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Bob Johnson Transcript - Oct 13, 2009

Sprint Product Ambassador

Bob: Hello. I'm Bob Johnson. Good afternoon and welcome to our online chat. As Chief Service Officer, I'm responsible for a team of Customer Care and Technical Support professionals dedicated to doing all we can to ensure that our customers enjoy the best experience possible, whether wireless or wireline, voice or data, consumer or business. We've make a lot of changes in the past year and I'm pleased with the progress we're making. I probably won't be able to answer questions about someone's individual account or service situation, but will do my best to respond to your questions about Customer Service improvements and the direction we're taking for the Customer Experience at Sprint. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
linhnguyen42: (Pre-submitted question) How is Sprint helping to change perceived customer service vs actual follow through of customer service? I get friendly reps, they mostly have been cordial…but only once has my issue actually been resolved. The two major things are following through with an airave and the referral gift card. Sure, the referral gift card may seem small, but when a company can't even get that resolved, what kind of confidence do I have in resolving larger issues, like competing against Verizon and AT&T?
Bob: We know that customer perceptions are slow to change, and that when we process millions of transactions, some are not going to go smoothly. But with the kinds of continuous improvements we’ve seen overall, we know we’re providing much better service to our customers than in the past.
Bob: I’m very proud to say that our customer-focused strategy has led us to 20 straight months of improved customer satisfaction and first call resolution. During this time we have improved our Web site, enhanced training among our customer care staff, and offered the most comprehensive combination of wireless services at a very competitive price.
Bob: For airrave we have a dedicated toll free number for service issues, and for gift cards our agents have documented procedures to troubleshoot any problems you are having. Or you can request help at www.sprint.com/referafriend.
Bill: Do you personally call customer service and pretend to have a problem... to see how it is handled?
Bob: yes... actually I do I call customer service personally as I have multiple lines on my account. Additionally I regularly do side by side observations while sitting next to agents in our call centers.
Mani: Bob. I am pleased at the changes I have seen at Sprint. The customer service has improved greatly. However the quality of the handsets is not so good. I have the HTC Touch Pro and I will be returning it for the 3rd time in less than a year. Not good at all. What can you do to improve on this?
Bob: Thanks for acknowledging the improvements in Care over the last couple years. As for handset quality, we work very closely with all our manufacturing partners to ensure our new handsets are launched with zero defects. Occasionally, when problems surface we want to work with you to ensure you get a working product in your hands as soon as possible. As for your particular situation, I would encourage you to go to sprint.com and make an appointment at one of our service and repair locations or call Customer Service and we can make the appointment for you.
dholmes: Does Sprint currently (or plan to) outsource their customer support to companies operating overseas? Other Tech. companies have gone this route with varying levels of success.
Bob: We have found the best approach is to have a balance of domestic and offshore based support depending on the type of call or issue. This gives us the greatest flexibility for both effectiveness and efficiency.
WW: Do you see customer service becoming a differentiator for Sprint?
Bob: My hope as we continue our performance improvement trajectory is that Sprint's customer care is a differentiator and is known as both the reason customers come to and stay with Sprint.
MarcMandel: As a long term sprint customer I've seen steady improvement in the customer experience, but still too often feel as though CSRs are being graded on speed as opposed to accuracy. I feel rushed through a call even though the reason for the call may not have been dealt with. Is this true, or just a perception?
Bob: we feel one of if not the most significant drivers of our performance improvement has been placing the priority for our agents in two major areas: first call resolution and customer satisfaction. In fact, we find that our best agents in first call resolution are also our most efficient.
Shelly: What will Sprint focus on in the next year to improve the perception of bad customer service?
Bob: The critical factor for improving perceptions of customer service is continuing to deliver high quality service on each and every call. As we do this, both you our customers through positive word of mouth and the recognition by objective third party studies that measure customer service, will jump start the improvements in perception.
bru-ster: There’s been a lot of buzz about consumer services lately – Apple has their MobileME service, Microsoft offers MyPhone, Nokia’s OVI… even heard that Best Buy is jumping in big with a FREE service called mIQ. What will Sprint be offering to customers to keep them connected?
Bob: Sprint has always long been committed to offering mobile content and applications to our customers when, where and how they want it. Our new Android devices – the HTC Hero and Samsung Moment are examples. Think of the Android devices as a way to easily replicate your PC on a wireless phone - if you know how to use Google, or Gmail or Google maps, then you already know how to use an Android phone. The Palm Pre, with its WebOS operating system offers a similar experience.
jchoffman4: Why do you charge a $35 restocking fee even when you have sold a phone to a customer that does not perform well. Specifically, the Palm Pre' which does not load any Java pages, but crashes instead, does not have a strong enough antenna to pull in a strong signal, and has a screen which frequently goes completely blank? This policy seems unfair, unless you disclose ever issue with your products to the customer before purchase.
Bob: The $35 restocking fee is charged when a customer returns a non defective device at their convenience, for example if the color or interface is not to their liking, within 30 days of purchase. This fee covers the costs we incur to make the device ready for another customer as a replacement device. We cannot resell it as a new unit. The fee is is not charged for 30-day exchanges under certain circumstances such as if the phone is defective or if the phone was not activated and it is returned within 30 days and service is deactivated.
Person: With all of the recent plan enhancements, such as anymobile (which is automatically added to everything data), how are customers responding? Are you seeing an uptick in post-paid subscriptions with new plans?
Bob: While this most recent plan change is only a month old, we are very pleased with all the initial responses from both our current customers enjoying Any Mobile, Anytime as well as new customers signing up for Sprint service.
Nxtl4me: 1) My experiences with Sprint-Nextel customer service have been good lately in most regards, and I agree that in many areas CS has improved measurably, but it is a fact that the issue of reporting network-related problems is still a brick wall. What is the justification for telling the front-line telephone answerers to not take network complaints seriously, and many times to actually refuse to take the customer’s complaint info and enter a network trouble report? 2) Why has Sprint-Nextel refused to implement Push-To-Smart-Replies on the Nextel iDEN network? This capability has been on the shelf and ready to implement on iDEN for at least three years, and it is an incremental improvement that can be had for very little cost. Why has Sprint-Nextel chosen to withhold this added value from the Nextel iDEN user base? 3) Is there even an inkling of hope that Sprint will sell the Nextel side to another company at some point in the future?
Bob: Always good to see one of our regulars here in the live chat...First let me apologize for any information that was provided to you inaccurately. Our agents are trained to identify, diagnose and resolve any network issues that are reported by customers. For example, agents are supposed to check the Sprint coverage tool to ensure that there is good coverage in the customer’s area, and will check our network outage board to ensure there are no issues in that area. And yes, they also can put in a trouble ticket for the customer should the customer still be experiencing problems. We remain committed to the Nextel National Network. We continue to invest in it and we’ve expanded our handset lineup by launching several iDEN devices in 2009.
Person: Your smart phone lineup has been greatly unfolding over the last couple quarters, with more to come, obviously. From a customer calling in, are you seeing any network congestion issues and complaints coming into customer care regarding network issues? That is - are you seeing the same or similar issues as to At&t with it's bottleneck network as a result of smartphones?
Bob: Our 3G voice and data network has proven to be the most reliable of any wireless carrier and I am happy and proud to say we have not experienced these issues.
Bill: Have customer service imporvments led to a reversal in lost customers?  Are the customers coming back now?
Bob: We think the key to attracting and retaining customers is to combine the power of the NOW network, the best price plan lineup in the industry, extensive product portfolio and first rate customer service. With all of these factors on the upswing at Sprint, we have seen positive momentum with our customer base.
agentneo: I have to give credit to customer support because of their improvements, but what other things do you have in mind to make customer service better?
Bob: Thanks for your support. We plan to continue the progress we are making by focusing on our agents and providing them the tools, coaching and training to help them resolve your issues the first time every time.
matt: I would like to know if Sprint has any plans to improve coverage (especially 3G coverage) in Huntsville, Alabama. I would also like to know if there are any ways to report coverage problems and if not, if there are any plans to introduce ways to report coverage problems. Ideally one would also be able to track progress on resolving coverage issues as well.
Bob: Customers can contact Customer Care or press *2 on their Sprint phones to report any coverage issues.
Bob: You can go to our coverage map tool at www.sprint.com/coverage to not only view current coverage/signal strength but also recently added towers as well as plans for future build-out in your area.
kjamison: As a 11 year sprint customer I will say Sprint has made a right turn in the customer service area from a 2/3 years ago. More friendly and willing to help in the areas they can provide immediate assistance. My question is, Why the major price difference in the HTC Touch Pro 2 versus other carriers? And our we truly eligible for the Mobile windows 6.1 to 6.5 update free?
Bob: When comparing similar smart phone plan costs against Verizon and AT&T, Sprint saves you more than $355 annually for Everything Data plans featuring unlimited mobile to mobile calling (with 450 and 900 Anytime calling minutes), and more than $715 annually for Everything Unlimited plans. We encourage customers to do a true comparison of the total cost over the life of the contract and we think you’ll find that the math stacks up in Sprint’s favor.
Bob: The HTC Touch Pro2 has the hardware and software requirements to support a future upgrade to Windows Mobile 6.5. It would not be unforeseeable for Sprint to deliver a software upgrade in the near future that allows migration from 6.1 to 6.5.
calebsquires: Due to the court decision regarding iPCS and the sale of its iDEN network in the Midwest markets by January 2010; is Sprint really going to find a buyer and sell off the iDEn network, or will Sprint finally acquire iPCS?
Bob: In June 2009, Sprint Nextel publicly announced its process to find a buyer and divest the assets affiliated with the iDEN network/ Nextel National Network in the impacted geographic markets. The process, including any subsequent transaction, is expected to be fully completed ahead of the court-ordered end date of January 25, 2010. Parts of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and a small portion of Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin are impacted. For our customers in these areas, it remains business-as-usual with regard to service in their area. Sprint is seeking a buyer and plans to divest its iDEN assets primarily located in parts of Midwestern states. Sprint will work with any future operator to ensure a seamless transition for our customers and their businesses. We do not expect any disruption of service during or following any transaction.
skip: I haven't seen improved cust svc or first call resolution. I never get the same answer twice and what the rep's promised in presales is not delievered and I all i get is an apology and told the rep mis-spoke. very annoying and not very credible
Bob: My team has taken tremendous pride in the improvement in the last two years. I am disappointed that you have not found that to be the case. I want to be sure we do what is necessary to make you a satisfied customer. We will reach out to you via private message here in the community.
Sarah: Thanks to everyone for the great questions! Bob will continue to answer a couple more but we'll be closing the chat at 3:00. A transcript of the chat will be posted shortly.
Bob: We are going to pull one more question right now.
Person: Do Sprint Premier customers always receive help from domestic call centers? How does Premier service differ from standard service, if at all?
Bob: As a matter of fact, most of our Premier customer calls are answered in North Carolina by agents who have been specially trained to meet the needs of our Premier customers.
Bob: Thanks for your time and participation today. We continue to make real progress and we’re gaining quickly on our competitors in customer care performance. In addition to 7 consecutive quarters of customer satisfaction and first call resolution improvements, we’re answering customers’ calls faster, usually within 30 seconds or less. Also, the number of calls we receive per subscriber is significantly lower, an indication that we are eliminating the reasons customers to call us with service issues in the first place. Have a great day. Bob
Question: the quality of cust svc still leaves a lot to desire. Many many times I get different answers to the same questions, and sold a phone and package thats not what the svc rep promised. I know you cant comment on individual package but this is very annoying and NEVER occured when I was Nextel. this leads to credibilty and I just don not see it with sprint - either on the phone or at a store.
Bob: I can't comment on your specific situation, but would invite you to contact us again if you're not completely satisfied.  And while I hope we can work out any issues to your satisfaction, you're always welcome to take advantage of our 30-day risk-free guarantee.
Question: What are you doing to improve service in the stores? The store reps don't seem to know very much about the phones and I often get different answers from different people.
Bob: Through our innovative "Ready Now" program, sales reps in the stores are trained to thoroughly explain service and device features so that customers leave feeling confident and comfortable about their purchases. We also have expanded in-store service and repair to reduce the need to send phones out for repair and to reduce wait times. In-store kiosks let customers quickly check network coverage where they live, work and play. And we launched a sales worksheet to ensure that customers know what they purchased at the time the sign up for service. Laptop Magazine recently mystery-shopped our retail stores and we received an A- in service, tying us for first place.
Question: I've noticed that JDPower has now placed you above At&t however they still seem to be adding more customers than all of the US wireless companies. What are you doing, from a customer-facing perspectice, to deploy customer solutions, and customer innovations over other wireless companies. It appears innovation trumps company ratings (according to stats from JDPower).
Bob: We are working in all channels to improve communications between customers and our shore/Care reps to ensure customers are clear and comfortable with their transactions, service and products.  For example, in Business Care, we have expanded our dedicated support services to include all business customers with at least 25 wireless devices. For consumers, soon after a new customer activates service a Sprint Care rep will call to welcome the customer to sprint, thank them for their business and ensure that the customer fully understands the products and services they purchased. Other examples include our industry-leading customer loyalty program -- Sprint Premier -- and Sprint Plan Optimizer, an online tool that allows customers to analyze their own wireless usage trends to determine if their current plan is the best "fit" for them.
Question:  i have heard you say that all these CS efforts will take time before they prove out in customer satifaction, have we reached that time yet?
Question:  Hi Bob. I've read about the progress being made at Sprint in Customer Service. How or when do you think perception of you customers will catch up to your improvements?
Bob:  I'm optimistic that we will continue to see encouraging signs of change.  For example, for 2Q 2009, Sprint had the most prepaid net adds of any carrier in the past three years. We also reported the fewest postpaid deacts since the merger with Nextel and we had the largest sequential decline in both postpaid and prepaid churn of the large carriers.
Question:  Do you feel the process to become a developer for Sprint should be simplified to encourage participation??
Bob: Sprint has created a simple and easy program for developers.  Sprint’s Application Developer Program is an open forum designed to give the developer community the tools they need to create innovative applications for Sprint devices.  Developers simply register at http://developer.sprint.com. In addition, Sprint holds a yearly conference designed to educate developers on all the different platforms they can use to create applications including Android, WebOS, Java and more.  This year’s conference is in Santa Clara, Calif. on Oct. 26 – 28.  Developers can still register to attend at http://developer.sprint.com/devcon2009.
Question:  20 months of improved cusstomer sat and FCR is a terrific record. What are some of the things that you track to measure customer sat?
Bob:  Thanks.  The team and I are proud of our record of seven consecutive quarters of improvement. Among the customer satisfaction indicators that we track are customers' satisfaction with our representatives -- both in stores and in our call centers, as well as their perceptions about our IVR systems, hold times, online and self-service capabilities. One of the most important factors in customer satisfaction is whether or not we are able to resolve their issue on the first contact.
Question:  Where do you see the biggest problems to customer services? Is this at customer contract renewal, or at another stage of lifecyle?
Bob:  The trend toward use of smart phones and their associated applications is contributing significantly to greater complexity in the customer service function. Smart phone users tend to call Care more frequently and resolving issues involving data-centric applications often requires specialized training and advanced technical expertise on the part of our representatives.
Question:  How is Sprint able to offer the prices much lesser than at&t and verizon?
Bob:  I can't comment on specific pricing strategies, other than to say we're committed to offering a great price/value proposition for our customers.
Question:  I have recently called into Care with a billing issue. In the past - I would wait an excruciating amount of time and the rep would be difficult to work with. Mind you I am patient and not one to call in very often at all. I called a couple months ago and a couple months before that and the last few experiences have been extremely pleasant. The new commercials click with me. Your phone line-up is stronger than ever. I have 1 line (used to be 2) and am contemplating the MIFI and bringing back my other line to the Android device. HOWEVER - I have reservations due to Sprint continuing struggles, take-over talk, financial issues, non-expanding network, and Wimax (not being mainstream in a few years compared to LTE). Obviously there are many facets you are not at liberty to discuss. Can you expand and put some of at ease with some of the concerns?
Bob:  I understand your concerns.  But the facts are, during the last 18 months Sprint has had three areas of focus: Improving Customer Experience, Strengthening the Brand, and Enhancing Profitability. We are making major progress on all three with significant progress on improving our financial stability. In spite of a very difficult economic environment, during the last three quarters Sprint has stabilized cash flow, reduced debt, increased liquidity and improved operating performance.
Question:  Are there any new handsets that we can see around Christmas?
Bob:  I won't scoop our marketeers, but stay tuned.
Question:  What is Sprint's take on allowing VOIP calling services over 3/4G? AT&T recently enabled this.
Bob:  Sprint is a strong proponent of “open.” That means that we support the open Internet model in which the carrier does not stand between a customer and what he or she accesses and downloads.  We reserve the right to intervene to protect the network from harm, but, so far, we have not had to block or prohibit an application, such as VoIP.  We want our customers to be able to get access to what they want and enjoy a true Web experience on their mobile device.  For Sprint, it’s not about blocking competing apps.  We want customers to make the choice.
Question:  Your chat today may focus on customer care hopefully you can still cover the customer experience as whole. I am a Sprint customer and not to recently have I looked at prices of your phones. My question is why is company owned stores and Sprint.com nearly always higher then a big box retailer? I noticed in a Best buy ad they were nearly giving your blackberry curve away but since us usually go to the company owned store I went there for the same product yet was told I have to pay $149.99 for the same product? I understand customer service is better at the Sprint store but its not worth paying $150 just for 15 minutes of good service. Can you please explain why the difference in prices and why?
Bob:  Third-party retailers such as Best Buy set their own prices for Sprint phones and, as such, it's not unusual to find disparity between prices on their shelves and in Sprint's stores.