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Sprint Takes User-Friendly Turn

In a bid to stem customer defections, Sprint has trained retail store employees to personalize phones and set up features.

Sprint Nextel

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launched its new "Ready Now" program Tuesday, taking aim at customer-service issues that have plagued the troubled wireless provider and cost it thousands of users.

Under the new plan, Sprint retail store employees have been trained to personalize phones, set up features and demonstrate to customers how smartphones work in all of the company's 1,219 shops. Customers have a choice of sitting down individually with a Sprint retail associate while in the store or they can make an appointment for a later time.

Sprint said that a survey conducted by

Opinion Research

found that roughly 20% of smartphone buyers returned their purchase to the retailer last holiday season. The primary reason for the return was a lack of understanding on how to set up the product.

"Everyone seems to think that customers should know how to use their wireless phones or that they should figure them out on their own," said John Garcia, president of Sprint's wireless division. "New smartphones and PDAs are as complex as they are popular, and most wireless customers use only a fraction of their features."

The "Ready Now" program is a step in correcting the poor customer service that has been the source of Sprint's damaged reputation, especially when compared with rivals


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Dan Hesse, Sprint's CEO, said months ago that Sprint is "taking the customer defection issue very seriously, and we're addressing it. Because we have not provided the right experience, customers are leaving us."

Even with the introduction of Samsung's Instinct touch-screen handset, which is exclusive to the Sprint network and is priced competitively at $129.99 in order to fend off


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iPhone, the company has continued to face numerous challenges. Sprint has seen its total count of wireless subscribers dwindle to 51.9 million from nearly 54 million at the end of 2007. Sprint's churn rate has remained above 2% while its rivals have seen churn rates much closer to 1%.

To make matters worse, Sprint Nextel said that it expects to report higher post-paid subscriber losses in the current quarter due to a seasonal uptick in churn when compared with the second quarter.

"This is so important, we closed our stores for a full day to train associates on Ready Now," said Kim Dixon, senior vice president of retail for Sprint. "Everyone's trained -- not just a few people. Every aspect of this program, from certifying our associates to helping our customers understand which phone is best for them, is about providing quality service."

Sprint shares were lately down 10 cents, or 1.3%, to $7.84 and are now lower by 40% for the year. Meanwhile, Verizon was higher by 1.9%, and AT&T was up 1.2%.