No Wonder Sprint Continues To Fail

Sprint at times reminds me of The Little Engine that Could. The only problem is Sprint is more like the little engine that can’t seem to get its act together. Yes, this is a rant. So there you have the context. It’s not easy being an also ran in a field that can out spend and out perform you at just about every turn. But that shouldn’t exclude paying attention to the basics. When you’re playing from behind you need to pay closer attention to the fundamentals. Over and over again Sprint proves to me as a consumer that it doesn’t grasp the basics enough to even attempt to understand them.

Sprint-Store-iPhone-4S

Here’s the story. My wife is out of town and has been for quite some time performing in a show at The Washington Stage Guild. My wife is an unusual bird when it comes to smartphones. She doesn’t like touch screens and prefers a real QWERTY keyboard. This puts her a bit behind the curve when it comes to the current smartphone market, but all of the carriers offer at least one model with a QWERTY keyboard. She had been previously using a Samsung Transform Ultra as her phone of choice. A few days ago she noticed that callers were telling her that they could not understand her when she was talking. I noticed this as well. She thought that her problem was the signal she was receiving in the house she was staying in. So, we did some testing with her in the house and out of the house. No luck, the problem was obviously with the phone.

Wanting to make sure my wife had a working phone, I spent some time researching her options and talking to Sprint (her carrier) about getting another phone. My wife doesn’t exactly embrace technology, she begrudgingly accepts it as she finds uses for it. She does need a phone and prior to owning the Transform Ultra she wouldn’t dare allow me to purchase her anything resembling a smartphone. She wanted to use it for calls, text messages and that’s it. Until I showed her how she could check her email on the phone (for the umpteenth time.) She had protested about not wanting to do this on a phone until she actually started to like being able to receive those emails on her phone. But she still prefers a slide out keyboard to a virtual one.

We decided on a Motorola Photon. It’s not the greatest smartphone around but it seemed to fill both her desires for a slide out QWERTY keyboard and the smartphone functions she does use. Trying to make this as easy as possible for her, I did all the paperwork with a Sprint rep over the phone so that my wife could go the nearest Sprint Store, pick up the phone, have the rep make sure the phone worked, her data was imported correctly, and she’d be off and running. After making sure my wife was listed as an authorized user on the account, I was assured by the rep that it was all taken care of. All my wife had to do was give the Store rep the phone number, and our PIN number for the account and she’d be ready to go.

That’s where the first problem hit. When she got to the store she was told she wasn’t an authorized user on the account and so she couldn’t make any changes. So much for the basics of communication. This problem was solved with the store rep calling me and asking for the account information. All well and good, I guess. But when I asked him why the updated info didn’t appear in the file he said that this frequently occurred. Nice.

Problem number two hit once she moved on to the new phone itself. I had prepared her with a list of questions and things to do before leaving the store. Simple things really: make sure you can make a phone call; make sure you can send a text; make sure your data syncs to the phone. Knowing that boxed merchandise often needs to be updated when you shop in a physical store, I told her to make sure the store rep checked the phone for any updates. According to my wife, he did and none were needed.

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The check list was completed and she left the store to head to her next destination. While on that trip she called and put me on speaker phone. I could hear her but she couldn’t hear me. Once we figured that out, she went back to the store and exchanged that original purchase for a second one, repeating the check list again. All seemed good. Well, almost.

We had forgotten a simple item on the check list. Our fault entirely. My wife noticed that she wasn’t receiving any phone calls. (Apparently she receives more than I am aware of.) She called me an asked me to call her back. I did. The phone rang. She heard no audible sound or vibration. (She had already set up her ring tones and vibrate patterns.) We tried this again. No luck.

So, this morning she went back to the Sprint Store. At this point the sales rep noticed that there was a both a PRL and a system update. He performed both. Problems solved. Great. My wife had a working phone on which she could now rely on knowing when a call came in.

My frustration here is that I had specifically requested that the phone be checked for an update in the store. It’s not that I don’t think my wife could do this, but I wanted to make sure she had a working phone when she left the store. It is now obvious that this didn’t occur. Was there any real damage here? Lost time and effort on my wife’s part (and mine.)

But, think about this for a second. Knowing that things can go wrong, I had prepared a check list of things for her to go over with the sales rep before finalizing the purchase and walking out the door. In two instances Sprint (or at least this rep) was willing to send a customer out with a purchase that wasn’t working correctly, even after being presented with a relatively complete list of instructions on what to check for. How many customers, who don’t know the ins and outs of smartphones and how they are sold might have similar experiences?

I can’t imagine Sprint wants its sales staff to spend time with customers returning merchandise or seeking help rather than selling new units. I wouldn’t if I was in charge. I know smartphones require a lot of work in a store to get set up properly. Especially for new customers who don’t have a clue. But again, without disparaging anyone deciding to make a purchase here, Sprint and the other carriers depend on a certain level or customer ignorance to keep them in business.   I’ve actually encountered store sales reps (at Sprint and at Verizon) who get a bit upset when they realize they are dealing with a knowledgable customer.

There is no real immediate harm so perhaps characterizing this as a rant is inaccurate. But no one wants to lose time and energy trying to get make a purchase you think will work. But in the bigger view, Sprint has demonstrated that it really doesn’t have a fundamental understanding of the customer relationship. Or worse, perhaps it understands it all too well and just doesn’t care to create a better experience.

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After this trip for my wife is completed, we’ll finally be dropping Sprint as a carrier and looking at other options. I wish I could say I felt better about our choices, but I don’t.

Comments

    • OXBmad says

      T-Mobile would be a good fit with the growth of T-Mobile in 2013 you should consider it trust me.

      OXBmad

  1. Melvin says

    Hey Warner,

    I use to be an advocate for Sprint. When they were the first to launch 4G (Wimax) I would always brag to my friends about having Sprint.

    However, then Verizon launched LTE and at the time I was living in Costa Mesa, CA. I had the Evo 4G (Sprint) and my friend had the Thunderbolt (Verizon). I soon learned that not only did Sprint make the wrong choice, but they sucked at building out their high speed network. While my friend could drive around Orange County and have a consistent LTE signal, I’d walk 5 feet and be dropped back to 3g.

    So you’d think Sprint would of learned from this and made LTE better. NOPE! Now I’m with Big Red and always have LTE in and around San Francisco and my friend who lives in Oakland, CA (where Sprint claims is blanketed with LTE) is lucky when she gets a LTE signal.

    Will Sprint ever learn? Tmobile will probably soon overtake them as the 3rd largest carrier, sad to say.

  2. Aaron says

    Can’t really said that I can agree with your reason to leave sprint… I can understand the frustration of having to go back to the store because of an error on the store employee’s behalf, but you mke the same mistake that I see or hear a lot of people make.

    Human error can happen anywhere. The same exact thing could happen to you at verizon, at&t, hell even apple I mean it doesnt even have to do with phones! If you had an issue with your bill or your service was always terrible or when your wife went in to the store the employee was rude ok I’d understand your reason for leaving.

    To leave because you had to make a checklist for making sure your phone worked? Guess who else should do that? EVERYBODY! Alot of phones from different companies need updates after purchase. Phones don’t always work out the box. Its not necessarily sprints fault as much as it could be a manufacturers.

    You sound like somebody who has limited if any experience in customer service. Yes, getting it right the first time would be ideal, but don’t cry if it’s not. To bash the entire company because the employee AND your wife forgot about the update imo sounds childish. And if or when it happens at the next company you choose I hope you remember this dumb rant that could have been written about any phone company.

    I have personally had sprint for 15 years never ran in to any problems at the store, with my bill, or calling customer service. I can’t list the numerous times I’ve heard the latter for at&t, verizon, and tmobile. So best of luck to you on your quest to find this magical company that employs only robots that don’t make errors.

    • Warner Crocker says

      Glad you haven’t had problems with Sprint and I take your points. Yes, human errors do occur. All the time. My point is well made by your statement that everybody should make a list. I’m paying for service and a product when I walk into a store as are others. I shouldn’t have to do the salesperson’s job for them. As for childish, well. I was almost with you until then.

  3. Colin Yapp says

    I have had Sprint, with a year gap, from 1997. Yes, I have had some difficult situation with them but overall they have been a good vendor. I am at the point where I am looking into leaving them but I have not fully made up my mind. The data service can be so bad that it frustrates me that I am paying close to a 100 per month for a phone that requires data to operate smoothly. As far as your situation, I agree with everything except for requiring them to do a system update. I can understand the PRL update but not a system update. No cell carrier that I know does system updated in store. They will show you how to get it done but they don’t do it for you. Maybe things have changed.

  4. michael boterf says

    I disagree completely. I get it, the phone doesn’t work; so you get frustrated. I get it completely. I also don’t understand why anyone would want to switch to a company such as Verizon, which doesn’t really have store representation. A friend of mine bought a device for him and his wife and were “forced” to purchase the cell phone insurance that did absolutely nothing for him or the wife as they were lied to in the store. When my friend confronted the manager (he or his wife, I can’t remember, went in to replace a broken phone on insurance), they told them they weren’t really able to help them at all. Complete and utter madness took over the couple’s relationship with the company. Verizon and ATT (I could go on for days about ATT on a personal basis) do not care about their customers. Why, because they know people are blindly going to them daily. Sprint on the other hand will thank me 5 to 6 times for sticking with them when I call, which is rarely. I can attest that Sprint relationship with myself makes me fell happy to have such a great company that at least makes me feel welcome. Oh Sprint Spark is rolling out faster than anticipated and much to, well not mine, many people’s surprise. You couldn’t deny what they were going to do after Softbank purchased Sprint and not even a week later Clearwire was purchased. All that Spectrum! And T-Mobile’s CEO tries to play Sprint off like some STD that just won’t go away claiming Sprint is only a pile of spectrum. Sadly mistaken as I think Samsung produced up to 1GB speeds with Tribands..and Sprint has that technology just rolling out and will definitely pursue speeds up to 1GB soon.

  5. jim says

    Warner I agree with your frustration. What’s worse is that it’s endemic to the carrier business- that said, there are some great customer service areas as well. As a financial advisor- I run a business based on long term customer relationships and ongoing satisfaction with both products, experience, but most importantly the service- so I am keen to recognize great service and immediate to dismiss thoughtless service. Rude is easy to be mad about, but thoughtless or careless- especially when a customer shows concern or an obvious focus on getting it right (your checklist.)
    And as for the earlier comments- it likely true their customer service lacks everywhere. But I think that commenter completely misses the point about your checklist, it’s not that you had to make it (which you should have needed to to, but did anyway). It’s that in spite of your diligence- the store didn’t take the time to make sure they met it. This is particularly important when the customer is showing such focus or concern. And if those expectations are unreasonable or unsure, that should be discussed right then and there. I’m sure this would have been an opportunity to win you as an fan, rather than what’s happened. To blame your wife or any customer is flat out ridiculous. (And proves who knows about customer service.) While it’s true that the Ritz Carlton service has a key principle of fixing problems and mistakes well- they also get the basic stuff pretty well covered from the get- especially when asked directly by the customer. In this case they neither met your original request (which was only to try and get it right) nor fixed it the second time. All indications of no time or thought going into it.

    It is unreasonable to think that the average, or any customer, should have to know about updates, an such, it should be either labeled very clearly, or explained with what amounts to a guided/ working tour of the phone.

    Your statement I most agreed with is how frequently phone sales people turn off when they realize you are knowledgeable. Even then though- I try to engage them and keep them close as I can’t keep up with the latest plan changes.

    I’ve had awful service in the corporate stores over the years (all the big 3)- they’re just too busy most of the time. On ATT now, but considering… The corporate web stores have proved excellent with shipping (and maybe for this do it yourselfer proves best to explore and get questions asked to my detail.) I have actually had a couple good experiences with local Verizon co-branded stores (like Verizon by “Wireless Authority” or whatever.) I’m sure these are wildly inconsistent though. This was a few years back, and they did want to push, accessories, insurance and such, but the service, guided tour, discussion of some power features and set up was stellar -and man I still kinda miss that E815.

    By the way- with the cloud- I never want to need to sync my contacts again to another phone thru their custom flash devices or whatnot. I feel it makes me back up proof for when I drop the phone or it takes the plunge. It also means I don’t really ever have to enter one of their stores.

    I look forward to when the carrier is nothing more than the pipe- like an electric bill. One single bill- no fees, no recouping capital. Just straight, real costs.

    I enjoy your writing alot, An occasional rant on carrier service as well. Now if we can just get this site to cover stylus computing again…

  6. bryan says

    Well as a Sprint rep its bad that you had a unpleasant experience. When the device activates it suppose to do the network settings upon first start and PRL right before it reboots for final activation. I dont go back into updates unless I see a issue. Maybe the rep should have done a test call. Ok. Sure. But, really? The Photon? You work at GottaBe Mobile and every person I have come across that has that phone complains. I have only sold maybe 2 because it’s a terrible device. Like besides maybe the Sprint Flash its the worst device on the shelf. I am much more aware of device issues than the typical rep, but I do know that nobody at my store would recommend that phone. To anyone. Ever. It is just a very poor device that lags and freezes and crashes. We all know about vendors and manufacturers and contracts so I get why Sprint still sells it, probably forced to, but its free for a reason. Just saying I have no sympathy simply because of where you work and you didn’t know it was bad. I have customers that dont know what a LG or HTC is but they have heard the photon is trash. I think your being to harsh on Sprint, its not like we made the device defective and they did fix the issue. Maybe you should focus your energy on Motorola for releasing a device that is garbage. Because if the phone was good and activated properly this rant would never have been written. Dont confuse poor manufacturing with poor service. They did activate it and swap the contacts and then fix the issue when it became known.

  7. Mark says

    Hi Warner,

    I work at Sprint and want to send my sincerest apologies for the difficulties your wife had at the Sprint store. The truth is, any company’s customer service is only as good as the worst experience someone has with your company. (In your line of work, you’re only as good as your worst performance, right?)

    It’s hard to find smartphones with physical keyboards these days, as the market just doesn’t demand them much anymore. I reluctantly gave mine up after the Samsung Epic. However, once I learned Swype, I was fine with the virtual keyboard, and of course it made the phone thinner, lighter and more battery-efficient. If your wife were willing, I would recommend that she trade the Photon Q back for a Samsung Galaxy S4 within her 14-day grace period.

    I don’t work in customer service but did spend a lot of time writing support material for the website. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

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