Sunday, June 16, 2024

The 10 pages of a Sprint bill are loaded with blank space, advertising, redundancy and a plea to save trees by switching to paperless, electronic bills.

Sprint Nextel customer service is legendary for its awfulness, a general lack of understanding that workers in that department are supposed to serve customers. As a result, you don’t have to dig very deep into Google search results to find gemlike summations such as “Is it possible for Sprint customer service to be this bad?” and references to “Sprint’s customer abuse.”

While the communications company’s chief executive, Dan Hesse, took over in 2008 making better customer service and retention “the No. 1 priority of the company,” last year’s J.D. Power and Associates survey showed Sprint once again dead last among wireless carriers, as it has for the past five years.

Improvement shouldn’t really be so tough. Listen to customers, treat them as individuals and try to resolve their problems. When you resolve customers’ problems, they renew their contracts.

But Sprint reps stick relentlessly to their scripts, apparently incapable or not allowed to express creativity or caring or address individuals as individuals, as do their counterparts at Apple, American Express or wireless customer service leader T-Mobile. If Sprint has suffered customer service retention problems in the past, it’s certainly not going to help when Verizon unveils 4G service nationwide, fast on the heels of Sprint’s, and gets the iPhone as well. (Verizon’s LTE 4G network is being rolled out already; the iPhone is rumored for sometime this year, possibly as soon as this month.)

The telcom’s chief services officer, Bob Johnson, has plenty of iffy metrics to point to showing improvement in a Thursday interview with the RCR Wireless trade publication. This month’s Consumer Reports ratings are somewhat more meaningful. Lloyd Karnes, a “customer experience” manager at Sprint, is happy to say it shows:

“customers are giving us high marks for overall customer satisfaction and that Sprint was one of the best choices overall for most people … Sprint has made significant, measurable progress in improving the customer experience, including 11 consecutive quarters of improved customer satisfaction and resolution of customer issues on their first call.”

When Sprint touts this online, though, it’s met by not only a very reasonable comment that Consumer Reports looks at a limited set of markets, but a litany of customer horror stories. It doesn’t take very long for the cheer to evaporate.

Going green by wasting paper

As another sign of its general cluelessness, check out Sprint’s nice, airy paper bills.

You’re not counting wrong: That’s really 10 pages inside Sprint’s 8.5 by 5.5 envelopes, a total of five letter-size sheets.

And you’re not seeing things: Those really are two entirely blank pages among the 10.

You’re also not crazy: Another two full pages of the package are ads for Sprint products, and there are two identical half-sheets devoted to the customer’s address, one telling the letter carrier where to bring the bill and the other of which … it, uh … well, it goes inside for no discernible reason.

“We have initiatives under way to eliminate unnecessary white space in the bills,” Karnes said Monday.

Good thing, at least for anyone wondering why customer charges aren’t given on one page instead of three, since there’s certainly room (notice Page 7 of 8 at the lower left, although its labeling is kind of misleading; it’s actually Page 9 of 10 you’re looking at that has a single line of billing information and one hellacious amount of white space below). Or why there’s isn’t a single page giving the customer’s address, as well as less advertising and no blank pages.

One guess can be found on Page 1 of 8 (also more accurately known as Page 3 of 10), where the company explains some virtues of “eBill Paperless Billing” and how customers are being switched to it — 75,000 nationwide, according to Karnes — unless they opt out.

You can also read about it at “Sprint eBill Online Billing lets you help the environment and have convenient access to your bill,” it says. Then, in a “key benefits” section, it says “the millions of Sprint customers who have gone paperless” have “already achieved,” in estimates:

2 million pounds of paper saved

27 million pounds of greenhouse gases avoided.

That’s equal to the greenhouse gas savings achieved by:

26 million miles not driven in cars or

3 acres of forest preserved or

309,000 trees planted

Can Sprint convince people to save the trees by flagrantly wasting paper? Maybe, although the opt-out is an aggressive, sneaky and no doubt confusing way to “convince” people when you include the news among 10 pages of junk. Will it come off as the good guy with this technique? Probably not, since anyone that would be swayed is also surely sensitive enough to recognize this as the corporate version of the schoolyard bully insisting “Stop hitting yourself!” while he’s the one in control of your arm.

Although Newsweek is convinced the company belongs in a top 10 of “green” rankings, Sprint seems roughly as good at saving the environment as it is at customer service, which is to say that its vision for both seems to be an arid wasteland populated by robots.