How to Fail Miserably at Integrating Social Media

This is one of those stories that just make you shake your head. A new prospective Sprint/Nextel customer tries to sign up for a  two-year mobile contract. She’s told she can’t sign-up until she resolves a previous contract balance, even though she’s never had an account with Sprint before. The balance? Four cents. That’s right. Four. Cents.

It gets better.

Sprint tells her that she can’t pay the balance right then and there by phone, and she can’t add it to the balance of her new account, she has to drive to a Sprint store and pay it in person. The customer flips Sprint the bird and hangs up.

And then she blogs it.

Now, Sprint has a story burning a wildfire through the blogosphere highlighting bureaucratic incompetence. The company spends hundreds of millions on advertising, and now their bureaucratic bungling results in a free windfall of earned media for their competitors. I’d love to see an economist calculate the ultimate cost of that $.04 decision.

Update: I was contacted by a Sprint representative within 24 hours of writing this post, and given information that has been posted by the same representative in the comments below. He sought to inform me about Sprint’s side of the story, but did not ask me to remove the post. Later, in the comments below, after more information about the story came to light, he suggested I might want to change the title of the post. But honestly, I don’t think that’s the best course of action to take. I think Sprint has demonstrated that, at least on the social media side, they’ve done a very good job of tackling this issue head on, and I think it’s the whole story, in context, that marketers should get, and not just the outcome. We can argue about what Sprint might have done differently to avoid this problem in the first place, but once the ball was in play, I think Sprint’s marketing executed well, and I think the post should remain as a case study.

7 thoughts on “How to Fail Miserably at Integrating Social Media

  1. John Taylor

    Hi Chris —

    As we discussed this morning, on behalf of Sprint, I reached out to the NASCAR blogger, “Hotfoot Lori”, within hours of her original post.

    She is in contact with us and I hope we can resolve this to her satisfaction by early next week. Privacy laws and Sprint’s own privacy regulations, which are in place to protect our customers, prevent me from sharing more details.

    As I indicated to you, her experience is not what we want for current or future customers and certainly not for NASCAR fans — we are very proud of our NASCAR sponsorship.

    We are working very hard to improve the experience our customers have at Sprint. Our internal metrics are showing that we are doing a better job of resolving complaints. Customer satisfaction is rising, but we recognize we still have work to do.

    I encourage your readers — whether they are customers of Sprint or not — to visit to learn more about what we are doing to improve. It’s also the best place to get the first news from Sprint about new phones and wireless applications coming to market.


    John Taylor
    Public Affairs
    Sprint Nextel Corp.

  2. John Taylor

    Hi Chris —

    I wanted to update you and your readers to the results of our investigation into this customer’s complaints with Sprint Nextel.

    The link below is to a blog post on the Kansas City Star website earlier today (Jul 16, 2008.) I hope your readers find it useful.

    I would contend that the title of your original post criticizing Sprint deserves some editing.

    Within hours of the complaint being posted on the website last Friday, I personally apologized to the customer and offered to help.

    On Saturday morning I contacted you to discuss how Sprint was responding.

    We conducted our investigation over the weekend and concluded it on Tuesday afternoon.

    On Tuesday evening I updated Sprint customers and employees on our site, I also spoke to the Kansas City Star on Tuesday. There update is below.

    Did Sprint handle this situation perfectly? No, we made a mistake in our initial contact with this customer. But we quickly acknowledged our mistake, we investigated the customer’s claim and and communicated the results of the investigation with the customer and we updated other interested parties to the extent we could given our company’s privacy policies and Federal privacy laws. (These policies are in place to protect consumers like you and me.)

    But given all of our efforts, I hope you will see fit to update your readers.


    John Taylor / /
    Sprint Nextel Corp. /

    Follow me on Twitter @jbtaylor

    Hotfoot Lori – Sprint strikes back

    When is 4 cents not really 4 cents?

    When it’s an accounting placekeeper.

    (cue laughs)

    Okay, so as one-liners go, that’s about as funny as the federal deficit.

    But it does provide something of a clue about the strange case of Hotfoot Lori.

    To bring you up to speed, Hotfoot Lori is a “community blogger” who writes on the Sporting News and Fox Sports Web sites. Last week, she wrote a self-described rant about Sprint headlined “Sprint/Nextel … I Hope You Go Bankrupt!” Google News picked up her blog item.

    Last Friday, we recounted that rant. We noted that Hotfoot said she was considering signing up for Sprint service, but grew angry after being told by a customer service rep that the order couldn’t be processed until she paid a back balance of 4 cents.

    Hotfoot said she was told she had to visit a store to pay the balance, and couldn’t add it to her new account. She said she didn’t want to waste the gas driving to a store. The bottom line, Hotfoot said she signed another contract with her old wireless company.

    Hotfoot’s account was met with skepticism by some Sprint Connection readers, anger at Sprint by others.

    Not surprisingly, Sprint reached out to Hotfoot quickly. Within hours, Sprint PR guy John Taylor wrote a comment on her blog offering to help.

    In an e-mail to The Star, Hotfoot said a Sprint representative from corporate backed up her story after she exchanged e-mails with Taylor.

    “I have been contacted by a lady from the Sprint executive office,” Hotfoot said. “She apologized, took some information from me, the order information and with whom I spoke last week.

    “She looked up my information and found that there is an old account with a four cent balance. She also stated that this should have never happened to me.”

    Hotfoot also told her story in her own words in a comment on Sprint connection.

    Now, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s (at least part) of the rest of the story.

    Again not surprisingly, the Hotfoot conundrum drew something of an investigation within Sprint. Apparently, Hotfoot owes more than 4 cents.

    “Ms. Norton was not turned away because she owed 4 cents,” Taylor said of Hotfoot.

    Taylor said the 4 cents was only a representative figure for an old balance still due, one larger than 4 cents. He described it as a placekeeper left there for accounting reasons.

    Here’s the approved by lawyers version.

    “As our company has grown over the years through acquisitions and mergers, we’ve converted account records into new billing systems on several occasions. Occasionally, an account will appear in our current billing system with an extremely small balance that serves as a ‘placeholder’ figure,” Taylor said in an e-mail.

    “This placeholder figure is supported by additional information and systems, which reflect a previous past due account balance with the company and whether the account is in collections or has been written off as bad debt. It’s important to note that this situation only applies to a handful of accounts with Sprint or other wireless carriers that we have acquired over the years,” Taylor said.

    “As with any other company, it’s Sprint’s policy that former customers with outstanding balances would need to settle those obligations before we could establish a new line of service.”

    Again, we’re not sure what to make of all this. Your thoughts?

  3. John Taylor

    Hi Chris —

    This afternoon, Hotfoot Lori pulled her blog entry criticizing our company from the Sporting News website.

    Thought your readers should know.

    John Taylor

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