I wonder what is going to become of Sprint Corp., which now is down to — or getting to — about half of its one-time high number of about 63,000 employees.
What’s going to happen with that ugly, sprawling campus out by Town Center?
What is SoftBank Corp., the Japanese company that owns 80 percent of Sprint, going to do with this property, which is looking more and more like deadwood?
If you’ve been watching, more bad news surfaced about Sprint yesterday and today. Although Sprint’s total number of customers was up at the end of the third quarter (Sept. 30), it lost 336,000 prime customers, those who sign contracts. In addition, Marcelo Claure, Sprint’s new c.e.o. (as of three months ago), said Sprint would lay off 2,000 more employees, over and above a recently announced 687-person layoff.
Today, not surprisingly, investors hammered Sprint’s stock price, knocking it down by more than 18 percent before the market closed. (The company’s stock is down by more than 50 percent for the year.)
A positive step that Claure announced, in my opinion, was the reopening of a customer-service call center call at Sprint headquarters in Overland Park. He decided that was a good move, he said, after listening to customer service calls and determined that Sprint had “offshored” too much of the customer support business.
To me, that’s another way of saying he heard too many conversations where U.S. customers were having difficulty communicating effectively with non-native English speakers. That might sound politically incorrect, but, tell me, how many times have you called a big company’s customer service center and hoped that a native English speaker would take your call?
So, that’s a good move, and I hope it helps improve company fortunes.
To me, however, the biggest step that Claure could take would be to overhaul Sprint’s retail stores and how they serve customers.
The problems I encountered at those stores eventually ran me off as a Sprint customer.
For many years, I was part of our “family plan” and proudly told people I supported the “hometown company.” But with every visit to a retail store (I usually went to Ward Parkway) I found it increasingly difficult to get a satisfactory result. Every time I went in, it seemed, I saw a completely different cast of customer service reps.
And I never liked the front-desk check-in, where a rep would enter your name and problem and then add you to the electronic queue, which you would then sit and painfully watch on monitors suspended from the ceiling. It always took a long time, and then, when my name would be called, more often than not I got a rep who was either overly ebullient or completely bored.
It all came to a head about a year and a half ago, when I took in a recently purchased, low-end phone that gave me very poor reception. I had been in earlier with the same complaint and another rep had suggested that I call another Sprint division and ask to be sent an antenna system. Always game for an attempted fix, I did that, but the antenna system didn’t help.
So, there I was back at the store with the same problem I’d had a few weeks earlier. I told the rep I wanted a new phone. Sorry, he informed me, I had had the phone for more than 30 days and they couldn’t do an exchange. I tried to reason with the fellow, but it became clear that not only couldn’t they do an exchange, they absolutely wouldn’t.
Finally, totally frustrated, I told the guy, “I want a divorce. How much is it going to cost me?
Slightly curling one side of his face, he went into his computer to find the answer.
“Three hundred dollars,” he said.
“Done,” I said. “Cut me out of the family plan.”
I then walked over to the Verizon store about 50 yards away and was immediately and professionally assisted by a young man, who, I believe, was a manager or co-manager. No general check in and no looking for my name on a monitor, like I was being sorted and chuted in a customer-service bull pen.
I didn’t have to sign a contract, but I did have to buy a new phone, which I am paying off as part of my monthly bill. The phone I bought was an LG flip model, which serves my purposes just fine. Reception is good, and on the few occasions I have had to return to a Verizon retail store, someone has approached me within about a minute and either addressed the problem then and there or advised me to stand by for a few minutes.
Yes, I am paying a lot more per month than if I had stayed with the Sprint family plan. But, you know, sometimes family members have to go in different directions. My wife Patty thought I was crazy to bolt, and I have explained to her several times that cellphone peace of mind was more important to me than the money. And that’s all I have to say about that.
So, I strongly suggest that Marcelo Claure look deeper into the customer service issue and revamp his retail operation. He could start by following Verizon’s lead.