A few mentions in the news this weekend in the ways that Sprint addresses a few customer service issues, receiving letters from Sprint and customer service alerts.

Apparently, if you contact customer service too much, Sprint simply cancels your account.

No warnings.

No assumption that Sprint may be in error, or that some issues may take several calls to fix. What I particularly found irksome, the letters were signed "Sincerely, Sprint Nextel Corporation." No one to call, to name associated with your account termination.

In once case, a letter was sent to a Sprint customer "to inform him that his account was being canceled due to excessive roaming charges," according to CNET.

CNET also notes that "carriers including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless all reserve the right to cancel contracts if the majority of their service is used over a roaming network," and that some (such as Verizon) canceled accounts when people used too much data bandwidth on the network.

The Washington Post reports in their article "Customer Service Hangs Up" that "If you want to get out of your cellphone contract, try calling the company a few hundred times."

"Sprint Nextel is disconnecting service to about 1,000 subscribers who call customer service excessively... a tiny fraction of Sprint's 53 million subscribers, and it's the first time the Reston company has used the measure.

"The terminated subscribers called customer service an average of 25 times a month over the past six to 12 months, mostly complaining about billing or technical problems that Sprint was unable to resolve. Some called as many as 300 times a month, Singleton said. Customers did not have to pay a termination fee, and they were given until the end of July to find a new carrier.

"The bottom line is that we were not able to resolve their issues," Singleton said. "We wanted to allow them to find another option that would make them happier."

As ZDnet News reports, customer service calls can cut into the carrier's profits, costing companies $2 to $3 on average per minute for customer support, according to Roger Entner, a senior vice president at IAG Research. Doing the math, that means if you call your carrier on average once amonth for a 10-15 minute call, the carrier's profit for that month may be eaten up in customer service calls. That's about the length of time it took me to call into my carrier last month with a service issue.

OK, so how about a warning and perhaps even an investigation to understand why customers are calling excessively? That would be a good place to start. Basic people and behaviour skills certainly play a part in good customer service, and taking the time to triage the problem may help you solve other similar issues. 

But this seems not to be the case. ZDnet blogs on IP telephony has a link to post on SprintUsers.com, "citing an internal memo said to be for Sprint phone customer service types who are faced with overly frequent (90 or above in last six months) callers to customer service who have been notified of cancellation and are calling to appeal..."

"Employee Actions Include:
1. Do not engage the customer in non-Sprint related conversation - simply confirm the information that the customer was sent
2. Do not attempt to save these customers
3. Do not transfer these customers to Account Services (Retention) to be saved
4. Do not reactivate the cancelled accounts for the customers
5. Do not establish a new account for these customers

"Inform the customer to call the specific toll-free number that was given in the letter and attempt to end the call as quickly as possible. If during normal business hours, cold transfer the customer to the number immediately (877-527-8405)."

...and this post from a worker at Sprint, noting that "retail store employees are instructed to put the hammer down when ticked off customers come in and rant..."

"I’m a Sprint rep at a retail store, it’s bad enough that we get yelled at by customers when customer care screws up now will get yelled at for getting the customers account cancel. When we called up to help fix the customers problem (which the customer attempts to fix by calling customer care before hand and getting transfered many times) we get transfered another 5 times before someone fixes the problem."

Ow.

One thing I've learned at home is that a warning usually helps my kids check their actions. If I tell them that they are going down a path that will lose them a favourite activity, they tend to course correct. (OK, not always.)

Sure, customer service can be abused just as anything, especially services that are perceived as free. 300 times a month? That sounds excessive to me: I don't think that I call any nunmber that many times a month.