I’ve been a customer of Sprint’s now for over 11 years since 1997. It’s been a love/hate relationship, the actual service itself has been fine, but the customer service piece has been a struggle (and, that’s to put it lightly). The good news is that I’ve learned a good deal from the experience and I’m here sharing with you about how we can learn from the big guy and build better businesses. Thanks Sprint!
I’m in a two-year contract and it’s about to expire (March, 2009) to be exact. Every two years, I do a “dance” with their “retention” department to make sure I’m getting the best deal and to make sure they realize that I’m also considering alternatives. This year, I’m considering making the change to the iPhone or maybe the Android G1. I probably would have kept my Palm Treo and just stayed with Sprint as usual, but I will be leaving as soon as the contract is up. As you know I generally find negotiating fun. Not Sprint, the conversations are generally long and surprisingly, unpleasant.
Here are my 5 take-aways:
1) Don’t take your loyal customers for granted. It’s too easy to just rely on your current clients to stay with you through thick and thin and *NOT* treat them well. Losing a loyal customer is extremely expensive. I’ve spent over $15,000 on Sprint in the past 11 years. Losing me is expensive, but replacing me is going to be extremely expensive. Consider the cost of advertising and retention, not including my personal story shared numerous times. Take the time to thank your customers, add something special to your service. I love AMEX’s simple use of “Member Since”. At BuddyTV, we recognize long-term members through “Member Since” - what an easy way to recognize your best customers. Calling into customer service at Bank of America, I get a thank-you for being a long-term customer. Simple things go a long way and it doesn’t have to cost a thing!
2) Never threaten a customer. I think this is obvious. Not to Sprint. As I asked to speak with a higher ranking manager, the customer representative told me that my “account was subject to an audit as I’m receiving too many discounts and it may go away.” In fact, I was assured all of my discounts would be gone by March, 2009 since it’s the end of my contract. So, because I called in and asked to speak with a manager, my account is now going to get audited. Right… Reminds me of the ill-fated move by the record industry to sue its own customers for downloading music. I understand it’s illegal, but spend your time building a better business not suing or threatening your customers who are supposed to be doing business with you.
3) Simplify. I was on the phone for a solid 60 minutes with Sprint. I had to have a pen and pad of paper to go through all the options of plans and phone discounts I could get if I signed on for another 2 years. I understand plans can be confusing, but reducing options for the customer so they can make an informed decision easily makes business sense for both the business and the consumer. What if they started with “Mr. Liu, for our loyal long-term clients like yourself, our most popular plan is the Unlimited Plan?” If you’re running a web business, the cardinal rule is “less is more” - give less options, not more. Make it really easy for the customer. The same could be said for a new restaurant, new store, new anything. Focus on LESS and do it well!
4) Let Go. Simply put, there are good clients and bad clients. Bad clients eat up more time, they are less profitable, they would be better off to go to your competitor. Honestly, I would have been fine, if Sprint were upfront and said “Mr. Liu, we can no longer afford having you as a customer.” I would have saved 60 minutes and that would be that. Instead, their mistake was their inability to try to meet my needs and then try to convince me as to why I was wrong for trying to negotiate. If you have a client that’s not working out, be honest, and if you can help them find an alternative. I love Les Schwab, I tried getting a flat fixed there when the wait was well north of 4 hours and they got me directions for the nearest competitor.
5) People Remember and Pass Along Memorable Stories. Years ago a customer brought a used tire to Nordstrom’s due to its unconditional guarantee and the sales clerk accepted the tire because that’s what the customer wanted. These stories are memorable and are passed along. You rarely hear of any stories of Nordstrom clerks who hassled their customers, the clerks go out of their way to meet customer needs. Does your company create experiences that customers are eager to pass along? Is what you are doing unique and special that it’s memorable? Keep in mind that it works both ways and can be negative as well. I can’t imagine calling back into Sprint again…
No hard feelings towards Sprint, it’s a tough business. I found it a good reminder that great customer service is really hard to come by. The good news for entrepreneurs is that the bar really isn’t that high to provide great customer service that is truly unique and memorable. What things are you doing today that are simple and memorable for your clients?