Sprint breaks up with high-maintenance customers

Wireless carrier sends Dear John letters to customers who it says call the customer support line too often.

The squeaky wheel doesn't always get the grease.

At least not if the squeaky wheel is a Sprint Nextel customer. On June 29, 2007, Sprint sent letters notifying some customers that their service would be canceled by the end of July due to excessive calls to customer service.

"Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information," the letter reads. "While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs."

"Therefore after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement effective July 30, 2007."

Subscribers who have gotten letters from Sprint terminating their service won't have to pay the early termination fee. Their account balances will also be set to zero. But subscribers will have to sign up with a new wireless provider by July 30 if they want to keep their phone numbers. Otherwise, the numbers won't be available after the Sprint service ends, the letter states.

(You can take a look at one of these letters posted within this discussion stream on a Sprint users' forum.) And click here to see an image of one of the letters.

Sprint's new tagline
The company's new tagline: 'Sprint Ahead.' Sprint Nextel

A Sprint spokeswoman acknowledged that a group of letters had been sent out on June 29. She said that only a "small minority" of customers were impacted.

"We have to be able to quickly and efficiently serve customers," said Roni Singleton, a Sprint spokeswoman. "And when we are unable to consistently solve our customers' problems it results in a lot of frustration and longer waits for other customers. So after looking through our records, we were able to determine that there were customers who we could couldn't meet their current needs."

Singleton said it was normal business practice for Sprint to audit customer service interactions. She also said the company has always reserved the right in its terms of use to terminate the contract for whatever reason.

Posting on the Sprint users' message board, one customer who received one of these letters said the calls she made to Sprint were for errors in the company's billing. She also questioned how the company counted the number of calls.

"I absolutely didn't call as much as they say I did, but I did always have the hang up/transfer scenario--even today calling in I was hung up on twice and transferred at least five times," she said in one of her posts. "I mean I DREAD calling in and sitting on hold, why on earth would I do it unless I had to!"

Clearly, Sprint is trying to shed customers who seem to eat up too many resources. But it seems crazy that a company that's already having a hard time keeping subscribers would be willing terminate contracts.

For years, Sprint has had a reputation for poor customer service and poor network coverage, and as a result, the company is suffering. For the first quarter of 2007, it reported a loss of 220,000 post-paid monthly subscribers--customers who pay monthly. This was the third quarter in a row the company had a substantial loss of these types of customers. The company has consistently had one of the worst churn rates in the wireless industry. At the end of the first quarter of 2007, Sprint reported a churn rate of 2.7 percent.

This issue has gotten me wondering about wireless contracts in general. If you are a Sprint customer who recently received one of these letters, or you've received a similar letter from another carrier, please write me at maggie.reardon@cnet.com.

 

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