Sprint Wireless in the US has just written to a over 1000 of its customers effectively telling them that their custom is no longer wanted. These people call the customer helpline with greater frequency, are more demanding and harder to please. They have been told to make alternative arrangements and that their wireless service is being terminated.
"Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information," the letter reads. "While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs."
"Therefore after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement effective July 30, 2007."
This is a landmark decision in customer service. It takes away the idea of the customer “always being right” and replaces it with a cost benefit matrix of service provision. Annoying customers are not worth effort even though ironically the company motto is “Where our customers come first”.
The most dissatisfied people do take up a disproportionate amount of time. I can see the attraction of blowing off complainants rather than resolving complaints. It is quick and easy and immediately puts up your consumer satisfaction ratings.
Sprint has had a reputation for poor customer service and poor network coverage. For the first quarter of 2007, it reported a loss of 220,000 monthly subscribers. This was the third quarter in a row the company had a substantial loss of these types of customers. Sprint argues that they routinely “audit” customer complaints and what they are doing is not unusual. It is hard to see how the policy improves public perceptions of customer service.
It does make me wonder how this policy could be applied in other areas. Expel the worst behaving 10 per cent of kids in a school and tell their parents to make alternative arrangements. Extradite the most argumentative and awkward citizens. Fire the awkward members of staff. Take the most difficult members of a church into the car park and explain politely but firmly that they should go away and never come back.
I guess many ministers would have a handful of people that consume a disproportionate amount of time and emotional energy. Most of us have people in our lives who drain, complain and complicate our existence. Some of us have people who have wronged us in the past or continue to do so in the present.
In Matthew 18 Peter asks Jesus how often he has to forgive his brother before he takes the Sprint solution. “How many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? I do not know how irritating Andrew Peter’s brother was but he offers what is culturally a generous suggestion of 7. There was a cultural three strikes and your out kind of a rule so Peter is doubling it and adding 1 to be on the safe side. Jesus replies 70 times 7; by which he does not mean 490 strikes and you are out but rather to keep forgiving time without end.
Jesus illustrates the extravagant nature of this with a parable about a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents. 10,000 talents was an unimaginable large sum of money, it is the largest unit of denomination (1 talent was 6000 drachma) combined with the biggest number that could be used. It is like us saying a billion or a zillion dollars, more than could be paid in many lifetimes.
Jesus message is that those who have been forgiven much must forgive plenty.
Our policy on forgiveness is born in the context of the table rather than the desk.
This is what service looks like: giving up rights and taking on responsibilities, administering grace. Resolving of conflict, exercising forgiveness, listening, adapting and changing together are all opportunities for learning and growth.
How we treat the marginalised, the dissatisfied, the difficult and the demanding says more about the reality of faith than how we relate to the happy and the comfortable.
So if you are thinking about complaining about any of this don’t bother. I have a little black list of people that I used to be glad to be in relationship with and it’s getting longer all the time! But if it's me that is causing the problem i'd be grateful if you could cut me a bit of slack.