Why Nextel Customer Service Is so Bad
Why is Nextel Communications customer service so bad? First of all, they outsource their customer service to a Texas-based company called ACS. In Portland, OR, site of one of their larger centers, they pay people the state minimum wage to start, and currently agents will top out at $10/hr. Many other call centers in the Portland area start people off at $9/hr. or more. So a lot of the people they hire have no experience. It is not uncommon to find people there who have never held a job before.
ACS does not get paid by Sprint Nextel to train people. It's all "non-billable" time. TMobile trains their people for eight weeks (or so I've read elsewhere on the Internet and heard from other agents at the Portland location (yes, I work there, but not for much longer, I hope). Verizon trains their people for five weeks, even at their outsourced call centers, although having been through their customer service training at an outsource center in the Portland area, I question if the training is as good as if Verizon itself were doing it.
What ACS ends up with is a wide range of people answering phones for Nextel. Some can be very good. They're there for the customer and willing to take the time to explain stuff and correct problems, in spite of ACS's insistence on keeping average handle times short (under six minutes and the agent gets a bonus, over seven minutes and the agent gets negative points on the bonus system). But many calls are, by their nature, short, so even helpful agents can average under six minutes without sacrificing good service, even if an occasional call goes well over a half hour or even an hour.
But not all agents are that good. Some simply have no work ethic and practice call avoidance. I know of one person who, when he takes calls, is pretty good, or so I've been told. Problem is, sometimes he just takes off his headset while he's still got his phone set to receive calls and goes wandering off to chat with his friends. I've seen him ignore calls for at least fifteen minutes at a stretch, and it doesn't bother him one bit. It also doesn't seem to bother any of the supervisors much, which is pretty bad. Other agents put customers on hold to answer personal cells phone calls (taking cell phone calls on the floor is a big no-no, although it's a rule that is only occasionally enforced), chat with their buddies who are either on break or ignoring calls, whatever.
When I started working for ACS two years ago, I got trained for two weeks to do the Welcome call. That's where new customers call in and we verify their information, make sure their price plan and any additions were set up correctly, remove a block on outgoing calls (sometimes customers have not been informed of this block and the need to call in), and do a short pitch for calling 411. Welcome agents do not get involved in billing issues. That's for Care agents or Customer Finance. Welcome agents don't do sales, but they do frequently have to unscrew screwed-up accounts because Sprint Nextel (and just plain Nextel before the merger) outsource their telemarketing (where salespeople call customers) and telesales (where customers call in) to foreigners in places like India, the Philippines, and possibly Argentina, although the latter may be Customer Finance.
Whoever came up with the bright idea to outsource sales to foreigners is not living in the real world. As a Welcome agent, I was used to getting several calls a day where customers complained about hardly being able to understand the foreigner, and those calls usually involved accounts that were totally screwed up. I simply can't understand why someone would think that starting a business relationship with a customer is best accomplished by having the customer talk to someone who is barely understandable and often misrepresents what is being offered. Nextel offers plans that have free incoming calls. They also offer what they call the Fair and Flexible plan for individuals and families. The Fair and Flexible plans DO NOT have free incoming calls. I can't tell you how many customers I've talked to who were told that Fair & Flexible plans DO have free incoming calls. Some have told me they questioned that, and the foreign salesperson insisted that incoming calls were free on the Fair & Flexible plan. Lying to the customer does not strike me as being good customer service. Maybe some of these foreign salespeople simply don't care if they misinform American customers. Maybe they were poorly trained. Probably its a little of both.
The ACS call center in Portland is highly dysfunctional, and lately, things got worse. Management decreed all Welcome agents had to also be "trained" in Customer Care. I put trained in quotes because the so-called training was a disgrace - for me, it was four days classroom time, with the second day being a repeat of the first because they decided to add a bunch of people to the class on the second day. The new bunch started three hours later than my group, so we had two instructors, with a lot of unnecessary repetition. Then I spent a day with my headset plugged into another agent's phone, then a week taking calls in an area with people available to answer questions. I quickly found out how grossly inadequate the so-called "training" was. I'm reasonably intelligent, but suddenly I was lost in a sea of stuff I'd never been told about. Most of the problems have been with billing. A good training center would spend easily a week on billing. I got about half a day, and very little of that was hands-on.
So now, even though I really want to help customers, and do my best, I feel incompetent. I do what I can. I ask questions, get help from supervisors either over the phone or in person, and really want to help customers as long as they're reasonable. Some have been quite patient and willing to work with me, and I'm sorry I've taken up so much of their time for what is often a routine call for someone properly trained or someone who's flubbed around enough to learn what to do. It's getting better, but it's not good enough. I hope to be out of ACS very soon.
I will never buy a Sprint or Nextel phone. I know how bad their customer service is, from the inside, and I know why J.D. Powers and Associates ranks them sixth out of six among the major cell phone companies.
As for a decline in Nextel customer service since the merger with Sprint, it might not have much to do with the merger. I do know that ACS has been paying people hired after I was hired less, with raises coming more often but only equalling 2/3 of the former rate over a year's time. I don't know why phone service may be worse, but I suspect it might have a lot to do with increased sales resulting in a greater load on cell towers. Maybe Sprint has mandated cutbacks in maintenance, but I don't know.