Sprint is a company in transition, reshaping its identity to compete in the wireless market against companies many times its size. In 2008, new CEO Dan Hesse said the company's number one goal was to improve the customer experience. The company has taken steps to do so along a number of fronts.
Hesse has appeared in several commercials touting the company's simplified pricing program. Late last year Sprint introduced the Ready Now program, designed to improve the retail store experience. And just last week the company unveiled a new loyalty initiative aimed at rewarding its most valuable customers.
Since launching Ready Now Sprint has seen some gains in customer satisfaction. The program allows customers to book an appointment online for service or sales in any of Sprint's retail stores. "When we began thinking about ways to improve our customer relationships, we wanted to personalize the experience in-store," says Kim Dixon, senior vice president of Sprint's retail and consumer sales. "We wanted to simplify things for customers and make it more convenient for them to customize a device to suit their needs."
Customers making appointments note in the system if they are a current or new customer, and if they want to buy a phone or ask a question, or need service. They can also note the phones and plans they're interested in. For existing customers, this information is added to each individual's account record, so an employee has as much data as possible ready before they arrive. In addition, customers can choose to meet with a specific employee, and where possible the company offers language options, as well.
Customers can also book appointments through the call center or in-store, to avoid having to wait in line. "We've found through our own research that customers are really irked when they have to wait in line for a sales rep," Dixon says. "It helps that our employees can tell people upfront that if they arrive at the store during a busy time they can set up an appointment for the next day and be first in line when they arrive."
Using technology provided by TimeTrade, Sprint rolled out the automated scheduling program in every store by September 2008, well in time for the holiday season. Since scheduling appointments was a huge shift for store employees, every Sprint sales and service representative was trained on how to use the system, and how to handle customers based on the information they provide. Dixon says employees appreciate knowing when they come in how busy the schedule looks, and many plan their lunch and other breaks around when they need to see customers who have requested them.
The company monitors how many appointments are made, and surveys customers who come in through Ready Now on their satisfaction with the system as well as the in-store service. Dixon does not disclose any specific results. She does point to overall customer satisfaction improvements, however.
In the J.D. Power & Associates 2009 Wireless Customer Care Performance study, Sprint still ranked behind T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Alltell, and AT&T in terms of customer satisfaction and experience. But Dixon says the company is closing the gap.
"For the walk-in retail store component of the most recent J.D. Powers & Associates customer satisfaction study, we made more improvement than any of our competitors," Dixon says. "Week over week we're seeing a growth in the use of the tool, and month over month we're seeing customer satisfaction improve. We think those two statistics directly correlate with one another."
Customer experience is Sprint's top priority
The Ready Now program complements the company's new Sprint Premier loyalty program, launched last week. The loyalty program automatically enrolls customers who spend at least $69.99 per month for individuals or $99.99 on a shared plan for three consecutive months, or have been a Sprint wireless customer for at least 10 years. Benefits include early upgrades on handsets, spontaneous rewards such as trips, tickets to shows and sporting events, anniversary ring tones and minutes rewards, and sneak peeks at new products. With these programs, the company hopes to word choice in the market as a company that lives up to its customer experience promises.
"Reality sometimes lags perception when it comes to customer experience," said Bob Johnson, chief service officer at Sprint in a press release. "But the gap between the two is getting closer for Sprint. Customers understand what we're doing. They like what they are seeing now. We have a way to go, but the progress we've made is steady and solid."