads.
Unlike Bob, Ron actually cared. Even though his hands were tied by Sprint's policy on the phone return, he did clear my account balance, which was already reduced due to poor service. After all the battling over a few weeks, I finally talked with someone reasonable and we were able to reach a resolution.
As much as it pains me, I understand the agreement I made in the contract and have returned the phones, even though Sprint clearly failed to provide service I was paying for. In the process I was able to share the importance of my faith and values. I feel good about honoring my part of the Sprint contract, but am still am not thrilled about taking the loss for new phones. I have Ron's direct phone number and our agreement in writing that our Early Termination Fees will be waived. As much as I didn't trust Bob, I did trust Ron to get this resolved.
Lesson #6: It's a small world. Customers will remember you. I may forget a lot of details of this experience. But I won't forget Bob and Ron and the ways they handled this business problem. How do people remember you? Especially in a situation where they are not happy?
There are many lessons we can take from this that relate to whatever business you are in. If a problem comes up, be truthful. Don't lie to cover up failings. Do what you can to make things right. Respond promptly. Consider what's fair. Work to find a mutually beneficial resolution for all parties. Honor the agreements that are made. Have systems in place that work and follow up to keep lines of communication open.
Just as Amazon looks great in this story, Sprint looks horribly bad. I promised the fine folks at Sprint that I would share my experience and I am being true to my word.
Jeff Solomon, MAS is affiliated with a Top 10 distributor company. The FreePromoTips.com website and e-newsletters he publishes are packed with beneficial information and exclusive FREE offers from a few forward-thinking supplier companies. Don't miss out on what's happening! Opt in to receive their e-newsletters! LIKE their page on Facebook and follow them on twitter.