Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Only as good as the company you keep"

This blogpost will detail our recent Novatel U720 Rollout. We first mentioned the U720 back in April. We knew then that it would have an impact, and have watched for it ever since. Rumors started swirling in September that the device would launch in early October... and then early November -- both dates came and went, and nothing happened.

We later learned that someone goofed up and forgot to get FCC approval on a cable that ships with the device, and that was the reason given for latest delay. Rumors began swirling that the device would launch in early December, shortly after FCC approval.

Near the end of November, while searching distributors for a different product, we stumbled upon a distributor with stock of Novatel U720's we could get our hands on. Since, some customers walked into Sprint stores earlier in the month and walked out with a U720 and Novatel was approved to sell the Novatel Ovation U720 on Sprint's network, we decided the U720 was a go. We did not immediately jump on the opportunity because prior offers have always had some type of catch to them, and we learned the hard way that it wasn't always worth being the first to sell a new product. So, we really took our time and checked with Sprint to ensure that there would be no reason our newfound inventory would not work.

After checking all the roadblocks that had bitten us in the past, feeling like this device was too important, we decided to grab what we could from our distributor, and announced that we had them for sale.

In retrospect, we should have listened to our guts (and our wives) because once again, it didn't work out as well as we wanted.

At first, it was a simple matter that Novatel forgot to submit the ESN's (electronic serial numbers) to Sprint, and so all orders were showing the devices as not being in system.

We got past that hiccup and once the ESN's were valid, our order processor was doing their best to get the orders entered into system as quickly as possible, only to find out that the order entry code used to give consumers their $150 service credit, would not work with our inventory of devices. It appeared that Sprint was only going to approve the service credits (which automatically show up on your first Sprint bill), if the devices came from Sprint stock. (our immediate reaction was... wtf?)

By this time a few days had already passed and under normal circumstances, our customers would have already had their devices. But we weren't that lucky, and our luck wasn't going to get any better, anytime soon.

We decided that the best thing we could think of to get our customers their orders as soon as possible, was to give in to the Big Sprint Machine and let them ship product from their inventory so that the service credits would apply. At the time, we felt like we were being stepped on, but we had to do what was right for our customers.

For the most part, that last step worked. All but a handful of people got their devices by the end of last week. All... but a handful.

The handful who arbitrarily did not get a device shipped from Sprint stock, are some of the most patient customers we have ever had, and truly... We thank them for still being our customers.

For these unfortunate few, Sprint sometimes gave tracking numbers that never had a package picked up, or it was the wrong tracking number, or their order was shipped to the wrong address, or their order was never even assigned a device because we now learn that "due to the Holiday Season, all orders are experiencing 7 to 10 day shipment delays, and we expect this to be the norm for some time to come".

We can't blame folks for having the opinions they hold about big companies like Sprint. Too often, customers are treated like ants, simply because to the Big Company, there are plenty more where you come from, next time they host a picnic.

We just hope that our customers can disassociate our customer support from Sprint customer support. Yes, we realize that they placed their order (and faith) with us, and we appreciate it.

But we aren't Sprint - we're a small outfit and this is our livelihood. Each person working in this company works to do whats right by the customer or they won't be working here long.

Our problem is clear.

You're Only As Good As the Company You Keep

... that company is Sprint, and they made us look bad.

We hope that some of these issues are related to growing pains (e.g. EVDO Rev A announced, $59.99 for anyone announced, First EVDO Rev A Devices including USB announced), and the surge of orders and new customers is just overwhelming Sprint's order system. Hopefully it improves over time, so that they can handle all these new customers they are getting.