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.
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.
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.
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.