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Wow!  I have to tell you, I am RARELY pleased with most customer service interaction experiences I have, but last week, during and after the purchase of my new HTC EVO droid, I was definitely “wowed” by Sprint!  I have had my cell phone service with Sprint-Nextel for over eight years, and throughout that entire time, Sprint was nothing more than a “necessary evil” in my life. I’m quite sure that I actually overpaid my bill on several occasions because doing so was so much less painful than trying to get thru to Sprint and accomplishing resolution in under an hour.  With four family cell phones tied into the Sprint account — each with their own contract date — it has been too costly and too much work to change carriers.  So I put up with mediocirty.  (Actually – most times it bordered on incompetence, idiocy and downright disregard for the fact that I was a PAYING customer!)  I was a CAPTIVE — if not “loyal” — customer.

You all know what I’m talking about.

But I was SHOCKED as I quickly and easily navigated thru Sprint’s site to upgrade my phone.  At the end of the order, Sprint presented a screen that spelled out exactly what my upgrade would cost now and in the future and describing exactly what I was getting for said cost.  If I had any questions at all, the opportunity to chat live or to call the 800 number were both plainly visible.  Impressive UI.

So – they could sell me a phone.   Could they support me and my new phone equally well?

They did.  My first problem occurred on the second day after rebooting my droid.  I was locked into a continual loop of Sprint 4G music and yellow and black recurring graphics.  The gleeful tune which had made me smile when I first received my phone was quickly getting on my nerves.  I did the usual battery removal and SIM card removal tricks to no avail.  UGH!  DON’T TELL ME I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GO TO THE SPRINT STORE, TAKE A NUMBER AND WAIT IN LINE FOR AN HOUR!  Desperate, I decided to try Sprint Customer Service online.  I logged into the web, expecting the usual detours thru online “help”.  But – again – found both chat and an 800 number readily available.  I used both.  Simultaneously. Let’s see who answers me first.  It was almost a tie.  The chat representative was helpfully researching my stated issue when the Tech person answered the phone and listened to my problem.  I released the chat person in favor of live conversation, and had my droid up and running again in 5 minutes. And the person I spoke with was more than courteous, intelligent and sympathetic about my issue.  Priceless.

Sadly, however, I experienced the same issue a week later — while in Newtown Square at the Inside Track Event.  GREAT.  Now how do I solve this, I thought?  Over lunch, I jumped into the Sprint website again and typed in search terms like “HTC EVO won’t restart”.  I admit, I was, at first, aggravated by non-answers in Sprint’s documentation.  But then I hit upon the Sprint user community where I quickly learned from fellow HTC EVO owners about a seeming “bug” with HTC EVO and exchange server.  The user discussion told me how to do a hard reset on my phone again and to permanently fix the “bug” by correcting my PIN to be an alpha-numeric combination.  (Apparently Exchange does not like all numberic PINs.) This worked!  And – by the way – it’s not really a bug, but a security measure to protect my Exchange email account.   

Sprint historically has had the WORST customer service in the industry.  In the last six months, however, the service seems dramatically improved!  HOW did they accomplish this?  Did they fire all their old customer service reps and hire all new, more intelligent people?  I highly doubt it.  What they did do, however, was to employ technology in the RIGHT QUOTIENT to achieve results for both themselves and their customers.  For one thing, they are now delivering continuous training and automated training to their Call Centers using Knowlagent.  (See Blog)

But they also built a user interface that works on their website. Thru technology, they provided me with different avenues to address my needs — online help, chat, a user community, and even their customer service center phone number. 

The idea behind most self-service designs today is to “hide” the customer service representative from the customer, forcing the customer through round and rounds of FAQs to find an answer before being permitted to actually SPEAK to someone.  Sprint is no longer hiding behind their technology.  And — if you think about it — with a clearly designed upfront technological infrastructure and user interface — they don’t HAVE TO HIDE.  If their website is succssful at helping customers help themselves, then their call volume will be drastically reduced.  Moreover, if the call center agents are appropriately educated to answer calls, they will spend less time on the phone with each customer, enabling the same number of customer service representatives to serve even more customers.  

THIS is efficient use of technology — in a way that keeps the human element alive, accessible and successful.  Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!   

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10 Comments

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    1. SherryAnne Meyer Post author
      Thanks for your comments and feedback.  I suppose you are correct – I should classify my posts more narrowly.  I was hoping to open some challenging discussion on the topic and to challenge some developers.  If our technology is good enough, then we don’t need to hide the human element.
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      1. Angelo Antonello Borges
        I totally agree with you on this!
        As the reverse occurs here the technological factor would not be well accepted among the places where the human factor predominates.
        Therefore it is extremely important to use the correct classification of your post to not reach the wrong audience.

        best regards,
        Angelo

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  1. Ajay Das
    Let us see

    Tag Hoarding/Misuse – Check
    Projection (of anecdotal evidence to claim a company /service has transformed) – Check
    Frequent shouting in Upper Case – Check

    Perhaps as bad as a blog can get here.

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    1. SherryAnne Meyer Post author
      Ajay, thanks for the feedback.  I did not intend to shout – rather to write with emphasis – in an attempt to engage others in a thoughtful assessment of their own personal interactions with technology and how we – as members of a technical community – can possibly develop more human solutions.  I will check my “tag hoarding” in the future. 
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      1. Marilyn Pratt
        Hi Sherry,
        As you see (although this isn’t your first interaction here) we are a tough crowd.  And folks do get distracted by overuse of caps, h1 or h2 fonts in subtitles, overly zealous use of tags.
        In fact OUR bad.  In an effort to improve blog readers’ experience we voted internally to limit the categories to 5.  This was just implemented so we couldn’t have expected you to know. 
        I’ll communicate that publicly now and apologize if you’ve had a “less than optimal” experience.  On the other hand I am grateful, as I’m sure you will learn to be too, for the many passionate gatekeepers of quality.  Thanks guys for speaking up.  It’s always a learning experience.
        And Sherry, learn and carry on. I’m enjoying your engaging in “thoughtful assessments”.
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        1. SherryAnne Meyer Post author
          Hi Marilyn and thank you for the feedback.  The thing I really enjoy about SAP is that it is constantly challenging, always a learning experience and a basis for creative engagement in technology.  I’m here to learn — so I’ll keep at it and see what else the community can teach me!  
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    2. SherryAnne Meyer Post author
      Actually – I just went in and modified the categories.  I hope this helps.  I did notice that the system states that you may only enter 5 categories — yet actually allows the selection of more than 5. 
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  2. Jim Spath
    Sherryanne:  I’ve commented on your related post on asug.com so won’t repeat that here.  As for the feedback on SDN so far, you’ve been chastised for selecting more blog categories than usual, a common mistake.  Ping me offline (like, on the phone 😉 and we can chat on revising these.  You can probably purge some by going back to edit your blog.
    As for the content, hardly anyone has commented on your dramatic mix of human interaction (read: usability), technology choices, and personal experiences.  I wish more blogs talked in the first person as well as you do.  Keep it up!
    Jim
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