Business & Technology

Welcome to a better way to buy wireless*

<![CDATA[I spent a large part of the end of last week in a protracted exploration of the dysfunction that is the Sprint PCS organization. It started with a bizarre ink-related accident that destroyed my mobile phone. A bottle of fountain pen ink broke in my briefcase during a flight to San Francisco. When I opened […]

<![CDATA[I spent a large part of the end of last week in a protracted exploration of the dysfunction that is the Sprint PCS organization.
It started with a bizarre ink-related accident that destroyed my mobile phone. A bottle of fountain pen ink broke in my briefcase during a flight to San Francisco. When I opened the bag on landing to turn on the phone, my hand came back blackened and the phone was dying a death that can only be described as ugly. A black blanket was seeping across the external LCD and the flash was pulsing feebly as the batteries ran down on the short that killed the main LCD screen.
I bought the phone three months ago and was relieved that I’d insisted I have insurance on it; throughout the life of my previous phone, a Treo 300, I’d been rebuffed by Sprint because I had no insurance as it slowly malfunctioned. At the end, I used it through a growing yellow splotch in the LCD screen until I reached the point where Sprint would give me a $150 credit for renewing my contract. Because we have four lines for the company with Sprint, it would be hard to move everyone’s phones to a new carrier just to get some rebates.
So, when I got home, I went to the Sprint Store that just opened near my place and was told I didn’t have insurance. Even though the customer service person at a different store who sold me the phone in October said she’d signed me up for the insurance, it hadn’t been entered in the system.
Here’s where the story gets confused. At first, the store folks told me I couldn’t get insurance on a phone unless it was the first phone I’d purchased for that particular number. This was a mistake. In the long run, though, the store personnel were fantastically helpful as I figured out how to get the phone replaced at the lowest possible cost.
Unfair overages are officially over*
I mean, look, I broke the phone and if there was no insurance I was just going to have to buy a new phone and get it insured. I’m an idiot. First, I looked at all the other carriers, but with my current plan (2,000 minutes for $85 a month and free data services), it didn’t make any sense to switch. Sprint’s network works as well as any other carrier, which is not saying a lot; but it is cheap and useful.
Then I asked if I’d received the $150 incentive for re-upping when I bought the wrecked phone in October. It appeared never to have been paid; I’m still not sure it has, but I worked out a hack that made up for it.
The customer service person I was talking to, Ayisha, reviewed my bill and could not find $150 in credit on the account. After a long and helpful conversation with the store’s assistant manager, Paul Myhre, and Ayisha, I went home to give a call to Sprint customer care.
Why call the main office? Because the store personnel repeatedly said “We can’t do much at this level.” Hence, they suggested I call customer care.
Everyone should feel like they are special*
The woman who answered was rude from the start. I asked to speak to the most senior person available and she replied that she’d been with the company for eight years. Okay—that didn’t answer my request in any way, so I launched into my explanation for the call. I’d broken the phone, wanted to ensure that this time I got insurance and was there anything they could do to help me replace this $400 phone.
Sprint customer care then blamed me for all my complaints, repeatedly, because I hadn’t read my bill correctly and would have seen the insurance wasn’t being charged to the account. The woman also blamed the store personnel who where “not qualified to help business customers” because they couldn’t read my bill correctly, either. In fact, she said, the $150 credit had been applied to my account in three payments, two during one billing cycle (adding to $107 and change) and another in a different billing cycle.
Now, look, I get a 17-page bill that does not present the total minutes used on the shared plan (which is simple and easy to find on the Sprint Web site). It’s incomprehensible and doesn’t present any summary of all charges anywhere. You have to look across all the phone lines—one could spend an hour or more a month checking this thing; time I don’t have.
And the store personnel couldn’t figure it out, either. The customer service rep repeated that Sprint Store personnel are not trained to deal with business customers, which is striking since they set up my business account and the agreements they offer in the store are written for personal and business customers. In fact, while I was sitting in the store, one of the sales associates was checking a 71-page prorated bill covering four days of a business customer’s use.
“It’s up to you to check our bill,” the rep said. “We have millions of customers and can’t be responsible for that.”
I wanted to check this statement, so I asked her if she was saying it was my fault I couldn’t read a bill that even Sprint Store employees couldn’t figure out. “Yes,” she said.
I asked if any of my other lines were out of contract—we have one line that has never been used (don’t ask)—that I might use to get a credit against a new phone. She said “No.” That was wrong.
We’re here to help*
Back to the store. Here, the staff was very helpful. In fact, they did things they’d never done before to make things work for me. One line, the line we don’t use for stupid reasons, was out of contract, so we cancelled it and opened a new line, earning me a $150 credit toward a phone, plus the $50 grand opening bonus the store was offering. That’s being treated well, they helped me find a $200 credit I earned.
The trick was how to get my old number onto that phone. Sprint doesn’t let you trade phones assigned to a particular number for two weeks after activation. It’s just an arbitrary thing they do to make continuity harder for someone entitled to a new phone that may want it for another existing number.
So, I asked them to set up a forwarding service on my old number. Trouble is—and get this—Sprint can’t set those forwards for a customer remotely. The customer has to set it by dialing a number combination on their phone (it’s “*72 and the forwarding number”, then press “Talk”). However, that’s not documented anywhere and it took 25 minutes to get the information from tech support.
Moreover, because my phone was dead, I couldn’t dial the instructions on my old line.
Having been on Vonage for the past couple years, where you can set forwarding on the Web any time you like, it seemed like a simple request to have Sprint put the forward on the number. In practice, however, this turned into an almost intractable problem. It took 50 minutes to get configured; the tech support guy didn’t know how to do it and had to consult with someone in network operations to, finally, make it happen.
But, get this, call forwarding costs $0.10 a minute. So, for the two weeks I have to wait to switch the new phone to my old account (and use a four-year-old phone to fill a gap in our wireless connectivity with the new line), I’ll be paying an absurd amount for what is effectively a PCS-to-PCS call, which is free if I make such a call to another phone owned by my company.
Through all this, the store staff was excellent. Tech support, too. But Sprint’s customer service took a “we can do no wrong” approach that telegraphed the fact customers don’t matter; they’re just an asshole with a number. Customers are managed, not treated like guests.
At no point did I make a case that I should have received something I didn’t pay for, despite the fact an error on Sprint’s side kept me from having insurance on the old phone. Yet, I was treated like I was trying to get something I didn’t deserve (including respect).
Sprint’s online services are difficult to use and there is no sense of continuity between the store experience and the corporate experience. The company needs an overhaul to make its systems more transparent to customers; it needs to improve customers’ control over their network (configuring new services and simple things, such as call forwarding, need to be simplified—if the company really thinks call forwarding is worth ten cents a minute, why isn’t it easier to use?)

The folks at the stores were herioc, but the company sent a clear message that my business doesn’t matter to them.
* Actual Sprint signage slogans in the Sprint Store]]>

5 replies on “Welcome to a better way to buy wireless*”

So Mitch… are you going to stay with them? If so… what’s their incentive to change?

I’ll actually be addressing that on Red Herring tomorrow…. I’ll post a link when that’s up on the Herring site.
Yes, I am staying with Sprint for now, but I know exactly when I’ll change unless Sprint acts first.

Economic Slavery
Mitch Ratcliffe is pissed! Link: RatcliffeBlog—Mitch’s Open Notebook. Why call the main office? Because the store personnel repeatedly said “We can’t do much at this level.” Hence, they suggested I call customer care. Everyone should feel like they a…

I would think that sprint as well as any other cell phone carrier provides key word “provides service” not the cell phone which is made by sony sanyo etc. and the agreement you signed when you started with the company clear states that and you are responsible fore the phone. just line if you call the cable company and complain that there cable sucks becasue your tv is not working and yes cable companies do sell tvs. any electronic sales company has a warrenty and if you break it they are not liable if you break it. same thing.

Okay, but what is your point? I acknowledged that in the posting. The point is that the phone was tied to a contract, the carrier screwed up its insurance agreement with me, and was totally unprepared to deal with any exceptions to its SOP.