How Sprint recovered from this keyboard catastrophe

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Bethany Tully likes to feel the sensation of pushing a button on her phone. But what happens when the button doesn’t push back?

A long-time Sprint customer, Tully’s third Android model in a row with mechanical keys died an unceremonious death. No one at the local Sprint store would help her.

Fed up, she went to our forum –- and from there, the corporate office via Twitter.

Sprint finally had its chance, and made it up to her big time by not only offering one of its best and newest phones at their expense, but even teaching her how to use it.

I admit, I’m also hooked on a mechanical keyboard, also called a QWERTY keyboard. (I’m in a twelve-step program for treatment.) While I can use touch screens, my meaty fingers find a tactile satisfaction and precision in pressing down an actual key.

But it is so…well, so Blackberry (gasp). It turns out Tully and I are not alone.

Not your parents’ telephone

Flip phones were once designed just for –- wait for it! –- making phone calls. But today’s smartphones are fully-functional miniature computers. The digital gorilla in the room is that customer satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, can depend on the learning curve and human guidance, rather than if the product works.

Tully went through three QWERTY phones in a row at her expense before any contract renewal benefits could provide a replacement. She was not impressed by the impractical and “hard-sell” phone insurance which can reveal a net long-term cost more than the phone.

“I have been with Sprint for nearly 20 years,” Tully explains. “In 2013/2014 I ordered three phones. They are older phones, but I was addicted to the keyboard. After the first one went bunk, the rep talked me into buying the replacement insurance when I purchased the second one.

“After the second one went bad, it turned out the insurance was bogus because the cost of the phone was cheaper than the deductible,” she continues. “I bought the third one because they assured me the phones should not be doing this. When the third one started showing sluggish signs I had seen in the other two, customer service offered me no solution.”

Navigating the confusing warranty and usage plans by the carrier can be a topic unto itself. Sprint’s basic return and exchange policy leaves what happens after 14 days unclear. Enter its Total Equipment Protection Plan to fill the gap. However, it started at a minimum of $9.00 a month with a $50 or more non-refundable deductible –- and with two tiers of coverage depending on how much you spend.

What if you don’t want the additional phone insurance? The nebulous terms then indicate exchange costs anywhere from a $75 repair fee to full phone cost. Also buried here is that even with the protection plan, a third phone exchange within 12 months incurs a $25 fee on top of the deductible. Add to that Sprint’s guidance on the phone manufacturer’s own warranty services with no explanation of when that might apply relative to Sprint’s warrranty.

Anyone following along? My kingdom for a Sprint human who can interpret.

Tully went on, “I went into the store and spoke with a manager. Again, they said I was out of luck. I called customer service and asked to speak with upper management. They told me I was out of luck.”

Tully landed on our forum, which notes that Sprint is responsive to Twitter inquiries. So now she had to dive into that pool and send them her very first tweet. Not everyone is comfortable with using social media to communicate, but for better or worse, tweeting is here to stay.

A light at the end of the tunnel

With nothing but bad news so far, Sprint management saw an opportunity to make this a good news story and make it up to her in a big way, and took it from there. The rep actually helped her learn how to work the tweet process in real time to a quicker resolution before even addressing her phone problem.

“I went to look at Chris’s list of executive contacts when I noted that Sprint normally responds quickly to queries posted via its Sprintcare Twitter account,” she said. “Having never tweeted before, I was apprehensive. I got an immediate response from a really nice representative who walked me through the tweeting process.”

Along the way, she not only got one of the best new phones without asking, but also the immediate personalized guidance desperately missing for so long.

“Then they called me on the phone and I explained the whole story,” says Tully. “Thirty minutes later the rep called me back and offered me not just another phone, but one of their newer phones, free of charge and overnighted. I was shocked!”

Needing to jump into the touch keyboard pool (as I should), as well as getting with the social media program, is only part of the outcome.

“Of course, I had to give up the keyboard, but at this point I felt it was time,” she confessed.

While this outcome should have taken less time, one factor of this happy ending is an actual human at Sprint, able to make decisions, cared enough to patiently reverse course and reinstate the long-absent personal touch.

“That was it,” Tully concluded. “The rep didn’t ask for anything else. I got a tracking email later, and later she even called twice to make sure it was working. Couldn’t have been easier.”

Sometimes all you have to do is ask — the right way.

This article originally appeared Aug. 1, 2015.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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  • jim6555

    Wow, twenty years with Sprint. I didn’t think that anyone could put up with their combination of poor signal coverage and lousy customer service for that long. This woman should be given a new free phone anytime she asks for one.

    By the way, I tried Sprint about five years ago. I live near a highway which is a major commuter route. Because of major cell usage on the highway during the afternoon rush hours, it was almost impossible to make or receive calls during those times. After three days of experiencing this problem, the phone was returned to the Sprint store and my contract was cancelled. I went back to T-Mobile and have experienced no rush hour problems.

  • Rebecca

    To be fair, this sounds like more of a manufacturer issue than a Sprint issue. I’m sure the keyboards were wearing out. I’m glad Sprint replaced it, but they don’t actually make the phones.

    I have found that getting a screen protector is pretty much mandatory for me. The $20 it costs to get a quality one on top of my screen has paid dividends. When I would have cracked my screen, and rendered my phone unusable, the protector cracked instead. Well worth it, and anyone clumsy like me should definitely get one on their screen. Most places will put in on for you, and if you crack it, they replace it at a discount.