What I Learned from BusinessWeek’s Sprint Nextel Message Boards

For the last two weeks, I’ve been on the Sprint Nextel beat at BW. And the outpouring of angst, fear and loathing to my two stories has been astounding. To date, readers have posted 265 comments on my investigative feature, “Sprint’s Wake-Up Call”–the most comments I’ve ever received for any story I’ve done in eight years at BW. And in the last 36 hours, another 42 comments have popped up on the boards for “Sprint’s World of Pain,” a simple earnings story I wrote about what is probably the worst quarter in the company’s history. A $29.4 billion loss will do that to your rep.

After reading all of these comments, here’s my takeaway:

1.It will take a near miraculous series of events to turn around the company: The reason is that Sprint has mistreated its customers so badly for so long that its reputation is nearly beyond salvaging. The only reason Sprint hasn’t lost more customers is because people are trapped in these long-term contracts. When they expire, customers are outta there. For this reason, I think it may make more sense in the long run for Sprint to be taken over or broken up.

2. Sprint’s customer service problems are just as bad as I wrote, and in some ways they are even worse than I realized. The message boards are rife with comments from current and former employees corroborating many of the claims I made in “Sprint’s Wake-Up Call,” including the emphasis on sales over service, micro-managing of call center employees, and many many stories about contracts being extended without customers’ consent. Here’s one comment that really scared me because it shows that Sprint’s obsessions with sales growth has led to an ethical breakdown.

Kevin SFeb 28, 2008 6:20 PM GMT I’ve already posted a couple of times here, but I feel compelled to add a couple of things from my time as a former rep. Sprint Supervisors almost ALWAYS go by what’s in your account notes, even if they are nowhere near the truth. As an example, let’s say a rep renews your contract, doesn’t tell you but notes in your account “customer agreed to contract extension for 5% discount.” Later you call to dispute said contract extension. If the note says you agreed to it, then as far as Sprint is concerned, you agreed to it, regardless of what actually happened on the call. Fraudulent sales (reps putting things on your account without telling you) are a problem because ALL our incentives are tied to sales, the more sales we make, the better shot we have at the bonuses they dangle in front of us. There are far fewer incentives for providing good customer service. I was also once told by a supervisor to disconnect a call that was running long even though it was nowhere near done.

3. There are a smattering of current employees who get it. They feel horrible about what’s happened to the company and want to help fix the situation. If Sprint has any chance of survival, those employees must be identified, promoted and supported. And they must perform customer service miracles on a regular basis. That’s how you earn trust back. Step by step by step.

Moreover, new CEO Dan Hesse needs to hire a whole team of new leaders who can help execute his marching orders. The company’s culture is so corrupted that it will take new blood to get Sprint back on the right path. And those leaders must be supported as well. There’s just been too much turnover among Sprint’s leadership the last few years. To have any chance of survival, the company dearly needs management stability.

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