Sprint Notches Customer Service Win

Struggling Wireless Carrier Gets Top Marks for Phone Response Times

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- No one likes to sit on hold, waiting for a customer service representative to pick up the line. But the good news for Sprint Nextel customers is that they're doing less of that.

Many analysts credit Sprint CEO Dan Hesse for improving execution at the struggling carrier
Many analysts credit Sprint CEO Dan Hesse for improving execution at the struggling carrier Credit: Andrew Walker
The No. 4 U.S. wireless operator took the top spot in a customer care survey for the second straight quarter by answering its main customer care numbers within 30 seconds 89% of the time. Pali Research, which conducted the survey, made 1,000 calls to Sprint's customer care numbers.

The results show Sprint maintaining its lead from last quarter when it leapfrogged to the top spot from last place. In the current survey it was the only major carrier to score above the 80% benchmark but it slippped from last quarter's 91% response time. However, Pali noted the results might be skewed by the two "weak days" when press reports surfaced about possible layoffs at the company.

Sprint has said it is closing some call centers thanks to better customer care. A Sprint spokesman said call volumes to the care centers have dropped and should decline further, citing greater efforts to educate customers at the store level.

In fact, Chief Service Officer Bob Johnson told Bloomberg that calls about bills and handsets probably will drop 20% in 2009, the same drop as this year, as the company simplifies billing and directs more people to help sites online.

Bright spot amid tough times
The survey results come as Sprint weathers a rash of negative publicity about layoffs and cost cutting. Last week, Moody's downgraded Sprint's senior unsecured debt to junk bond status to reflect the company's "significantly weakened market position among the national wireless carriers and its continuing challenges in turning around its wireless operations amid intense competition and weak economic conditions."

A company spokesman said the carrier was reducing overhead costs on everything from supplies to travel but would not comment on staff cuts, noting that preparations for the 2009 budget were still underway.

Many analysts credit Sprint CEO Dan Hesse for improving execution at the struggling carrier whose fortunes had gone downhill several years ago, following its Nextel merger. The merger created problems integrating Nextel customers into Sprint's network.

Sprint's performance over the past two Pali surveys surpasses those in the prior five surveys that were conducted when Gary Forsee was at the helm and the company answered a little more than half of calls to customer care in less than 30 seconds.

The latest survey results could be a data point showing the turnaround is starting to take shape but Sprint still faces a high churn, the rate at which it turns over customers. Last quarter, its churn rate was just under 2.15%, compared to 2.0% in the second quarter. Verizon's churn rate is the industry's lowest at 1.33%.

There were other highlights from the survey as well.

  • Most improved: T-Mobile boosted response times the most, up from 42% during the previous survey to 79% this quarter, which is more in line with its historical response rates.
  • Biggest drop: Verizon's response times were down significantly from 85% during the previous survey to 68% this time around.
  • Still lagging:AT&T maintained the worst response times but its results improved from 33% to 43%. The improvement was credited to better response times in the morning and early afternoon.

When it came to calls answered in less than two minutes:

  • T-Mobile answered 100% of the time;
  • Sprint answered 95% of the time;
  • Verizon answered 91% of the time;
  • AT&T answered 65% of the time.

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