Anyone tempted to shake a finger at Sprint's customer service outsourcing move under the assumption that no one can do that work as well as Sprint has probably never met “Claire,” the company's automated phone greeter. Like a lot of Sprint call-center folk, Claire has made plenty of enemies in her day. A Google search reveals deeps wells of vitriol from bitter Sprint customers who seem to regard her as a female version of HAL, the sociopathic software of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” How much worse could IBM do? Analysts and consultants may argue that when you outsource customer service, you loosen your grip on your brand, and you miss out on opportunities like upselling. Here's the thing: Customers hate upselling. “Do you want fries with that?” probably opened up a pot of gold for McDonald's, but no one wants a sales pitch for DSL when they're trying to correct an overcharge on their bill. The more likely danger for Sprint will be miscues in the handoff between it and IBM or somewhere between, say, Convergys and IBM. Or Teleperformance and IBM. Closing the gaps in those transactions should be the highest priority of everyone involved. In the meantime, Sprint may get some pats on the back for shipping its employees to IBM and not India, but it would probably be most convenient for those employees if Sprint simply transferred them to Verizon, where the rest of their co-workers may end up eventually anyway. Claire can always find work at NASA.
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