Customer Experience Management (CEM)

Sprint Slips Back in Customer Service

Sprint's biggest source of pride has been its climb from the bottom of the customer service rankings to the top in recent years, but it looks like it's slipping once again.

According to Consumer Reports' latest annual cellphone service rankings, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) was the lowest-ranking carrier in terms of customer satisfaction, scoring "dismal" marks. Last year, it was second only to Verizon Wireless , but this year, the 58,399 customers surveyed dinged it for value, voice, text, and 4G reliability.

The top slot in customer service this year went to tiny, contract-free MVNO Consumer Cellular. It even beat out AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the network on which it runs. In general on the survey, prepaid providers ranked higher than their contract peers.

Verizon Wireless retained its top position among the big four, ranking highly in data service. It was followed by AT&T, which got top honors for the reliability of its 4G service, and T-Mobile US Inc. , but Consumer Reports says both AT&T and T-Mobile received "ho hum" markings.

Why this matters
Given how much Sprint has talked up its improved customer service under CEO Dan Hesse, its fall from grace is a big blow to the company's ego. Sprint's issues are, however, not surprising. The carrier is working through network upgrades under Network Vision that have affected its service. While its acquisition of Clearwire and by SoftBank Corp. should help tremendously in the long run, Sprint's customers might not be aware of what's going on behind the scenes. And Sprint hasn't been aggressive with offers and promotions in the meantime.

The findings related to smaller prepaid carriers are also notable, suggesting that consumers like the simplicity of monthly usage allotments with no long-term commitments. Consumer Reports also found that 38% of people use half or less of their monthly data plan, which could imply they are overpaying for data and need more help getting the right plan at the point of sale.

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— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas 11/21/2013 | 11:18:20 AM
Sprint promotions That's too bad for Sprint, but it makes complete sense. It has so much network work to do, it's hurting it and costing it customers in the short term. Do you think it should be doing more from an offers and promotions standpoint to make up for it? So far, it's really just sticking to its unlimited messaging. Seems like it needs to do more, both to address for the issues and to combat T-Mobile.
TeleWRTRLiz 11/21/2013 | 12:44:02 PM
Re: Sprint promotions Ironic considering the last story you did on Sprint was about them laying off 800 customer service reps, however I suspect the slide was already in progress long before that. 
RitchBlasi 11/21/2013 | 12:50:26 PM
Sprint While offering top-notch customer service is always something companies should strive to achieve, in the mobile industry, the network is everything...and everything else stems from how it performs for customers.  So yes, now that Sprint is working with it's right hand on network enhancements, the left hand that controlled cusomter service has faltered.  It happens to all mobile operators -- turn the screw over here and something suffers over there.  Think about this - remember when AT&T Mobility launched the first 3G iPhone and everyone was on them like white on rice about the quality and coverage of the netwrork?  Now CR ranks AT&T with the most reliable 4G network.  There are always swings with reports like these - talk with an analyst about it.  The bottom line that all mobile carriers look at is churn, and why customers are leaving.  Those numbers are based on subscriber bases in the millions, not tens-of-thousands.

The best thing here is that everyone is watching what the other is doing and trying to "best" them -- which is ultimately good for the customer.  If Sprint gets their act together and uses the Softbank money wisely to enhance network et al, let's revisit next year and see if they're out of the bottom.
Carol Wilson 11/21/2013 | 12:51:16 PM
Re: Sprint promotions I dunno, Liz, usually layoffs are preceded by long periods of worker uncertainty, when people know something bad is coming but don't know exactly what or who will be affected. And that can lead to poor productivity, and lack of motivation on the part of those who need it most. 
Sarah Thomas 11/21/2013 | 1:03:03 PM
Re: Sprint promotions I think in this case the layoffs were largely associated with Sprint's iDEN shutdown and no longer needing that support team, although it is ironic that Sprint said at the time that they were because its customer service improved so much they no longer need them...
KBode 11/21/2013 | 1:59:46 PM
Re: Sprint promotions There's still a lot of lingering brand trauma centered around that Nextel fiasco.

I also still see a lot of customer complaints about LTE coverage being nowhere near where Sprint's maps and launch announcements claim, and Sprint keeps showing up last in most of the major LTE speed tests. And whereas T-Mobile is seeing success by trying to be more consumer friendly, a lot of Sprint policies have tended toward being more like AT&T and Verizon over the last few years (not that this appears to imnpact Verizon's scores on such surveys).

Maybe as Softbank integrates their DNA into Sprint and the dust settles from the flurry of acquisitions and deals this will change? Sprint's press statement certainly seems to hope so.

Is it bad if I write about this industry and have never, ever heard of Consumer Cellular? :)
RitchBlasi 11/21/2013 | 2:29:46 PM
Re: Sprint promotions I think you are probably correct Sarah - maybe customer service folks supporting many of NexTel/Sprint P2T customers?  That was a large cash cow for Nextel.
theschnack 11/21/2013 | 2:59:35 PM
Delivering value over others' resources Just a quick comment.  Consumer Cellular and other no-contract, prepaid providers are great stories in the way they find ways to "add unique value" delivering services atop OTHERS' resources (such as AT&T's networks).  I am quite happy to see them and others (such as the wildly disruptive Free) shake things up and keep everyone throughout the industry on our toes.
tb100 11/21/2013 | 3:03:41 PM
Re: Sprint The network isn't quite everything. They need customers to pay to build out that fancy new network. Softbank doesn't have infinite money.

Yes, customer bases may be in the millions, but Sprint lost over a million Nextel customers. I heard that in exchange for taking away their phones and network, they were offering them a free phone with a new two year contract, which is what they offer...everyone else.

I think their handling of their Nextel customers shows really bad execution. Let's hope they don't continue alienating their customers as they build out their new network or they'll go broke before it is finished.

MordyK 11/21/2013 | 3:08:52 PM
The MVNO bright spot As you pointed out the slide in Sprint's numbers are to be expected, but what I find intriguing is the data onthe MVNO's. Most high post-paid customers and even many prepaid customers on the networks own plans stick with them out of a sense of comfort, but if MVNO's can highlight that they're experience is actually an improvement what's stopping the high end customer's from going MVNO prepaid? That said most MVNO's have a shoddy device selection so they need to create a form of financing program for high end devices from the parent networks akin to T-Mobile's financing plan.
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