Friday, September 3, 2010

Sprint still has a long way to go with customer experience

For some reason, mobile carriers just don't 'get it'. They're not great at providing a good mobile experience with their constantly dropped calls and iffy reception and they're even worse at providing an online experience. Some carriers do better on the mobile side than the online but both can be equally maddening. Take Sprint, for example.

I was a happy T-Mobile customer for over 5 years. I paid my bill on time, upgraded my phone between upgrade cycles to stay current, and spent a bunch of money with the company that I didn't really have to. Then the day came when they messed something up on my account and added an extra $479 to my mobile bill. Thinking they were an awesome company, I called them up for a solution. There was none. After hours of negotiation and being transferred from department to department, I was told I'd have to pay the bill or my service would be disconnected. Thanks for your 5 years of good business, customer.

Needless to say, I paid the bill but I also paid the early termination fee to be let out of my contract with T-Mobile. After 5 years of friendly relations, it only took one big screwup worth under $500 to send a loyal customer packing. Good business, huh?

So I switched to Sprint. They were cheaper, had better coverage, and, since Dan Hesse had taken the reigns as CEO, I'd heard their customer service had gotten much better. Still, I was a bit wary because they always seemed like a struggling company to me. They didn't have the newest phones and interacting with customer service, I was told, would make me feel like I'd just spent some quality time with my local used car dealer. But the price was cheap, coverage was there, and so I went for it.

In the year that I've been with Sprint, I've never had a problem with them. Ever. And the few times I have had to call customer care, I didn't feel dirty afterwards. Life with Sprint was indeed good - especially the incredible coverage! No dropped calls, no 'out of service' notifications. Not a single time in the last year. Life was as perfect with Sprint as I imagine it could be with any mobile provider.

Until today.
All I wanted to do was ask a question on the community forums.
I couldn't remember my password.
God, help us all.

On most sites, recovering a password is simple. Put in the registration email address and they send you either a reset link or a temporary password. Three minutes max and you're ready to go. Oh, if it were only so easy with Sprint.

First, I was told I didn't have a community account and needed to set one up. The lack of an account was confirmed by my being allowed to register an account with my email address. When I was done, I was told to go to my email and confirm the account to activate it. No problem, click on a link and I'm good to go. Everything looked fine until I actually went to post something to the forums.

When I clicked on 'Start new Discussion' I was told that I had an account under another email address and I needed to change my email address on this NEW account to the email address on the OLD account. Umm...ok. Off to the account screen I go. Of course, I couldn't find anywhere that had a different email address so I was left to wonder what happened? I tried to post again, same problem. So maybe I'll change the address associated with the whole account. Maybe that will make it work. That might have been a good idea if the site would actually work. Though I could access the place to manage my account, the site would not save my information. Just totally ignored the button click.

This went on for the better part of an hour until, finally, I called Sprint and someone helped me through fixing it. I'm not sure what they did, if anything to make it work, but it does now and that's what matters. Still, I am left with an incredibly bitter taste in my mouth for the entire experience and know that Sprint could have done much better.

First, they should have alerted me that another account was already registered to my email address and given me the option to recover that account instead of allowing me to create and entirely new one. That would have been much easier than pushing me into an endless loop of 'you gotta do this, now this, no this".

Second, they should test that the site actually works with major browsers. I tried with Chrome and Firefox and the site failed on both. A good web developer at least knows the basics of testing, right? I mean, really, it's not that hard.

Third, they shouldn't have uselessly introduced SMS messages into the cycle just to give me a false sense of security. 'For my security' they sent a eight digit number to my phone that I was required to enter before I could proceed. Of course, this required me to retrieve my phone, wait on the text message (which took 17 minutes to come) and then carefully enter the code. Didn't me knowing the username and password for the account AND validating that I had actual access to the registered email account prove I was probably who I said I was?

Next we come to passwords. When I chose my username, it was obviously some variation of my name. My password was not. The original password I chose was Cx119^332, which means something to me (believe it or not) but no one else. To that, I got a lovely error saying "Your password must contain at least 8 characters and not be the same as your username". Huh?

I went through 5 similarly cryptic passwords receiving the exact same error every time. Finally, I settled on a six digit password that it accepted. So much for input validation.

The best part of this entire thing is that it's not actually over yet. As I write this, I'm waiting on yet another SMS message that will let me 'do more' like pay my bill online and see usage details. We need this SMS, of course, for security since username, password, and validated access to the registered email account is not enough.

This is an example of an EPIC fail. In the end, had I been able to, it would have been easier to simply call customer service and have one of them do it for me. For a company that really wants you to 'do it yourself' they sure as hell make it as hard as possible.

I hope someone at Sprint reads this. I'm not trying to single Sprint out because they are, by far, not the only mobile provider who has problems with their online experience. But for a company that is focused on customer service and is struggling to keep market share, you would think that they'd make it a bit more convenient on customers. You're not AT&T, Sprint. Hell, you're not even T-Mobile.

Your customers deserve better.

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