Softbank Acquisition Of Sprint Will Shake Up Customer Experience In The Wireless Industry

Softbank, which owns Japan's third-largest mobile carrier, just announced that it will buy a 70% stake in Sprint Nextel. What exactly will that mean for wireless customers?

First, a little background . . .

In our new book, Outside In, my co-author Kerry Bodine and I describe the customer experience turnaround that CEO Dan Hesse engineered at Sprint. By relentlessly identifying the top problems that customers called to complain about and then systematically eliminating those problems, he took the company from having the lowest customer satisfaction rating of any major US carrier to having the highest customer satisfaction rating. Fewer unhappy customers meant fewer calls to Sprint's contact centers. As a result, Hesse recently reported that Sprint saves $1.7 billion a year from averted call center contacts.

Hesse’s current challenges have centered around shareholder displeasure with the cost of licensing the iPhone and the cost of building out Sprint’s high-speed network capabilities. As I said in a previous blog post, that lack of shareholder support seems strange to me. Isn't it obvious that it's critical to offer customers the smartphone they want and a fast network with a lot of capacity to support that phone — especially in a world where they have so many choices? It should be.

In contrast to current Sprint investors, Softbank President Masayoshi Son understands that smartphones and the networks that fuel them are essential: Not only is Softbank already building a high-speed network to help it compete in the smartphone war in Japan, but also Son said that the iPhone 5 was a trigger for the Sprint deal.

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Why Some Companies Succeed — For Now — Despite Their Poor Customer Experience

Last week I got a question via email from one of Forrester’s clients, who asked:

“How do you explain the success of companies that consistently provide a poor experience but perform well financially?”

I wish more people asked this question because it shows that they’re thinking about customer experience in the right context: as a path to profits. Here’s my answer: Creating a superior customer experience is the most important thing that companies need to do. But it will never be the only important thing they need to do.

My co-author and I describe the relationship between customer experience and other factors that lead to business success in Chapter 13 of our new book, Outside In:

“Is customer experience a silver bullet that will kill off all your company's problems and make your stock price soar? No. If there is such a bullet, we haven't seen it. The fact is, regardless of your customer experience, you can still get clobbered by a big, strategic threat like a new market entrant (Netflix if you're Blockbuster) or a substitute product (digital photography if you're Polaroid). That's especially true if the new market entrant or the provider of the substitute product offers an amazing customer experience (Amazon.com if you're Borders or Barnes & Noble).”

When you have a virtual monopoly, you can get away with providing a poor customer experience right up until you can’t.

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