Sprint’s Turnaround Strategy: Customer Centricity

This is a cross post from the Bazaarblog. 

Traditionally, companies have focused on these key areas: sales, finance and operations. This is natural because they provide real, solid, measurable numbers: you can quantify cost savings from operations and you can measure sales in very specific ways (by region, by product, by sales rep). These are the metrics that count, right?

 Sales and operations are not the only important measurables. They’re like the engine room of a ship. It’s important to make sure the engine runs smoothly, but how important is this if you are headed in the wrong direction, or toward an iceberg?  I think Peter Drucker summarized perfectly “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”


 Marketing can be the internal champion for a new customer-centric focus. Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, took the stage at the Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York this week to talk about Sprint’s customer-centric approach. Imagine his outlook and options on his first day as CEO: In 2007 the company lost almost $30 billion dollars. In Q1 2008 alone the company lost over a million customers. 

 If Hesse was like most CEOs, he would have spent all his time in the engine room, believing this was the heart of the problem—the heart of any possible positive change. He would have been under enormous pressure to engage in broad cost-cutting and to focus almost exclusively on improving internal efficiencies and operations. And he probably did a fair amount of this type of work. But Dan’s number 1 priority was improving customer experience. He knew that making customers happy is a good strategy for long-term success. He refocused the entire company around three key initiatives: 

  1.  Customer Experience
  2. Build the Brand
  3. Conserve Cash

Every single Sprint resource was realigned around these three objectives.  During his talk, Hesse outlined his “magnificent seven” change-drivers: 

  1. Align compensation and rewards
  2. Knowing the agenda and knowing what the boss checks on
  3. Root-cause analysis/data
  4. Accountability
  5. Project leadership
  6. Simplify
  7. Living the brand

Instead of going on a cost-cutting spree and inflating prices, Dan chose to simplify Sprint’s product offerings, making them easier to understand, less expensive to customers, and ensuring a better overall customer experience.   

Our core problem is cost cutting that led to customer satisfaction problems”

The result? $2 billion in savings just from customer service operations. Simplicity and better customer experiences result in fewer, shorter calls to customer service. Sprint was recognized by Forrester by having the highest improvement in customer experience across all industries by earning a 15-point jump. They were recognized as #1 in customer satisfaction for mobile, and J.D. Power recognized Sprint with a 17-point improvement.

The effect on earnings? In Q1 2010 the company reported their first profit (EBITDA) in a long time, the best improvement in net post-paid customers in five years and the first sequential increase in net revenues in three years. Sprint is not at the finish line, but is clearly getting there. 

Hesse understands the value of satisfied customers and the power of word of mouth: 

In terms of how much will it influence customer purchase behavior, a TV ad would probably be a 1. A really good TV ad is probably a 2. Someone you know telling you about a product they like is a 9 or 10.”