Dialing for dollars is trying to find me

Dear Mr. Hesse-

Here’s the thing, Dan. (I’m calling you Dan because you invite that in those commercials.) You don’t really answer your e-mail or even read it, so the big thing about making Sprint more user friendly is misleading. I took the time to write you two e-mails and no response. They were good, thoughtful e-mails too.

I’ve been a Sprint customer for a dozen years, through thick and thin. Thick and thin translates as “teenage children”, now pretty much grown, who have managed to drop many phones in train stations, toilets, restaurants and run over or had fall from moving vehicles as many more. We’ve been on a variety of family shared plans and most of the time they’ve been busy racking up outrageous extra charges for things we thought were covered, but-read the small print- they’re not. Ring tones. Messaging. They could TAKE pictures with with their phones but not do anything like share them without additional fees. Now we’re on some new (expensive) family plan that gives us total data services so most of the problem is solved. They just need to stop calling directory assistance.

Right now, I’m “under contract” to Sprint/Nextel. Every time someone in the family needs a new phone or an upgrade, I’m sentenced to another two years. And believe me, it’s hard to get a whole family to go two years without needing another phone. It’s gotten to the point where it feels like I almost make it to probation and then, bam! another two years. This is not good business. People don’t like being held captive. They really resent it. And since it is hard to have contact with a real person when calling Sprint, customers never develop that Stockholm Syndrome thing where they think their captors are the good guys. Claire (my virtual customer service representative), btw, was the worst idea, ever. Claire turned me into a foul-mouthed fishwife. LISTEN BITCH, GIVE ME THE FUCKING OPERATOR, DAMMIT! So, the deal is, as soon as legislation passes that makes it illegal to hold everyone to these awful contracts, people are going to drop you like a bad habit. Even more people (I just read your third quarter report).

Before that happens it would be a great idea if your company found a way to develop some company loyalty. If I thought you were paying attention to my family’s consumer needs, rather than taking advantage of the fact that young adults are distractable and drawn to technological gizmos like magpies to shiny beads, that would be a good start. Also, realize that young adults do not understand the concept of “minutes”, only “unlimited”. It’s not costing you that much more if my child talks 100 minutes or 1000 minutes.

Cut out that nonsense where a person has to go two years on a phone before they can get an upgrade. Put a basic and simple phone in your inventory that families can get anytime, consistently, at a low (replacement) price when phones get lost or broken. Call it the “family replacement phone” or something.

Make phones that say, “I’m sorry. You do not have a service plan that lets you a) call a college friend in Sevilla, Spain for four hours at a stretch, b) download 53 new hot ringtones, c) play video games for 6 hours straight in the back of your band’s tour van.” That’s far better than allowing these activities and then charging enormous, unreasonable per minute amounts. The “account holders” of these family plans would be grateful and beholden to you.  If you can have automated voices handling every other aspect of your customer service, you can certainly come up with a phone that triggers such a message before the fact and blocks the activity if it’s not on the plan.

Any time, but especially in this economy, people do not like companies that declare they are user friendly and looking out for the needs of their customers when really, they’re looking at only the profit margin. I understand you have to stay in business but charge the higher prices to responsible adults who earn enough money to pay for things like Blackberrys and Bluetooth while making family plans really functional for families. Around here, where the grownups pay the bill, we use phones that meet our business and social needs. My husband and I each have a Sprint Blackberry. For our children, until they start paying their own phone bills, we need a plan that takes into account the realities of that population rather than one that exploits it. A plan that understands that cell phones drown in the washer and melt in the dryer.

Don’t get me wrong- they’re great kids, doing well in college, building their lives and futures. But they still seem to drop an awful lot of phones. I’ve asked around and so do all their friends. So, my advice, for what it’s worth: rather than telling “analysts that Sprint Nextel plans to work harder to attract new customers during the upcoming holiday season” think about putting the family back in family plan, commensurate with the economy, and keep the customers you have. We need better incentives to stick with you and be loyal to the brand.  As it stands now, I’m not a loyal customer but rather an indentured consumer, resenting every minute of it.

Thanks for listening, if you do.

Regards, VB

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16 responses to “Dialing for dollars is trying to find me

  1. A-frickin’-men. My daughter has been trapped in her grandparent’s plan for years, having to upgrade phones every several months due to breakages/droppages/etc. She’s tired of being tied to their family plan and tangled in their contract.

    LET HER GO! She always gets extremely LOUSY service and treatment when she goes in to the Sprint store to get help with these problems, too. And I can back that up. I’ve gone in with her. WOW do they provide some horrible customer service.

  2. This week, I went into Alltell to ask them how to take the drive mode off my phone that somehow just appeared and even removing the battery would not eliminate. The guy fiddled around with it and then, told me it was because my phone is over a year old and they have trouble with that brand, but because I have insurance on my phone for only $50, I could get a new phone. For $50, I can live with it screaming out the person’s name instead of a ring tone when they call. Then, I came home, fiddled with it and figured out how to remove the drive mode. Amazing, I must be a genius. I think I was a genius when I figured out he was trying to rip me off.

  3. I feel your pain. Alison is great at drowning phones, so she’s used up our upgrades and kept us in servitude to Verizon.

  4. My daughter has had Sprint for years and they recently told her that she is using too many roaming minutes on her “free roaming plan”. If roaming is free – how can she be making too many long-distance calls???!!! She is actively looking for another cell phone provider, but I doubt she will find one that is trouble-free AND accessible!

  5. That’s the best rant on cell phone tyranny I’ve ever read.
    I agree wholeheartedly.

  6. Once again, you’ve managed to put my every cell phone rage into words. Bless you, Sister. And may that legislation pass ASAP! 🙂

  7. Prepaid phones? I know mafia hitmen like them….

  8. Someday I will tell the story of how I waged war with AT&T because their commercials about “the best coverage in FL” are a huge F’en LIE, and they actually surrendered and let me out of my contract without a penalty. I think when their own engineers admitted that they had no idea why I had crappy, intermittent coverage in my neighborhood when the system showed awesome 3G coverage! probably won the argument for me. So far I must say Verizon has not pissed me off. Yet.

  9. May I copy a large portion of your letter for my use with Verizon? I’ll just need to change a few things: He instead of they, etc.

  10. I wish I had a Sprint contract so I could call them up and threaten to cancel. They wouldn’t, but, of course, I can make them feel bad. (Yes I Can!)

  11. I’m hearing you from the choir, girl. That’s why we have pay-as-we-go plans. But of course, our girls are 7 and 4 1/2. I guess we are in for a rude awakening in what, 5 years? When the oldest HAS to have a cell phone?
    Jeez.

  12. I don’t know why I missed this rant before. AMEN! I recently went through one of those times when you open the cell phone bill and your jaw hits the floor. $300 extra in data usage for the kids’ phone. YIKES! I took responsibility because I hadn’t scrutinized the bill and the contract closely enough too see the fine print where they explain what the plan really means. Then I tried to explain the situation and set up a pro-rated payment plan for the extra charges, only to be told that they could not possibly do that. Unicel (now Verizon I guess) is not family friendly. Would it really kill their bottom line to have a one-time excessive bill forgiveness policy? Hmmm…I may just have to write a letter now.

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