Sprint to Launch In-Store Training for Customers

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The cell phone industry gets low marks for customer service from just about everybody, but there is a whiff of change in the air.

Sprint Nextel Corp. Tuesday announced the new Ready Now program to provide formalized training for new and existing customers at its retail stores.

Customers will be able to learn about functions, applications and ways to set up a variety of services, said David Owens, director of consumer acquisitions at Sprint. The program is expected to start soon, although no date was given.

Topics could range from setting up voice mail to enabling a device to run a National Football League application, Owens said. A customer can arrange for the service immediately after purchasing a device or can set up an appointment through a Web-based scheduler.

While Sprint competitors Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. have in-store training, Owens said the Ready Now program will be more formal and will use specially trained staff. "We'll have somebody sit down and take you through what you want to learn and allow you to personalize it," he said.

Owens said Sprint's market research shows that customers don't take advantage of all the functions cellular devices feature. Even technically inclined people could use the service to get answers to more sophisticated questions. "Whether it's a newbie or somebody who wants to go deep, we have added staff to support it, with new tools and training of the staff," he said.

Until Sprint's program gets off the ground, it won't be possible to say how different it is from those of competitors, analysts noted. Apple Inc. has been part of the reason for a focus on customer service, having provided help to in-store customers for a variety of devices, including the iPhone. Sprint has also taken criticism for needing better service to improve customer retention.

Customer training has been offered for years through the sales process, but Gartner Inc. analyst Phillip Redman said that if Sprint is really making a greater investment in training and customer service not directly related to sales, "then that is important." Still, he said it remains to be seen if Sprint and other carriers are moving away from sales and into service.

Owens said Sprint tested the program in two markets -- St. Louis and Pittsburgh -- and "saw incredible customer satisfaction."

This story, "Sprint to Launch In-Store Training for Customers" was originally published by Computerworld.

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