Not long ago, Sprint was a customer satisfaction laggard. The mobile phone service provider’s first-call resolution was 20 percent worse than that of its closest rival. Customers had to call twice as often to resolve issues, and when they did call, the average hold time was nearly 14 times the industry average. Up to 35 percent of callers simply quit waiting and hung up the phone.
Sprint’s internal management practices and the methods used to create, communicate, and enforce performance expectations were at cross-purposes with customer service goals. Employee compensation was not tied to service results, and outsourced call centers were judged on volume, not customer satisfaction.
Sprint was awash in data, but the information was unfocused and unstructured. “We were managing performance via spreadsheets with dozens of metrics,” recalls Deeanne King, vice president of customer care at Sprint. “From the executives down to the agents, we were asking folks to focus on a host of metrics and, in many cases, pull the data themselves.”
Realizing the need to change, Sprint employed the Compass performance management system as part of an ambitious customer service overhaul. Compass led to the creation of one dedicated business team for performance management. It also suggested improvements in internal management practices by making better use of huge amounts of customer data and aligning Sprint’s compensation and incentive plans to specific actionable goals and results for its call center and retail store employees.
Following that process, Sprint replaced its homegrown performance management system with Merced Systems’ Sales and Service Performance Management software.
“Merced had a proven solution, with a large customer base,” King says. “Others had similar tools, but they were not as widely deployed and not to the scale of the Sprint deployment.”
The Merced system has led to higher customer satisfaction, as shown by a 20 percent drop in customer churn, from 2.25 percent in early 2009 to 1.81 percent now. Sprint was able to reduce the staff and the number of call centers, increase first-call resolution by one-third, and cut calls per subscriber by 39 percent. Billing adjustments also have been reduced. The result is a $450 million total decrease in customer care costs.
In the fourth quarter of 2010, Sprint had its largest subscriber increase since 2006, with 1.1 million additions.
“The business results speak for themselves,” King comments. “We have reported 13 consecutive quarters of improved customer satisfaction and first-call resolution.”
Progress also was made in improving performance data (accuracy rose from 60 percent to more than 99 percent), reducing the number of metrics (from 80 to fewer than 20), reformulating goals to be more immediately attainable, and segmenting staff according to performance. The differential between high and low performers has dropped by 42 percent.
In addition to crediting the Merced solution, King lauds the leadership of Bob Johnson, the chief service officer. “The top-down leadership is key, and the software is an enabler,” she says. “The software creates a communication vehicle for performance and generates a structure to drive high-quality coaching to improve agent behavior. We could have pockets of excellence without it, but it would be difficult to scale it to tens of thousands of agents across dozens of call centers. You can have the drive to improve, but you simply will not be able to scale it and have consistency without a tool to provide the structure.”
Credit also goes to the quality of change management. “Anytime you deploy a process focused on performance, there will be push-back,” King says.
To create acceptance of the software, it had to be viewed as faster and easier than a manual approach. The software proved to be all that and more, and now Sprint is looking for other areas where it can apply the solution.
“We are constantly working to improve and build upon what we have in place today,” King says. “Our retail channel already uses the approach and tool as well, but we are looking at other groups that might also benefit from the structure process.”
News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.