Monday, September 17, 2007

How not to treat your customers

The last thing I feel like doing is getting a new cell phone. The last time I did this, I lost almost all of my contacts, and setting up the replacement was a major pain.

But Sprint gives me almost no choice. And the worst part is that I have been a customer for more than ten years.

Last week in CA, my phone decided that half the time it would ring but not allow me either to hear the other person nor be heard. So I went into a Sprint Store in Palo Alto, and described my problem.

"I am sorry; I can't help you," the clerk said. "You will have to send it in."

"Send it in?" I cried. "What do you mean?"

"Well, sir, you will have to send it in to our service depot."

"But what would I do for a phone while it was in the mail - can't I take it there?"

"Oh, yes, you could do that. There is one in San Mateo (about 15 miles away)."

"So will they fix or replace it on the spot?" I hoped.

"Oh, no sir. They will take it and notify you when it is ready. It can take 2-5 business days."

"But what would I do for a phone during that time?" I asked.

"Well, you could always buy another one," he replied.

I was so stunned that I just left the store and nursed my phone until I got back to Washington, DC. Each time it rang, I said a little meditation and hit the 'answer' button. Half the time, it worked.

When I returned to Washington, I decided to bite the bullet and go into a Sprint service depot, here on Connecticut Avenue. I went in. There were several lines, but no one to tell me what to do. Finally, I found a desk that said "Please sign in and we will be with you shortly." I signed in, and there were only a few names ahead of me. I was optimistic. I waited. Some time later, I saw a sign that said Drop off phones for service here. I walked over to that desk, which was empty. But I was hopeful, because I knew at least I was in the right place. No one appeared for ten or fifteen minutes.

Finally another customer came over, and I told her not to get her hopes up because I had been waiting 30 minutes total and had gotten no service.

"Oh, that's nothing," she replied. "I have been here more than two hours!"

Five minutes later, a woman who looked like a customer service rep came in from what looked like her lunch hour, carrying various shopping bags. She said nothing - she just went into the back and disappeared. She came out a while later but would not greet any of us who were waiting. We stood there, and someone mumbled something along the lines of How can they have such bad customer service when there is such competition among phone companies?

After five more minutes, I left.

As you can imagine, I will be switching to another cell phone carrier soon.