Showing posts with label iPhone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iPhone. Show all posts

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Unlimited Frustration: A Sunday with Sprint


Image: Sprint Retail Store Poster

“Customers have to wait one or two hours to get a phone and that's not acceptable.”
Marcelo Claure, CEO, Sprint Wireless

At the outset I want to be clear that dealing with wireless companies has always been akin to getting a wisdom tooth removed without anesthesia. However, given that this is 2017, the age of big data, real-time analytics, beacons and of every grandmother knowing that CRM stands for customer relationship management, I had some expectation that my experience with Sprint would not be like it was still 1990.

Our fateful journey started at the only Sprint store near us. The first sign of trouble came when the store manager informed me plan options the store offered were limited, compared to what customer service could offer. It is odd that Sprint is unable to offer the same options at retail, via phone or online, in 2017, but I said I would call when I got home. But that would have been too easy; we were informed that it was better to do the upgrade after we changed our plan, or we would not get access to the good plans.

I thought to myself that Sprint should make life easier for customers, not harder, especially for loyal ones who are about to renew their vows with the company.

I acquiesced and spent the next hour deciphering plan options with customer service by phone while standing at the store counter. During this time we also found out that we would need to postdate the new plan or face pro-rating fees that would double our cost for the month. No doubt this was designed to be just another way for customers to pay Sprint for their loyalty.

Two and a half hours later we walked out with one phone, one on order and a new plan that would take effect in a month. 

My phone arrived a few days later and it was the wrong colour. By now I was also starting to get used to the obstacles Sprint seemed to like to put up – to test customer loyalty.

Upon informing the store of their mistake, I was told I needed to wait for a return package that would arrive in 5-7 business days, by mail. Then I needed to wait another 5-7 business days for Sprint to process the return, and only then could the store order the right colour for me.

Out of data and with no new phone, I asked why I was being punished for their mistake. I was told it was because this was not a Sprint corporate store.

I realised that I has just failed another test of customer loyalty.

I walked into this store, the only one in our area code, after seeing a big fat Sprint logo on the storefront, Sprint branded posters on walls, shelves full of Sprint merchandising, promotional cardboard cutouts with Sprint exclusive offers, Sprint logos on the salespeople’s t-shirt, but I failed to notice the small certificate on the wall that said “Sprint preferred retailer.” My bad.

I decided to make a last ditch appeal to the all-powerful customer service and asked them to ship me a new phone, while I waited for the circuitous return process to unfold. They were very apologetic and set-up an appointment for me to visit a corporate store, on the other side of town, and said I could simply exchange the phone. Problem solved!

It was a bright and beautiful Sunday afternoon when I ventured out to exchange my phone. Upon checking in at the store I was promptly informed that the exchange could not be done at the store. And they added that they did not care what customer service had told me, because customer service had no authority over stores. Thankfully, they took pains to re-assure me that this happened all the time to customers, making me feel all warm and fuzzy for not being singled-out.

After a heated back and forth, I dug in and said I was not leaving until my issue was resolved. They dialed customer service and handed me the phone to figure it out with customer service. With a strong sense of déjà vu I spent the next two hours, on the phone, standing at yet another Sprint store.

The customer service people were apologetic and admitted that I had been given erroneous information, vindicating the store, but not really servicing this customer. They assured me that the rep would be “coached”, which was wonderful, but again did nothing to resolve my issue. After a long and patient wait, someone in the ‘order support department’ where I ended up figured out that they could simply cancel the original order and have the corporate store create a new one and give me the correct phone.

Wait, the best is yet to come. We now get to part two of the torment, regarding the plan change.

While upgrading the phone, feeling badly about the ordeal everyone in the store had witnessed, the salesperson offered to look at my plan and see if he could save me money, only to discover that I was tethered to a wireless hotspot device that was on contract - totally unbeknownst to me.

I remember it being given as a free gift during our last upgrade; one I was told required a data plan but no mention of a two-year contract. So I said get rid of it, which required me to pay an early termination fee of over $100. Again, the store folks empathised with my plight and genuinely tried to help, but clearly lacked the authority to free me from my bondage.

So I reached out once more to the all-powerful customer service, and they transferred me to the termination department and to someone who said they would solve my problem without a termination fee. I was unwilling to pay because I was never overtly made aware of a contract. Three quarters of the way through the process the line got cut. I waited but nobody called back, even though they had my number.

So I called back and got a different rep, possibly in the Philippines. She was completely clueless. This person could not even find the device I was referring to, leave alone understand the issue.

After what seemed like an eternity of explaining, and getting nowhere, I asked to speak with a supervisor, but she kept putting me on hold, while going off to ask someone questions and then coming back and asking me the same question. With my Gandhi-like patience starting to run thin, I firmly asked to speak with a supervisor, at which point she hung up.

Glutton for punishment, I called back again.

Of course, I got a new rep, to whom I had to repeat the entire ordeal (this happened every time I called); who was again polite and very apologetic, but said I needed another department. I asked that he at least brief the person they were transferring me to, so I wouldn't have to go through the entire story every time I was cut-off.

I must have repeated my story at least a half a dozen times as I got transferred between departments, and finally reached someone with an American accent. At least she could understand the issue – progress!

She patiently took me through numerous options. One requires a degree in rocket science to understand the permutations and combinations of data plans and device leasing options, but despite this she was unable to do the one thing I needed – waive the early termination fee.
 
I suggested she talk with a supervisor and explain that I was ready to leave Sprint over a $110 termination fee, resulting in a loss of approx. $200 per month revenue over the next two years from me. The math was easy. She agreed wholeheartedly, as did her supervisor but again both lacked the lacked the authority to what they truly wanted: to retain this customer. They did offer me a one-time $30 credit to lessen the pain.

Needing to right a great service injustice and feeling like a combination of Mandela and the Energizer bunny, I reached out to Sprint’s CEO, Marcelo Claure on Twitter, asking to speak with him directly because it was clear that he was the ONLY person in the company with the authority to waive this fee.

Needless to say he did not respond but had something called “Team Marcel” reach out. I got a call from a lady in the corporate office and she too was also extremely apologetic and said unequivocally that my experience was totally unacceptable and that she would personally look into the entire matter. She magically waived the early termination fee…

I am still completely at a loss to understand why such a simple process for an upgrade and plan change required numerous phone calls, three store visits, countless hours on the phone with representatives from multiple departments and continents and tweeting the CEO. I have been told childbirth is less painful.

I want to be clear that, based on my experience across all of Sprint's touch-points, the central issue has little to do with poor or rude employees; in fact the majority I dealt with expressed frustration at not being able to resolve my issue. It has everything to do with a complex organisational structure that is badly siloed, coupled with employees whose hands are tied and who lack the authority to provide resolution, use of third party resellers without a consistent service policy, and offshoring to poorly trained customer service reps who sometimes barely understand the English language, and finally the lack of a proper escalation policy.

This is clearly a management issue that begins at the top with a lack of singular focus on customer care and retention, which you would think is the most important aspect in an industry plagued with the highest customer churn.

So unless Mr. Claure meant he was working on increasing wait times to four and five hours when he said “Customers have to wait one or two hours to get a phone and that's not acceptable”, I do hope he gets in touch with me. I still believe he needs to hear this unbelievably frustrating and painful experience, firsthand, because no customer should ever have to be put through this again.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Rethinking Possible with AT&T Wireless

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”
Abraham Lincoln

I was watching TV the other day and came across a new advertising campaign for AT&T Wireless. The campaign seems like a bold push to dispel the myths, and counter the myriad complaints about the poor performance of their network. A fact that has been amplified by their exclusive Apple iPhone agreement. It has been widely reported that their network has been unable to keep up with data demands of iPhone users. This AT&T advertisement uses scenarios best described as a mix of hyperbole and reality to counter these perceptions and tries to persuade us with a tagline that challenges us to “Rethink Possible.”

The funny thing about this new campaign and particularly the tagline that struck a real chord with me is that, as an AT&T wireless subscriber, I had already begun rethinking what is possible with my AT&T device and service. Perhaps, not quite in the way that AT&T and their ad agency intended.

Granted their advertising is about the data network speed but surely one can assume that if the data network transmits at light speeds, enabling us the ability to do things we could not have imagined or dreamed possible - like changing a train reservation while standing on the platform because we made eye contact with a beautiful woman on another train, and then went on to marry her and produce the 54th President of the United States of America...all because of AT&T’s magnificent network. Given that I can Rethink Possible in such an amazing way for data you would think it would also be possible to make a simple, old fashioned voice call - no problem. Well, you would be dead wrong. Forget the fact that it is impossible for me to walk down a street in Manhattan just one short block without the call dropping but I cannot even walk across my living room. For those unfamiliar with Manhattan apartments, think of the most spacious ones as small walk-in closets, and I can assure you that ours is far from spacious. It has become impossible to have a cell phone conversation unless I am standing or sitting in one place. Not only do I have to check the signal strength before I sit down but I also find that I need to restrict my movements while on the call. Any sudden moves or gestures could well lose that elusive signal and result in a dropped call. On average I make 4 calls to finish one 2 minute conversation. I remember having more freedom of movement when my phone line was tethered.

Admittedly, I am not the most technologically advanced being, but my understanding of the purpose of voicemail is that it’s similar to the answering machine. A caller can leave a message if we are unable to answer the phone for any reason. If this is also your understanding then perhaps you will be able to explain to me why AT&T’s voicemail service routinely seems to send incoming calls directly to my voicemail when I am ready and waiting eagerly for the call. Then, as if to add insult to injury, it often only alerts me up to 3 days after I received the call to tell me that I have a voicemail. By which time I have either met with the person or the issue has been resolved over email. I can tell you that AT&T is responsible for my growing reputation of tardiness when it comes to returning calls.

The other day I got an urgent text message and immediately called my friend. She texted saying she needed a babysitter on short notice. When she answered my call she sounded perfectly calm and not frantic like I expected based on the urgency of her text. I probed and she seemed confused and finally said “what are you talking about?’ When I told her I was responding to her super urgent request for a babysitter, she laughed and said that she had sent me the text on Monday morning. It was now Wednesday afternoon. Co-incidentally, she sent me another text last weekend, this time a picture of her baby. Now a week later, my AT&T wireless phone still shows the status as “retrieving” her text but will not let me cancel this rather lengthy retrieval or delete it. I must call and ask her how many million gigabytes she has sent or maybe it would be better if I emailed.

Everywhere I look I see people with smart phones. It used to be that only men in suits carried them but now its women with strollers, nannies with kids, schoolchildren on the subway, delivery men and even clergy. Apart from the fact that I often want to hit all these people when I see them walking down the street staring at their smart screens while stupidly walking into traffic and into me...I plan to get one too. My dilemma is simple – what is the point of a having a smart phone if one has to use it on a dumb network? Frankly, the only reason our family is holding out on the iPhone is because our friends at AT&T wireless are the only people offering it. Besides, since I am currently unable to make a simple phone call I have been forced to rethink what else might not be possible on my smart phone like sending pictures, streaming video, downloading music, rich media texts, IM, online gaming, emailing and video chat.

The AT&T wireless signal is another great mystery. It was somewhat explained when Apple recently announced that the “algorithm” they were using to calculate the AT&T signal bars on the iPhones was inaccurate. Assuming AT&T uses a similar algorithm on their dumber phones it might explain why I often have all 5 bars but am unable to use my AT&T wireless phone as anything more than a brick. But it does not explain why my wife’s phone, on Verizon’s network, always works no matter how few bars her phone indicates and no matter where we find ourselves. In fact she uses her phone when there are zero bars showing, and is routinely able to make and receive calls no matter where she is. Be it in the dark basements of large department stores, on desolate highways, in undersea tunnels or from the deep inner recesses of large office buildings. Meanwhile I can be found standing on the widest part of the street, away from the tallest buildings, carefully avoiding the path of the trees and the direct rays of the sun, all the while looking and praying for a signal that says I can once again communicate with the world. I would wager that if we found ourselves stuck down the shaft of the deepest mine, anywhere in the USA, her Verizon phone would have a signal and save us while my AT&T phone would allow us to take final pictures and video of ourselves while slowly running out of air.

I also noticed a rather curious claim on their new advertising campaign: “AT&T Covers 97% of Americans.” I had to stop and think about this one. It’s an ingenious way to be quite disingenuous (leave it to those brilliant admen) because the brain thinks it just read and registered that AT&T’s network covers 97% of America. Which seems rather impressive but hard to believe given my personal experience. It also slyly says nothing about the quality of their coverage or what those lucky 9 million people left without AT&T coverage do. From first-hand experience in New York, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Erie, Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco, Buffalo, Boston, most of Rhode Island and Menlo Park, to name just a few places, I can tell you that their coverage quality is unequivocally and equally crap everywhere. My advice to AT&T is to take the hundreds of millions dollars they are currently spending on advertising trying to convince people that their network actually works, and spend it on upgrading their network so it that does actually work.

As for me, a loyal 10 year veteran of AT&T wireless, this new advertising campaign has finally made me rethink the possibilities, and decide to become Verizon’s newest customer. Who says advertising does not work!
  
CHECK OUT: The Daily Show bringing my words to life!