Disconnected: Sprint Boots Customers for Complaining

1,000 habitual complainers who flood customer service lines were disconnected.

ByLEE FERRAN

July 10, 2007 — -- You went everywhere together -- to the movies, fancy dinners or just to a night on the couch for a movie. And like all relationships, there were the hard times to get through. But then one day, all of the sudden, a letter comes:

"While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability … the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement…"

It's over. You've been dumped by your wireless provider.

That's the message Sprint Nextel Corp. sent in a letter to more than 1,000 customers in a bid to weed out habitual complainers who clog up customer service lines.

Consumer advocacy groups are calling it a case of David versus Goliath, while others say it's a smart move to wipe out customers who cost the carrier more than they're worth.

Sprint Nextel -- the nation's third-largest cell phone provider -- has decided to literally hang up on the 1,000 customers it deemed habitual complainers by canceling their accounts.

"Really, it was just because we knew that, after reviewing Sprint customer accounts, there were a small number that had been calling us over a period of six to 12 months, sometimes 300 times a month," Sprint spokeswoman Roni Singleton told ABCNEWS.com.

"In this case we're terminating the relationship with customers that had problems that we continually tried to resolve," Singleton said.

The letter sent out to those customers also states that each customer's early termination fee was waived. Any balance on the account was set to zero, and each customer was given a month to find a new carrier before service will be shut off.

Michael Teruel was one of the Sprint customers who received one of the "Dear John" letters.

"Customer service is there in the first place to help customers with issues," Teruel said. "If we can't call customer service, what do we do?"

Another recipient, a woman who goes by the pseudonym "MissDiva" in a Sprint users' forum, claims in the forum that her service was canceled because Sprint repeatedly failed to fix a billing error that reoccurred every month for six months and that any excessive calling was due to an extraordinary amount of transfers or necessary call-backs.

"I sometimes have had to speak to five people over one error," she wrote in the forum, "but I didn't think that being hung up on/calling back or being transferred six times within one call equals 'me calling too many times.' Unreal!"

According to Singleton, the decision was made with Sprint's other 53 million customers in mind -- the ones who make less than one call a month to customer service versus the 40 to 50 made by the customers who were dumped.

"We would rather be in a position to assist our customers than operate in a condition that is unsatisfactory for both the customers and the company," Singleton told ABCNEWS.com. "And at times we are going to take actions to tighten our operations."

While many may question the logic behind dumping customers when competitors are more than eager to snatch them up, some analysts say that excessive time spent dealing with demanding customers actually costs companies more than simply getting rid of the whiners.

Chris Murray, senior counsel for the Consumers Union, said: "I think what Sprint is saying that there are certain customers who are just too expensive for us to serve and we don't want them."

"I hope this isn't the death knell for Sprint," Murray added. "I'm afraid it might be."

And if any of those dumped by Sprint had any questions, the company advised them, naturally, to place a call to customer service.

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