That's no way to treat a customer

05 Aug 2014

Another holiday to the US and another customer service nightmare with a US cellco. After issues with AT&T and T-Mobile in the past, this latest chapter with Sprint takes bad customer service to an entire new level.

To summarize a long saga, a sales rep at a Sprint retail shop failed to mention a $36 activation fee when I signed up for a $55-a-month plan with unlimited calls and 1GB of data.

A call to the hotline only brought accusations that “you signed the contract” – I did nothing of the sort… I signed a digital screen after tapping “yes” a couple of times. No fine print – no word of additional fees.

A stop by a Sprint store in another city yielded a curt response from a young man – “I don’t have the power to waive the fee, you have to call customer service.” A second call to the 800 number only led to increased frustration – the only way to get the fee waived I was told was “to return to the store where the plan was activated”. They had to be joking!

As luck would have it, I was back in the city where I got the plan so decided a return visit to the original shop on the last day of my holiday would likely add another dimension to the saga, which was turning into an interesting story.

Little did I know the twists that would transpire. At the shop I was once again reminded that I had signed the contract and that they couldn’t help me because the manager who sold me the plan wasn’t there. I would have to return later or call back. Excuse me!! I was returning to HK the next day. When I mentioned I was told to return to this store, the not so helpful rep barked “wasn’t that convenient” of the hotline staff. So much for the sales channels being aligned to serve the customer.

Two calls (each about 25 minutes) and two shop visits later and I was no closer to having the fee waived. I had entered into a Kafkaesque world of blaming the customer rather than trying to offer a solution, where staff have no authority to make a difference. Instead, they raise the barrier so high to the seemingly simple task of a waiving a fee, which misleadingly was never mentioned, that the average customer just gives up. It’s a war of attrition.

No surprise then that a study from WDS, a research firm, found that 36% of US wireless customers are considering leaving their mobile carrier in the next year. But as the competitor in the US market, Sprint was suppose to be different than the top two.

Let’s see how Sprint’s head of customer service or top management responds to my formal complaint last week.

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