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Call center operator

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: About a thousand Sprint cell-phone subscribers are about to have their signals fade out — permanently. Sprint's cutting them off for calling customer service a lot. Too much, says the company.

Sprint has 53 million subscribers, so the unlucky losers make up only a minute slice of them, to be fair. But aren't customer calls what customer service is for? We sent Marketplace's Steve Tripoli to ask around.


Steve Tripoli: Sprint's hardly the first company to fire some of its customers. Analyst Scott Ellison at IDC says this story's making news because Sprint's action has been plastered all over the Web.

Scott Ellison: This is a very typical customer-service issue that's become very public in the Internet age.

Raul Katz is with Columbia University's Institute for Tele-Information. He says U.S. wireless providers do spark more complaints than providers elsewhere.

Raul Katz: It's probably issues related to network coverage. It's probably issues related to billing.

Katz says all the U.S. wireless firms are struggling to balance three strategies for dealing with their big complainers.

Katz: One is you go the hard way, the way Sprint did. The other one is you try to eliminate the reasons why customers call you. The other one is you provide some ways by which they interact with a voice-response unit.

In other words, cast them into that special hell known as, "Please wait, your call is very important to us."

The blogosphere was abuzz about Sprint's move. Here's a voice-over rendition of what we read today:

Agreeable customer: Good for Sprint. I have to agree. Some people are never satisfied.

Disagreeable customer: These people constantly call because their service blows. I had Sprint and had to constantly call about dropped calls.

Inquisitive customer: Does this mean they'll let me out of my contract if I call them a lot too?

Sprint did give their thousand big-complainers what you might call The Velvet Boot. They got a month's notice, their final bill is free, and they were warned to switch before July 30 so that they can keep their phone numbers.

Oh yeah, and there was no early-termination fee. Now that would have really lit up the blogosphere.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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