How Sprint revived its flagging business

It's sometimes hard to feel sorry for a telco that falls on hard times. Complex price plans, fees that seem unreasonable and network fragility all factor into a less than optimal experience.

It's sometimes hard to feel sorry for a telco that falls on hard times. Complex price plans, fees that seem unreasonable and network fragility all factor into a less than optimal experience. So when I heard about Sprint's use of Merced Systems to help lift it out of the doldrums (I'm not a customer), I wanted to dig in and find out what happened.

According to the executive summary on the printed case study:

Once a champion of customer service, Sprint saw a steady decline in its customer satisfaction ranking during the mid-2000s. By the start of 2008, customer churn was peaking, retail stores were closing, and the company’s stock had lost value.

Sprint needed to act quickly. To combat its slumping market share, the company embarked on an ambitious program to, among other things, revamp its customer service and call center operations. An organization-wide initiative focused on improving customer experience was undertaken, which included a focused performance management review. The goal was to establish more effective metrics and generate actionable information that would help the company focus its service efforts.

Now, less than two years later, Sprint has begun to right the ship. Customer satisfaction is soaring, and Sprint has improved service quality and customer experience delivery. Operating expenses for the Care function are down, and customer churn has declined. Let’s look at how Sprint executed this turnaround.

I wanted to get behind the headlines and spoke with Deeane King, VP customer service operations and Harold Goldberg, CMO Merced Systems. We recorded the conversation which is included in this story. Here are the show notes:

0:00 - We kick off by explaining what happened. According Ms King, the company had essentially taken its eye off the customer care ball as it went through a series of acquisitions. In short, the teams were demoralised, performance was poor and customer satisfaction had plummeted

3:05 - Is it the software that solves the problem or is it a combination of software and management's commitment to change?

4:30 -= What were the management challenges? Agents were being asked to do to much so the company needed to focus on key metrics and apply Merced's performance technology to the problem

6:10 - How did Merced get involved. There was a prior relationship but Merced understands that software alone is not going to solve the problems. The software kicks in at the point where the company recognises the need to standardise on measurement, training and delivery.

7:45 - So back to the landscape. What did it look like? Sprint explains a 'day in the life of a supervisor or agent.' They needed to get supervisors out of the world of spreadsheets and into the world of being coaches.

10:05 - How do you manage change in a situation where things were chaotic? How do you get a clean break from the past? Top management was thoroughly committed to the project and considered feedback provided users a better experience. People were compensated upon performance. Sprint needed to organise data that could be trusted.

14:10 - How do you get consistency when infrastructure and systems are different across many call centers? That is a management issue supported by the software. The key to transformation though is to squeeze the performance bell curve based upon consistent and reliable data across all call centers.

17:00 - How do you manage diversity in call center environments. Merced provided significant consulting support from people who have deep domain expertise and are therefore able to talk the language of the call center. [Note: in my experience this is a frequently overlooked topic that inevitably leads to miscommunication and failure.] Sprint regarded this as a key differentiator.

20:35 - It took a couple of quarters to figure out what needed to be done and after two years, the job is still not done. It seems there is not a practical limit to improvement. The external environment are always putting new pressures on the customer care organisation. Software allows the company to figure out where they want to figure out improvement. Having the right culture again figures into the equation.

24:15 - The transformation has led to Sprint becoming an award winning business.

25:45 - Marrying the business and the technology offers a sense of alignment. It's the communication and misalignment that leads to failure. Tone at the top matters.

My thoughts:

This case study describes many of the problems we see on a daily basis.

  1. Few organisations are willing to change until the pain becomes unbearable. It doesn't have to be that way but is a recurring theme.
  2. It's not enough for management to dictate the need for change but they have to be and remain actively committed to change.
  3. Software alone does not provide the solution but alignment between what management wants and the software's ability to deliver combined with relevant services are what matter at the coal face.
  4. Continuous improvement married to compensation keeps people on track.

Link to podcast


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