Who Has More Authority: Stores or Customer Service?

A complaint about a bad customer service experience with Sprint from Adam H. (which we will reproduced after the jump) got us to thinking: Do customer service employees who work in the ‘billing’ offices of phone companies like Sprint have more authority to fix payment issues than the person at your local carrier-owned phone retail store? We have a inclination that one needs to call into the service centers to get any sort of billing resolution, but wouldn’t it make sense for at least the managers at the retail operations to have the authority to fix errors, as well? Perhaps it is a trust issue—makes it too easy to tweak bills for friends when you can work with them face-to-face.

If you can shed any light, we’d love to hear it.

I have a story about a near-miss shafting at the hands of Sprint Wireless customer service. I waited and waited for the 24 months to pass before Sprint would subsidize an upgrade in our phone handsets. The day finally came, and we went to the local Sprint Store. They had the handsets in stock, ready to go. Then we hit the first speed bump. The sales guy began ringing up the sale, and my wife and I stood there and waited for him to sell us the handset and activate it and all the rest of that. Twenty-five minutes later, he is just about done with the sale when –BSOD–. His computer froze and none of the sale had actually gone through. So we wait five more minutes for the computer to reboot and get back up, twenty-five more minutes for him to do all the stuff he did before and then we finally get to sign the receipt. Minor inconvenience? Or diabolical plot?

I think it was a diabolical plot, because the very next day, our phones stop working. All I get is a recorded message from Sprint saying that my account is suspended for failure to pay and I need to connect to Customer Service immediately. So I connect to them and get put on hold for a while. When someone finally picked up, it was a service rep in India. She had a very thick accent and spoke very quietly. So I was not able to hear most of what she said and was unable to understand most of what I did hear. She said that my account was suspended because I had not paid a $150 cancellation fee to Sprint and that if I didn’t pay that, I couldn’t use my phone. Ignoring the absurdity of that statement, I calmly explained to her several times that I didn’t cancel my Sprint account, since I had just bought new handsets from them and was trying to use my wireless phone right then. I refused to pay the cancellation fee.

At this point, it clicked in my head that the computer freezing up at the store while I was buying my new handset may have erroneously caused their system to flag the account as canceled. I explained this to the CSR on the phone, but she seemed to be hell bent on getting that $150 cancellation fee out of me before she would let the account be reactivated. I was equally as adamant that I would not be paying $150 for canceling a service that I clearly had not canceled. Finally, I got fed up with her and asked to speak to her supervisor. She tried to persuade me one more time to just pay the $150 and be done with it, so I demanded to speak to her supervisor. After putting me on hold while she “tried to find one” for me, I finally got to speak to the supervisor. After going through the entire story with the supervisor (who had a far lighter accent and spoke much more clearly), she concluded that the cancellation fee “probably shouldn’t be there.” So after nearly half an hour on the phone with the first CSR and another fifteen with the supervisor, someone there at Sprint Customer Service realized that I probably shouldn’t be charged a cancellation fee for a service that I did not cancel. The supervisor deleted that fee and reinstated my account and wireless service. The cherry on top of it all was when the supervisor asked me if I was satisfied with the customer service I received from them that day. Incredulous, and not wanting to talk to any of them ever again, all I could do was say “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” And then the call was ended.

It makes me wonder how many people have just paid the fee, not knowing that there was a HUGE error on the service provider’s part, just to get the problem resolved and their service reinstated as quickly as possible. It really is a diabolical plan.