For around 1,000 of its customers at least, Sprint Nextel has grabbed the “customer is always right” motto and taken it into the alley for a thorough beating. A few days ago it was reported that the company notified problem customers that they were being relieved of their contracts, or in relationship terms, “it’s not you, it’s me.”
“Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information,” the letter reads. “While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs.”
“Therefore after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement effective July 30, 2007.”
Ouch. Is this a slap in the face to customers or the best break-up letter in history? In the spirit of corporate transparency, what Sprint did was pretty intriguing, and dare I say refreshing. Companies that deal in products and services have “problem customers.” They’re never happy, no matter what you do for them. Complaining is what drives them, and joy is their enemy. They’re the kind of people that fill up the notes field of a CRM application in a single phone call. But they’re just a small part of a customer base, and companies begrudgingly attempt to make them happy. For all the great customers mediabistro.com has, there are a few that drive us up a wall. For us to deny their existence would just be silly.
When dealing with consumer technology, the frustration level for a customer can reach ridiculous levels. The fact is that no matter how hard they try, some people, whether it’s lack of intuitiveness, or just a complete unwillingness to learn how to use a computer, cell phone, or anything else with a microchip without constantly calling an 800 number, is usually an indictment on the customer, and not the company that serves them. It can be argued that the Sprint castaways got what they deserved becasue they mistook Sprint’s customer service for their mothers— they wanted to be told how to do everything short of knowing the right time to kiss someone on a first date.
The Sprint action may seem like like a rogue case that won’t duplicate itself elsewhere. And I’m by no means giving Sprint a high-five— wireless providers are not the second coming of Mother Theresa. But there is a larger issue here— as consumer technology grows, it becomes more ingrained in our daily lives. Some people embrace it— others will avoid it like a plague. Relying on a call center to run your tech-life is not the answer. With automation and outsourcing, the “personal touch” from large companies is all but dead.
Put simply, some people need to book their tickets on the self-reliance express. Whether it’s navigating a website or sending a text message on your phone, you should adopt the mindset that you’re smart enough to figure it out. You’re definitely smarter than most customer service reps. Huge call centers are stocked with what are essentially magic 8-balls in human form— each question you ask brings a mysterious and useless answer. At mediabistro.com, we’re small in size and big on people, so we’re glad we can inject some humanity into our customer relationships. Just don’t abuse our services, or we might have to go all Sprint on you.