Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sprint Empowers "Social Media Ninjas" to Help in Turnaround

Today I'm happy and privileged to host a blog post by Bob Thompson, author of Hooked on Customers.

In 2007, Sprint’s customer satisfaction rating was 61, worst in the wireless telecom industry by a wide margin. Fast forward five years and CEO Dan Hesse had accomplished an amazing turnaround. Sprint’s ACSI score climbed ten points to an industry-leading 71—the biggest improvement of any company in any industry—and was ranked number one in call center satisfaction.

How did Hesse do it? Given the bleak situation, he could have continued to slash costs, hunker down, and hope for a buyer to rescue the company. Instead, taking a customer-centric approach, he directed the organization to fix its customer service problems and innovate to increase value to customers.

No doubt low morale was a factor in poor customer experiences. In the commentary surrounding the "Sprint 1000" debacle (the company fired customers due to excessive support requests), many said that the calls were the result of dealing with Sprint employees who could not take care of a problem, getting transferred around, and even being dropped and having to call back. In short, customers wanted more “one and done” calls.

I’ve written previously that authority, insights, and motivation are key to empowering call center agents to improve first call resolution (FCR) and delight customers. Sprint has invested in an array of call center technologies and software applications to help agents resolve service requests more effectively. However, it’s not clear that any specific solution had a transformative impact. Rather, it was Hesse’s decision to make customer experience a corporate goal, and the use of analytics to focus on the right problems, that made the biggest difference, in my view.

I do think Sprint made innovative use of social media to empower its employees to serve as “ambassadors” for the company. An offshoot of its “Employees Helping Customers” initiative, Social Media Ninjas was launched in 2010 to help improve Sprint’s reputation using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Jennifer Sniderman, Sprint’s group manager of employee communications, said the program was inspired by discussions about “how to leverage outreach to customers as a competitive advantage.” Customers were taking to social media to vent about problems, so why not equip Sprint employees to engage and help? Sniderman said Ninjas were asked to “have an authentic conversation, talk about what you know, be friendly, help when you can, and answer questions.”

All too often, support issues are dumped on the contact center, including problems created in product development, marketing, or elsewhere. Sprint’s Social Media Ninjas program is a brilliant use of social media to unleash the influence of thousands of employees to rebuild its brand. As of December 2012, 2,700 Ninjas were helping to improve Sprint’s reputation using their personal networks to engage with customers. Inviting all employees to lend a hand helping customers also sends a message that delivering a great customer experience is everyone’s responsibility.

By 2013 employee morale had noticeably improved. On Glassdoor, one account executive employed for eight years called his experience a “wild, awesome ride” and gives Sprint management good marks for innovation, cleaning out poor performers, and listening to employees. Hesse has earned a 79 percent approval rating, significantly better than his peers at major wireless carriers.

About Bob
Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of, the world's largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

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