Customer Service in a Wireless World

It’s been several news cycles since the Sprint 1000 story hit the wire. If you’re not familiar with the story, Sprint Nextel terminated 1000 customers who called customer service too often. The customers were notified by letter and given one month’s notice to find another cellular solution. Having been a Customer Service Manager for a wireless company, I feel I can provide some insight into the story. [Disclosure: I was not and am not employed by Sprint or any direct competitor.] There’s been lot of coverage of the story, so I’m sure I’m not bringing anything new to the table, but if you haven’t followed it, welcome to my two cents.

The cellular phone industry is consistently rated as one of the lowest in customer satisfaction. So right off the bat, we in the wireless industry are fighting an uphill battle.

No one calls their wireless company to tell them good news or to thank them…if they’re calling in, they’ve got an issue. Depending on a consumer’s personality, some call at the drop of a pin (yeah, a bad Sprint reference), while some wait until their life is really interrupted.

I heard some buzz about Sprint justifying the decision based on the cost of the resources needed to support these 1000 customers. A wireless company provides a call center free of charge to the customer, and the cost of operating this service shouldn’t play into whether a customer is allowed to call or not. If cost is the issue, these 1000 customers certainly couldn’t have affected Sprint’s bottom line with a base of 54 million subs.

In my years in Customer Service in the wireless industry, did I ever terminate a customer? Yes, but the circumstances didn’t revolve around an amount of calls to the call center. As a customer service rep, you are called everything in the book; your intelligence, your socioeconomic status; even your name is attacked by an upset customer; so it’s no stretch to imagine that the dream scenario is to be able to retaliate by suspending the customer’s account. It was rare and well thought out to get to the point of disconnecting a customer. We kept track of how many calls came into the call center, but didn’t track it against calls per individual customer. I can see a value to knowing how many times a customer calls customer service, but only from a solution standpoint and not from a way of judging the quality of customer.

1000 phones is a pretty small drop in the bucket for one of America’s largest carriers. It doesn’t even budge their 2.7% churn rate, but how much of an effect will the Sprint 1000 have on the rest of their customer base. In the same way that customer’s personalities differ, it may cause some to consider other options now and others to consider this later.

Some recent research indicated that a carrier’s customer service reputation doesn’t affect a consumer’s decision to start new service, but a huge percentage of consumers surveyed indicated that they have left a wireless carrier for how they were treated. I’m sure how fellow customers are treated can have just as big of an impact on this decision too.

On the other hand, I love their latest ad campaign…ask people in different capacities in a wireless company how the stuff works and it ultimately comes down to magic.

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1 Comment

  1. 1) The ad reminds me of the “Realizing your potential” ad campaign from Microsoft

    2) I have Sprint and they suck. I will be terminating them.

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