My first computer was an Apple IIc. It lasted for years before I jumped into the world of Windows 3.11 and, shortly after, Windows 95 (on a Packard Bell – remember those?) For well over a decade, I became deeply integrated into Microsoft and left the world of Apple in the past. In 2001, Shannon got a job working for a company that specializes in Apple products. I still stuck with Windows, though, and Shannon came home with her iBook (and later MacBook).
Meanwhile, in the world of cellular communications, I jumped from flip phones to Windows phones (remember Windows Mobile 2003?) to, eventually, Android phones. I have had the Samsung Galaxy (with slider keyboard,) Galaxy S2, Galaxy S3, and Galaxy S4 – my current phone. The S5 didn’t really wow me, though, so I’ve passed on that one.
The purpose of this prologue? I’ve evolved my tech habits over the past couple of years and have become a slow convert to the Cult of Apple. I have an iPod (for my running/Nike+), an iPad Mini (for casual use and running things like Crunchyroll and Netflix), and a MacBook Air for work. My two holdouts? My desktop PC is still a six year old Windows 7 machine and my cell phone is still an Android.
NOW – here’s where that all leads.
About once a year I do a price check on my technology services: cable, internet, phone, etc. My wife and I have been on the same price plan with our cell phone carrier (Sprint) since 2008. We have been with Sprint dating back to the Nextel days for over a decade and they have been a pretty solid service. Our price plan we got in 2008 covered three phones (2 smart, 1 “dumb”) for $170 a month plus tax and fees. This has included 1500 minutes and unlimited internet. No new plans have beat it, so there was no need to change it.
With the announcement of the iPhone 6, I saw the opportunity to look into price plans again. Based on the amount of data Shannon and I use per month – something I researched online in advance of shopping – Sprint is now offering a better plan that would drop my bill from $170 to $145. I called to research this in more detail last Friday and, from there, I began a weekend long customer service nightmare. All of it came down to one thing Sprint needs to fix.
EMPOWER YOUR STAFF
When I worked at Universal Studios in Florida, employees were taught the concept of “one stop shopping”. This is GENIUS level costumer service. It’s based on the (correct) idea that customers – especially upset ones – hate being passed from person to person to fix something. Once an employee is presented with an issue, be it a janitor or an executive, he/she is now responsible to keeping with that customer until the issues are resolved.
CALL NUMBER 1 to Sprint last Friday was great. I got a nice guy who talked with me for about 25 minutes about my current price plan and he helped me confirm what options were available. At one point, the call dropped and he called me back within two minutes and our conversation continued. We put together a cocktail what would cost $164, $6 less than my current plan, and allow me to get the new hotness: a 64 GB iPhone:
The three key elements to make this happen were:
- Change from my old price plan ($170) to a new one ($145).
- Apply a discount for AAA members – dropping the monthly fee to $135.
- Trade in my old Galaxy S4 and finance a new iPhone 6 – bumping my monthly fee to $164.
Straightforward, but not something I could just order online since there were so many moving pieces.
At the end of the first call, the helpful guy (I wish I remember his name) explained that he was not allowed to transfer me to the sales department to process this order because of the overwhelming demand for the iPhone launch. The logic was that folks being transferred would get upset because they would be on hold for at LEAST an hour. I understood and thanked him for his help and we parted ways/ended the call.
CALL NUMBER 2. The first call transpired while I was driving 180 miles from South Florida to Jacksonville which takes about three hours. After getting off of Call Number 1, I realized I had time to kill, so I called into the Sprint sales line and listened to hold music via bluetooth in my car. After about an hour, I got a human. She was nice enough, but it was very obvious that she was not in a call center based domestically.
At the beginning of the call, she went through the usual stuff: confirm my name, that the account was linked to the phone I was calling from, account pin, and then a call back number in case we got disconnected. I had to repeat myself a few times to help gain clarity with the sales rep, but we were on our way to processing the three elements needed to get my new pay plan and phone…
And then the call dropped.
I waited for the call back. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Time kept passing – but no call.
I pinged Sprint and @SprintCare on Twitter looking for some assistance on getting a call back.
At Thirty minutes, I was beginning to get REALLY agitated. No one was calling back, and no one on social media was responding. I had always toyed with looking into other cell phone carriers, and I let it be known in my tweet at that point.
Still nothing. I got to Jacksonville, checked into my hotel, and had about an hour to kill before my schedule work meeting. I decided to try another route.
CALL NUMBER 3 was made to Sprint’s cancellation department. I explained to the rep that I was calling to cancel because, as I conveyed it, “Sprint was too busy to take my money” after being a loyal customer for ten years. I explained what had happened and explained that the easy fix was to just connect me with a Sprint sales rep who could complete my order. No worries.
He was nice and polite and asked to put me on hold so he could get his supervisor. After sitting on hold for five minutes, I spoke with another rep. She, too, was pleasant, and proceeded to apologize. I could tell she was a little exasperated, and she told me that there was NOTHING she could do. Per her explanation:
- Sprint sales were instructed NOT to call customers back if a call dropped because there were 3000+ people in the hold queue.
- No departments were allowed to transfer customers to Sprint telesales during the iPhone launch.
As I explained earlier in the post, the second point I understand. If you want to brave the wait times on hold, it’s best to make that choice on your own and not link it back to a department transfer. The first point, though, made ZERO sense to me. A paying customer is a paying customer and you NEVER compromise service for overwhelming demand. It’s just bad policy.
The supervisor on the phone stated that it “probably isn’t the best policy” and agreed that I was justified in my reasons for wanting to cancel. She said it “pains her to say” that there is NOTHING she could do to fix the problem. At this point, I hit my level of realization that this was a lost cause.
I don’t pay money to lost causes.
Thus I had the supervisor calculate my fees for cancelling my account so I had a base number to start with when I started talking to other companies.
EMAILS & TWEETS. I went to my meeting at a nightclub downtown and casually replied to tweets throughout the evening. At one point, I was instructed to email Sprint so they could better assist me. I did so, and the emails replies I got went nowhere.
- No one on Twitter could get anyone to call me.
- The voicemail I eventually got informed me I wasn’t eligible to buy an iPhone 6 due to my contract. (Not true if I was buying it outright which was already discussed).
- An email conveyed the same issue regarding a contract and a couple of other misinformed details (wrong iPhone model, etc.)
It was Saturday at this point and I had already let my wife know that Sunday was now slated to go phone shopping at other carriers since I was getting home later that night.
MORE CALLS. My three hour drive home was spent on the phone with another Sprint rep who emailed me his number and actually got me in touch with a sales rep. The sales rep, though, immediately said the worst phrase ever to me on the call…
“but, I can’t do that. You’ll have to go online after the call”
(She was referring to the AAA discount).
I cut her off and explained that while I appreciated the effort of reaching out to me, this wasn’t working out. I told her I was upset – not at her as a person – but at the situation. At this point I was just “done” and I would be cancelling my service in the morning. I didn’t want to go through a bunch of hoops to buy something. I just wanted to finish an order for service and Sprint was making it far too complicated by sending me to too many people and places.
One stop shopping, folks.
At that point, another voice came onto the line. It was her supervisor who explained that he was really sorry for everything I had gone through so far and he would get in touch with the customer service department to get them to approve the AAA discount so I wouldn’t have to deal with it after the call.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was “good enough”. My plan was to process the order and then go shopping for alternatives the next morning with Shannon. At the end of the call, I replied to an interesting Tweet I had received a little earlier: an “email me if this isn’t resolved” message from a Senior Vice President at Sprint.
I replied to her and let her know that it was sort of fixed pending email confirmations.
— Tom Croom (@TomCroom) September 14, 2014
Via direct messaging and Twitter, Marci asked if her team could follow up with me personally. Since it was around 10:30 PM, we set a call time for this morning at 10 AM.
MORE PHONE CALLS. I got a call at 10:00 AM from a director at Sprint by the name of Todd. Todd was polite and professional and…
SIDE NOTE: You’ll notice that everyone I’ve dealt with in this story IS nice. All Sprint reps were nice, professional, and all of them tried to help. This is important later.
Anyway: Todd was polite and professional and eagerly wanted to help. The first words out of his mouth were “I’m sorry”. This is important because it conveyed to me that he, and Sprint, were owning up to the circumstance. It wasn’t a “I’m sorry for how you feel” which is THE most bullshit customer service line ever, it was “I’m sorry we haven’t handled this correctly.” It was ownership of the problem. Todd and I exchanged calls over the next the couple of hours getting everything on track. All the information conveyed to me on that first fateful call on Friday was all accurate and Todd stayed on top of it all to make it happen. He also made a couple of adjustments to make amends for the frustrations I dealt with… adjustments good enough for me to post this:
— Tom Croom (@TomCroom) September 14, 2014
MORAL OF THE STORY
So what’s the point of this long post about my cell phone woes? Feedback. Even the best companies can make mistakes, and they don’t always know about it unless you let them know.
When trying to get info a company about how they could do something better, do it clearly, politely, and never turn into “that guy” when you get pissed off.
A major part of what made it hard to get too upset at the circumstance was the EVERYONE in this tale of telecommunications was polite and professional. No one at Sprint got mad or upset. Most of them empathized with me. No one get snarky or angry.
This is the GOOD.
Here’s the BAD.
Sprint needs to empower their employees more. Cutting off access to tools needed to fix problems for recovery during a major launch event doesn’t help streamline customer service, it HURTS it – dramatically. Back when I worked at Universal Studios, my tools as a representative of Universal (from Jaws Boat Skipper to Management) didn’t change when it came to helping people based on how busy things were. I, and my team, had the same resources on a sell out night of Halloween Horror Nights as we did during the slowest day in the park during off peak season.
You can’t help everyone at the same time, but you can help ONE customer perfectly will all the right tools the first time. It’s forward thinking so that you can help some tech geek wanting a new phone in two hours on Friday instead of spending three days and countless calls, emails, and tweets trying to fix it on the back end. Manpower resources can be better spent.
All the extra calls, emails, and tweets happened strictly because a salesperson wasn’t allowed to make a call back because company policy said they were “too busy.”
Never be too busy for your paying customers.
Sprint won my service back, but I hope my advice in this tale falls into the right hands to help them improve in the future.