Linkfood For Today

Sprint Kicks Out People Who Appeal Too Much

I remember, long ago, someone (Raph, I think?) said that customer service costs could be cut to nothing if you just banned the people who appealed. I remember people freaking out at the time, not realizing that no one was seriously suggesting we as an industry take this step, but stating an observable fact.

Most of the people who send appeals send… a lot of appeals. Sometimes, it’s over something important. Usually, it’s the equivalent of tattling. The most frequent fliers can’t spell or put together a coherent sentence. And if you don’t give them exactly what they asked for (usually something wildly out of sync with the typical remedy), they spam the appeal queue with obscenity and threats.

Obviously, the typical customer only appeals in rare situations. The typical customer conveys the problem in short sentences with nouns, verbs, and only a few adjectives. Frankly, we all wish the typical customer sent in more bug reports, because his are legible and reproducible. This customer needs quick response time and sincere appreciation. After a product reaches critical mass, it is almost impossible to GET to this customer thanks to the spamhappy psychos.

It has been ever thus. I wrote my very first rant on the topic of appeals (petitions) that make no damn sense and/or waste my time. But I never thought I’d see the day when a real grownup company would actually ban people for calling customer service.

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29 Comments

  1. NerfTW said,

    July 16, 2007 at 11:03 am

    I think everyone is getting a little too hysterical over this. One of the original articles stated that one of the woman had no problems with her service, she was simply calling because she couldn’t understand the bill. Every day.

    Only 1000 customers out of hundreds of thousands. And we don’t know the real reason. For all we know, this is the equivalent of someone calling the pizza place every five minutes asking “Is it still coming?” (I had this happen once with an old lady. Poor thing had no idea she was calling that often.)

    I see this all the time. There was a policy at my first job that we’d balance your checkbook free once a month. If you started abusing the privelage, you’d be charged $25 an hour, rounded up. Sometimes there really is no pleasing a customer. Either they’re asking for something ridiculous, or they just refuse to learn how to do something.

    I don’t think this situation is as evil as everyone says.

  2. Raph said,

    July 16, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    It was actually Gordon “Tyrant” Walton who pointed this out.

  3. Breed said,

    July 16, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    I did a quick estimate on the cost of the 1200 customers. It only made sense to cut them lose. Why? The bottom line: they logged between 50-60k calls a month. Those wasted calls could have been used to really help someone. The 1200 banned if you annualized the loss came out over 1.5 mil at a minimum of direct related costs for sprint. No telling how many lost due to bad customer service.

    It is a business and business is in the business of making money. The customer is not always right. That phrase has been abused over the years. You shouldn’t expect to get 5 star treatment at a 1 star price. As always it’s really how things are communicated and how expectations are managed.

  4. Aoladari said,

    July 16, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    I can understand the constant whiners being let go. The people who have a mental capacity of a three year old, who are throwing a soggy diaper tantrum at the poor sod on the other end of the line.

    HOWEVER, they have also let customers go, who had REAL billing issues. Their bill was really fubar’d and they had to call multiple times to get it fixed. I say multiple times because most CS people now just put you on Kevorkian hold and wait for you to disconnect yourself so they don’t have to bother with you. Sprint needed to attempt reconciliation with all “problem” customers before just dumping them like this. Some of them had real issues and felt like no one at the company cared… I guess they were proven right.

    No I was not one of them, but I’m sure we came close. We’ve had our share of calls to CS with Sprint.

  5. Amber said,

    July 16, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Without really knowing (and we will of course never know) the true story, it’s hard to have an informed opinion on this one. But it seems reasonable to me that a for-profit company will only stop accepting money from a customer when it is no longer profitable to do so. This is why people who are frequently involved in automobile accidents find it hard or (more) expensive to get insurance. Once you move yourself from the asset column to the liability column, you are no longer considered a “valued” customer.

    I have a lot of problems with capitalism (or at least our implementation of it), but it’s the system we’ve chosen to base our economy on. Given that, I don’t see a problem. In fact, you could argue that by continuing to serve those customers, Sprint would be acting against the best interests of their shareholders, which I believe is illegal for a publicly traded company.

  6. Solok said,

    July 16, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    As long as there is competition for these people to transition to and they aren’t being denied their only means of cellular service, it will be interesting to see what litigation results from this. I mean, someone has got to sue, and it’ll be interesting to see what the outcome is.

    I rarely call any customer service unless it is absolutely necessary. I will say though, that if I were a Sprint customer, this would make thing question calling for a legit reason – since I have the feeling, legitimate or not, that the company is just waiting to let me go. Anyway, companies need a big PR push when they do something like this to make sure as many people as possible are educated about their decision so minds don’t run rampant with speculation.

    Might I say that I love the fact that everyone’s response has been well thought out and intelligent. Sure beats some blogs I visit.

  7. Aufero said,

    July 17, 2007 at 12:31 am

    That story seems a tad ironic if you’ve ever had occasion to call Sprint customer service. Correcting a simple problem (duplicate billing) with Sprint took me upwards of 40 calls, many of them repeats due to being disconnected instead of transferred. I suspect quite a number of those thousand banned customers were happy not to be dealing with Sprint anymore.

  8. Artheos said,

    July 17, 2007 at 4:06 am

    If it helps with clarity any, I cancelled Sprint because their products and service caused me to have to call them too much.

    At the time I didn’t exactly think of it that way at the time, but there you go.

    As for those genuine customers who are getting the shaft on this, they are likely getting a kick in the pants to get better service from a company that is actually capable of providing Customer Service. Unlike Sprint. Really.

  9. Jason said,

    July 17, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Sometimes people really do have unrealistic expectations and they need to be brought back to reality.

    This is a guy who signed up with Sprint, who offers unlimited roaming at no additional charge, and then set his phone to always roam. Probably paying $30 a month but using $100 or more in cost since Sprint is paying the fees the other networks charge for the roaming.

    Then you have this insider report when the insider explains that some of those people were calling for service complaint credits every day, resulting in free service and credit on their account, in one case in excess of $5,000 which the user wanted sent to him in a check. People complain about crappy service every single day and are not paying a dime, if the service is that bad, perhaps they should go somewhere else… unless its not really that bad, they are just scamming.

  10. Hyperion said,

    July 17, 2007 at 6:49 am

    Justin Kitch from Homestead blogged about this last year:
    http://ceounplugged.homestead.com/2006/08/isnt_that_catch.html
    http://ceounplugged.homestead.com/2006/11/maybe_you_shoul.html

  11. Knurd said,

    July 17, 2007 at 7:59 am

    ” After a product reaches critical mass, it is almost impossible to GET to this customer thanks to the spamhappy psychos.”
    Thanks for catching a whiff of my dilemma, dear. 😉 To feel it, is come to certain conclusion that there are some folks (perhaps, many or most) who are not only against you, but utilize and/or exploit a beauracracy, against you. The fun thing about customer service in the game industry is, the savvy customers are familiar with exploitation and social engineering. They will go for what they want, and get what they can, in any way they see fit or viable.

    Like I said before, “A populace can and will spin their shit better than a CM can. They simply have more people working on their “truths”, with more man-hours than you can keep up with.”

    I seem to recall, about a week after I made that comment, a certain squad of goons launched a calculated, grass-roots, publicity campaign against a certain, hard-core, sci-fi, MMO, on memorial-day weekend.

    Welcome to the modern customer-business relationship. Politicking in it’s finest form.

    You’ll have to pardon me, but I grew up in a time where “Mom and Pop” diner’s still existed. Where I could smoke indoors and where coffee wasn’t caffè latte, by default. Where you had to build a relationship to become a “regular” or “local”.

    Who exactly gives feck-all about that, these days?

    Take a look at the current, Match.com commercials ( I might be hazy in which dating service is competing with which…). They’re jabbing eHarmony because of the “customers” that they’ve rejected. The commercial campaign has no problem speculating on the reasons why they’ve closed several thousand accounts; and their speculation seems to have no problem with random accusation.

    Didn’t you hear? eHarmony hates gay cowboys, black women, and star-trek nerds!

    Smell the future, gang. We will all be set against each other in the desire to achieve our own self-righteousness. Do you like Coke, or Pepsi? The answer to that could easily reflect on your political future.

  12. Knurd said,

    July 17, 2007 at 8:20 am

    “Either they’re asking for something ridiculous, or they just refuse to learn how to do something.

    I don’t think this situation is as evil as everyone says.”
    I don’t think it’s as evil; I just think the grey-area extends itself, continually. It’s like lawyers; The more minutiae of law that is developed over time, the more lawyers are generated to feed the need of interpreting said minutiae. Self-serving morality.

    In your quote, there can be a lot of possible variations for a customer-service rep. to interpret. Common usage becomes the norm. Common usage usually boils down to people trying to take advantage of the system. It may only be a fraction that can utilize that system well, to their own ends; but, it is an incentive for everyone who touches on it.

    Everybody wants to be a hacker, they just might not know how.

  13. NerfTW said,

    July 17, 2007 at 8:48 am

    My major concern with listening to the customer’s side of things is that so many people outright lie about why they were let go. Or even that they were let go. Look at the World of Warcraft boards for an example. I can think of several instances where someone claimed an account was “banned” for “no reason”, only to have a mod pop up and inform them that this never happened.

    Or more specifically, the school teacher who claimed to have been fired for taking children to an art museum. The school eventually had to break its privacy policy, a risky venture, to inform the media that she was in fact fired for a whole list of different reasons, none of which included the art museum.

    I tend to err on the side of the business, unless I see proof that they acted unethically. I’ve been in customer service for years, and seen people make absolutely outrageous lies that we know aren’t true. One time a woman insisted a bank teller yelled at her, then ignored her while flirting with another teller, all the while dressed like a slut. The teller in question was wearing a turtleneck, had a quite, mousy voice, and couldn’t have been flirting with me, as I was helping a customer on the other side of the lobby.

  14. Knurd said,

    July 17, 2007 at 9:11 am

    NerfTW: Your initial point tickles me, in that I’ve had to explain several times, to several different people, why I was let go from my particular job. I’d like to think of myself as ethical enough to admit to such a fact, and more so because of admission of the fact on a random website.

    I was always amused at commentators or bloggers mentioning bluetracker or any number of various archival websites, as if I had no knowledge of them. I came aware of attention/archiving within the first week of my job, and I never forgot the fact.

    What tickles me, particularly, is the notion of anonymity. It was often used as a blanket for people to use their argument as collective thought. “You can just say those things, because you’re anonymous.”, or “If nobody sees me, I can get away with this lie.”

    Fact of the matter was, I was the least anonymous player on the forums, because I had a name, and had much attributed to it. That was the purpose of a CM; to build a name. I drew attention, and had to be accountable for that attention; moreso than anyone else in the forum.

    Heck, I’ve probably admitted I was wrong more than anyone else I dealt with; a level of accountability that would be shirked by many.

    Along with that, I smelled the lies of several folks, and referred to them as such, much to their chagrin.

  15. Knurd said,

    July 17, 2007 at 9:18 am

    P.S. – your initial paragraph actually describes one of the most satisfactory moments I’ve ever had in community managment. Diffusing the wrath of the Linux community was probably the most heart-felt thing I did for that company.

  16. TPRJones said,

    July 17, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I think it’s an excellent idea. For those curstomers that really aren’t worth the effort, cutting out that cost can make the service more affordable (and in cases where users interact, more pleasent) for other uses. In those more rare cases where the company really was making mistakes, then this let’s those users out of their contracts with the company so they can go find better service elsewhere.

    Everyone wins. Except ths psychos, of course, but then now they finally have something worth complaining about, so maybe it’s a win for them, too, in a way.

  17. Knurd said,

    July 17, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    smell the glove, baby.

  18. mythago said,

    July 18, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I tend to err on the side of the business, unless I see proof that they acted unethically.

    Er…doesn’t that kind of go against your earlier point that people outright lie? Or do you believe that the only people who lie are those who are not speaking on behalf of a business?

  19. Lahdeeda said,

    July 18, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    So…

    I canceled Sprint once, because in my first month of making phone calls with them, I logged $50, yes, FIFTY dollars in long distance calls. Just $50. We had just moved to the middle of nowhere America from England. They canceled my long distance because of the high rate of long distance phone calls I was making. They didn’t tell me they were doing this, I just tried to make a long distance call and found out I no longer had long distance. I didn’t even get the first bill yet! So I asked what do I need to do? They said, “Send us a check.” I said “I didn’t get the bill.” “Yes,” they explained, patiently, since I’m a moronic customer, “But your long distance bill is high.” (I have never been late on a bill mind you, so it wasn’t as though I had shady payment histories.) I then clarified that I no longer had Sprint as a carrier, that yes, they did indeed cancel my service, and unless I sent them PREPAYMENT for phone calls NOT MADE YET, I wouldn’t get long distance from then, and then called MCI. The MCI customer service lady burst out laughing when I explained my scenario, and assured me I could make as many long distance phone calls a month as I wanted as long as I paid the bill at the end of the month.

    This story is my long way of saying Sprint is a very strange company that doesn’t deal with customers very well and while I agree in some instances, customers are pains, with my personal experience with Sprint, they probably dropped people with legitimate complaints.

  20. July 20, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    “they spam the appeal queue with obscenity and threats”

    That sounds like a very, very good reason to terminate their service, frankly. No, not a single swearword in an otherwise good bug report (Yes, it happened in a MMO.Long story, and not me), but this sort of abusive behavior.

  21. Taemojitsu said,

    July 22, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    It was the right thing to do, but I doubt it’ll become popular because our culture is just too used to generalizing, FUD, and manipulating public opinion using simplified and biased versions of the truth. All it takes is just one influential person to suppose that “by criticizing the actions of Sprint’s customer service department I can advance my own personal gain”, and there goes the whole idea, and someone in Sprint’s CS might even get fired.

    The proportion of stupid, exploitable people in the US is too high for the strategy to be stable.

    Unless the culture manages to reach critical mass and thus obtains a standard defense against criticism.. but I wouldn’t count on it!

  22. Taemojitsu said,

    July 22, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Knurd! 🙂

    The thing is, all the spin-doctoring on the forums never should have mattered. I went back, about a month after the shaman debacle… the thread that exploded after shaman heard they weren’t getting any buffs. Out of the entire thread (300 posts in an hour or two, for those who aren’t familiar with the WoW forums), maybe half a dozen shaman actually stopped playing, according to the armory. Most of those who expressed disgust, even most of those who said they had cancelled their account (some posting the date of cancellation as a kind of `proof’), were still playing the game.

    It shouldn’t have mattered. Those playing the forums only did so because they were addicted to the game. Most WoW players obviously don’t read the forums, and those who did were resistant, long-term at least, to any bad memes present there. Anyone who really cared enough about the game to troll the forums would only quit if they thought something was really wrong with the game, something serious enough to make all the other fun aspects of the game not worth enjoying (or the flaw being serious enough that whether or not the game could still be enjoyed, the insult of the flaw was simply not to be tolerated); the spin-doctoring didn’t matter to these people because it merely distorted the truth, it didn’t change it.

    But someone who had power in an organization didn’t realize that, and so they made another mistake typical of the company these days.

    I always felt sorry you cared about, and had to deal with that aspect of the forums. But it did make for a very myffic end. =p

  23. July 24, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Taemojitsu, don’t underestimate the power of bitter customers who really should of quit to ruin other peoples gaming experiences and to discourage others from signing up…

  24. Taemojitsu said,

    July 24, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    The forums are not the game (tho they are certainly “a” game.. >.>). I’m really not sure I can imagine a situation where someone who DOES like the game and enjoys playing it is convinced by what’s on the forums that they don’t like the game anymore. People just put so much faith in their own experiences. Forum trolls would like to think that they are sharing their opinion of the game with receptive listeners, because they think that the greater the clamor on the forums the more likely it is that the game will be changed to accomodate their desires/threats. But they are wrong, no one is really listening, not other posters and certainly not Blizzard.

    Even someone who didn’t like the game heh, and went on the forums thinking they were a legitimate venue for complaints… these people, of course, with problems that they think are real, just end up getting flamed and told that they’re just whining. In a word, drama. Nothing productive. Still nothing that should convince a customer to leave the game.

    If whoever’s in charge at Blizzard doesn’t read the forums, and doesn’t understand them, and they give the CMs the impossible task of “keeping the forums a nice and happy place”… that is when it becomes a problem. But not for the company. It’s just a problem for the CMs. A pointless excercise in aggravation and stress… especially since the best way to make the forums a “happier” place would be to tempban anyone who flamed, but oh then the customers would complain that their right to insult others was being infringed upon!! Some might even CANCEL their accounts to prove the point, before renewing them when the subscription ran out!

    The sad thing, from my perspective at least, was that the CMs were so involved with trying to make the place seem “happy” that they weren’t able to convey to the devs what needed to be conveyed. Of course there was no way to tell… but it was definitely the impression one got. That, or Bliz’s devs really are as incompetent as everyone on the forums says they are.

  25. Iakimo said,

    July 27, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Heh… and here I am, a nOOb CSR for AT&T Wireless ((aka, “Cingular/The New AT&T”) at an outsourced call center. Probably too close to epitomizing Hell On Earth for someone who actually cares about customer service. My customers love me and are regularly asking to talk to my bosses so they can tell ’em how wonderfully I treated them; my bosses hate me because I take the time to actually [i]help[/i] my customers in an environment in which my bosses make their money based on the number of calls their center takes.

    Someday, maybe someone will figure out the fundamental flaw in such a business model.

  26. Taemojitsu said,

    July 27, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Falling thru the cracks. Everything is like that. It might make sense, economically, for AT&T Wireless to rate call centers on the quality of CS calls handled by them, but it might instead just end up being more bureaucratic trouble than it’s “worth”. And so the market goes on…

    The military, especially, is full of tons of stupid-looking ideas and concepts that just might make sense if you take into account the way the military is “used to doing things”. Of course, a lot of them end up being truly outdated and inefficient (instead of just seeming to be), but there’s only so much bureaucratic effort being made towards modernization, right?

    See, for example, <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SINCGARS> the military’s combat radio and its <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Tactical_Radio_System> $37,700/unit replacement. More powerful and versatile than a cell phone, sure, but still..!

  27. Skeetarian said,

    July 28, 2007 at 2:43 am

    My wife went to work for Verizon Wireless almost two years ago. The first year, she was ready to quit just about every day when she got home.

    They’re allowed something like 430 seconds per phone call. Her first boss was black and white on everything…always telling her how she wasn’t getting customers off the phone fast enough, writing too many credits, blah, blah, blah.

    But, strangely…she was also getting the most customer compliments. So, I told my wife, that until they start writing her up over their ‘standards’, to just ignore them and make the customer happy. Sometimes, that means listening to a sobbing wife, calling to cancel her deceased husbands service…or helping an elderly lady figure out that the pound key looks like tic-tac-toe…or asking the mom to put the screaming 15 year old on the phone so she can explain HOW to activate the new phone that’s NOT broken…or explaining to the wife that the incoming numbers she’s disputing as ‘nobody we know’ have been called numerous times by her husband on his cell phone.

    A little common courtesy goes a long way. Just because YOU’VE heard the same question 20 times today…doesn’t mean the guy that just asked it the 21st time really doesn’t know the answer! It’s the first time HE’s asked it!

    Fast forward to the last 6-8 months. Her boss is now working in some non-customer related position in another state and she still doesn’t get anywhere near the 430 second goal. But, she’s now a Senior Rep, that you talk to if you push Cancel Service and she saves a good number of those accounts.

    She consistenly gets perfect 10’s on her calls by their QA, gets 5-8 compliments per week. Most of the calls to her supervisor start with “I can’t believe she called back!”

    This week, one of those calls came from the President of a major league sport after she called him back three days later, as she’d promised to do, to let him know the revised bill had come through and there was still a $17 difference that she had subsequently credited back on his personal cell account. She had no clue who this person was, until after her manager had forwarded the voicemail he had left for him and the call center supervisor…She was just being the best Customer Service Rep she could be.

    I guess my point is, that part of the problem nowadays is not only the customers that expect more than they deserve, but it’s also the companies and/or the csr’s that give the customers far less than they deserve. My wife tells me about calls that escalate to her, after talking to 3 other reps…none of which took the time to listen to the customer to learn that the problem was something that should have been resolved on the first call. But, that would have required ‘extra work’ by the csr, so they just ignored it…as if the customer might not notice, or more likely, someone else would do it the ‘next time’ they called in.

    If we had more customer service reps that remembered the meaning of SERVICE and weren’t so damned lazy to do what they’d said they’d do in the first place, there wouldn’t be so many ‘whiny customers’ clogging up the system…so, with fewer customers calling back that 2nd, 3rd, 4th time, you wouldn’t need to limit the calls to 430 seconds!!!

  28. July 30, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    […] According to some. […]

  29. Aaron said,

    July 30, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Refusing customers service is good policy when you’re basing it, not just on numbers, but on a specific customer’s poor ethics.

    As I said on Raph’s site whenever he hosted that discussion, aside from the obvious moral responsibility we all have to encourage good behavior around us (including in any business environment), demanding certain basic levels of thoughtfulness from customers creates an environment which is more attractive to the majority of customers and improves worker morale.

    Back when I was a manager at a Hollywood Video store, there was a customer who expected me to remove the late-fees on his very first rentals (he handed me the movies, so I could be absolutely certain they were late). I politely told him “no”. For the next half-hour, this guy was yelling at me and fellow co-workers, and ended up calling the district manager to scold him about it and make his obviously-unreasonable demand.

    The other customers didn’t want to stand there and wait for this jerk to accept that he couldn’t “work the system” with me (i.e., “the customer is always right” BS). They didn’t want to bring their kids into a place where they’d have to listen to some guy yelling and cursing. They’d probably come more often if it was more like those old “mom and pop” shops.

    In that particular case, the customer was no longer our customer by his own choice, but removing customers like that creates a more inviting environment for other customers and improves retention of those more amenable customers. This applies equally to forums.

    Outrageous customer behavior wouldn’t be half so common in America if businesses actually held customers to basic standards, like we used to. Of course, because lawsuits are such big business now and every little blemish on someone’s pride is a major offense, it’s probably true that trying to hold customers to ethical behavior these days would result in being sued.

    Refusing customers based on number of complaints alone? Bad. But there are good reasons for refusing service at times.


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