In the spirit of freewheeling online wireless forums such as HowardForums and SprintUsers.com, Sprint Nextel Corp. has started its own virtual community for wireless fans, foes and aficionados.
Users do not have to be Sprint Nextel customers to participate, nor are the topics limited to that carrier-although many of the users so far seem to be Sprint Nextel subscribers.
The introduction to the site, at buzzaboutwireless.com, comes off with two qualities that visitors to the site seem to approve of: frankness and humility. Tristan Kime, the site’s administrator, wrote in his introductory post that during his three years with Sprint Nextel he has heard many stories about customer experiences with the carrier.
“Not all the stories are good,” he acknowledged. “Here are some of the weaknesses I have heard from you: we don’t listen. We have lost the human side. We haven’t really helped you.
“To prove we are listening we have taken on launching this community to open an honest dialogue about wireless technology and service. . This is a change for us. A fundamental change in culture and it may take us some time to adjust. We will listen, we will engage in dialogue. We may not always agree, but we WILL be friendly. We will help. There are humans here at Sprint.”
The approach is novel as few other major wireless carriers or related companies operate an open forum online. Cingular Wireless operates a forum for users, and Danger Inc., the manufacturer of the popular Sidekick handset, runs a set of forums for users of its device.
“You don’t have to love us, or even like us,” wrote Kime. “The point is to have open, honest, conditional and respectful conversations. I understand, as do many of the people here at Sprint, that not all these conversations will be easy. That is OK. That is how we will get better together.”
Kime did say that Sprint Nextel reserves “the right to remove content, but only content we deem egregious. This community will follow guidelines similar to any credible forum or community.” He also mentioned that although the main point of the site is not to sell products, various products and services will make appearances. The site does have banner ads and a Sprint Nextel logo at the top of each page, but also features both company and user-generated content such as cellphone pictures submitted by users, their comments and their advice to other users.
“What I found from going through and looking is that customers are really finding this as a valuable tool to really get their questions answered,” said Sprint Nextel spokeswoman Roni Singleton. She cited the example of one post from a customer who was trying to find out how to block spam text messages from their Sprint Nextel phone, whose question was answered by a Sprint Nextel employee.
“One of the main components of the discussion forums is the customer support component that users are going to get from Sprint Nextel employees and from other people who are members of the community as well,” Singleton said. However, she emphasized that the site is not a replacement for other customer care avenues, but a supplement to them.
“It’s really part of an overall commitment to customer experience. We really want it to provide an environment that provides open dialogue for people to exchange ideas, exchange feedback and really just be a way for Sprint Nextel to actually interact with our customers,” she added.
Feedback, both positive and negative, already is filling up the forums. Customers are providing detailed reviews of handsets, mobile broadband cards and offerings such as the Telenav turn-by-turn directions service. Customer service predictably comes in for its share of bashing, but Kime and other Sprint Nextel employees, as well as savvy users, are stepping in to offer advice and help to curb frustrations.
Comments about the site itself have been mostly positive.
“The site is definitely a step in the right direction to bring its customer community together, start conversations etc.,” posted one user.
“This looks like a very good start,” wrote another user. “Not limiting discussions to things that are Sprint is also a very good idea as it will make the discussions very open.”
Other customers are still wary.
“Well I must say that IF Sprint is really starting this site with the intention of getting the feedback needed to improve the experience of their customers, I am very impressed,” wrote one poster. “Unfortunatly [sic] you will probably not like me very much as I have had an unbelievable number of BAD experiences with Sprint CSRs and the company in general. However I will not let myself be the first to start ranting, I’ll let someone else be that person. So for now good luck with this. I’ll be looking forward to feeling the improvements.”