Stupid Misstep or Smart Business?

July 16, 2007 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Seeking to weed out its most habitual customer service headaches, Sprint recently sent letters to 1,000 of its 53 million customers, informing them that they were being cut off. Dropped. Canceled. Their call has been permanently terminated. Why? Because they called for help too many times.

According to an ABC News story, Sprint says some of these 1,000 people called customer service up to 300 times per month with questions and problems. A later quote puts that number at 40 to 50. Regardless, Sprint says they made what they consider a smart business decision in favor of giving better service to their other customers. You know what? Bully for them.

This story reminds me a bit of the flack Southwest Airlines received a few years ago when they told obese passengers who couldn’t fit in their seat that they would have to buy two tickets rather than crowd other passengers. While that move was applauded by much of the public and the customers benefiting from the policy, the early PR fallout from Sprint’s maneuver seems to be a bit more prickly.

Which begs the question, why shouldn’t Sprint tell these people to find another carrier?

Companies give their customers a help line to answer their questions and address their problems. For a number of brand categories, it’s a crucial benefit that customers both want and need. It’s their insurance policy for taking a chance on a company’s product. It’s great for the consumer. But for the company picking up the tab, it can be expensive, and frustrating.

Now we have Sprint standing up like Peter Finch in Network saying, “We’re not gonna take this anymore!” Actually, what they said was, “we acknowledge that as hard as we’ve tried, we can’t make you happy as a cellular provider so we’ve decided it’s time to break up.” And they should. When 1,000 people tax the system for the other 52,999,000 people (that’s 0.000019% of the customers for those keeping score at home) it’s time to cut bait. Stop dancing. Take your ring back and get on with being the best cellular provider you can to your best customers.

Isn’t this just the #1 CRM principle at work in the wild? Cater to your best customers. Take care of them. Make them feel special. When you do, they’ll not only love you, they’ll become your biggest brand disciples.

The tail is no longer wagging the dog at Sprint. Let’s hope it helps give this underdog its bite back.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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