BusinessWeek has a truly excellent article about the customer service meltdown that lead to Sprint’s current notorious reputation for poor customer service. The article sums up what we’ve been reporting over the past year: After the Sprint/Nextel merger, “customer service” was essentially destroyed as a concept at the new company. The CSRs were rigidly timed and judged only on how short their calls were and how many contract extensions they were able to bring in. Even bathroom breaks were monitored, one ex-Sprint CSR told BusinessWeek.
“Churn,” the industry term for rate of customer retention, went from being a priority at Nextel to an afterthought at Sprint. CSRs that were judged on how many problems they solved for Nextel’s customers were suddenly being told to shorten their call times at any cost. More troubling is the fact that large cash bonuses were offered to reps who met contract extension goals, a tactic that may have resulted in corrupt CSRs extending contracts without the customer’s consent. This issue is now the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Minnesota attorney general’s office.
Allegations in the two lawsuits against Sprint raise questions about how far Sprint workers went in meeting those sales quotas. Selena L. Hayslett, a realtor from Apple Valley, Minn., says she called Sprint Nextel four times in late 2006 to dispute charges on her bill. Then she realized that each time she called, Sprint was extending her contract, without her consent, according to an affidavit filed in one of the suits. “I felt tricked,” said Hayslett.
Her complaint is included in a lawsuit filed by the Minnesota attorney general, alleging that Sprint extended contracts when customers made small changes to their service. “It’s kind of like the Hotel California,” says Lori Swanson, the attorney general, “where you can check in and never leave.”
Sprint’s case should serve as a warning to companies that view “customer service” in the light that Sprint did. The company’s new CEO, Daniel “At Least I’m Not Gary Forsee” Hesse, says they’ve learned their lesson:
“We weren’t talking about the customer when I first joined,” says Hesse. “Now this is the No. 1 priority of the company.”