on Dec 13, 2007
Our family uses Sprint for our mobile phones. A while back they merged with Nextel. I’m sure they were planning on a merger that combined powers, like the way several transformers can connect to each other and form a massive juggernaut of cybernetic awesome that will obliterate your neighborhood while saving it from evil. Instead, the merger acted more like a transporter malfunction. Where you once had two semi-capable crew members, you now have one guy with four arms, half a brain, and lungs on the outside of his body.
I suppose these cell-phone mergers can continue to make larger and larger companies of ever increasing ineptitude, until all we have is one huge company that only sells broken phones and sends out monthly bills written in Klingon with live scorpions to people who may or may not be customers.
Back in the 80’s, Douglas Adams made the computer game Bureaucracy, the goal of which was to confront a long and complicated series of bureaucratic hurdles resulting from a recent change of address. At first I thought that the Sprint / Nextel webpage was hopelessly defective and dysfunctional, but then I realized that it’s entirely possible that they are simply branching out into the burgeoning videogame market. The site pays wonderful homage to the old Douglas Adams text adventure, and really brings the experience into the 21st century. It’s now an MMO where millions can go and try to interact with the company in humorous ways, like getting them to stop billing you for features your phone doesn’t even support. (If you want to wuss out you can call tech support, but only if you speak Farsi and can conclude your business before the two-minute “random” disconnect timer expires.)
There are countless ways to log in to the website. Use your email. Use one of your several phone numbers. Use your user name. Each one has a different password. Each one has a different way in which it’s supposed to inform you of lost passwords (although I hasten to add that in this case, THEY seem to be the ones who lost it, not me) and a different mechanism for verifying your identity to reset your password. The only unifying attribute of all of these systems is that none of them work. If you do manage to log in with one set of credentials, it will sometimes prompt you to use a different set for no apparent reason, then fail and log you out. It’s like playing Chutes & Ladders, except that all chutes lead back to the very beginning and there’s no way to win.
It’s obvious that these problems are the result of mooshing together a couple of companies. Some bean-counters looked at the numbers and figured out that Sprint customers + Nextel customers = more money, without considering what sort of abominable clusterfarg it was going to be to get two distinct networks to work as one. As I navigate the page it bounces between my. sprint.com and go.nextel.com without warning. I shudder to think of the crude hacks they must have employed in a rush to make the site as semi-functional as it is. I’m glad I don’t work in IT in that place. I’m sure they are working long hours to solve impossible difficulties on a live system while the people who created the problems in the first place phone them up every few minutes to ask them what’s taking so long.
While the company is inept at things like billing, providing support, and managing a mobile phone network, they are the absolute masters at the business of giving phones away for free. The skill at which they are able to do this is awe-inspiring. On Tuesday afternoon my wife picked out her new phone (using the only part of their website that works, the give-me-a-free-phone part) and it arrived the next morning. Twelve hours later. I thought this was a fluke, but it happened again. I upgraded my phone last night just before going to bed, and today it was on the porch before I’d finished my morning coffee. That sort of high-speed shipping isn’t cheap. The shipping itself is probably worth as much as the phone. How do they do that?
I’m really enjoying the irony of a communications company which is more or less unable to communicate with its customers, but is excellent at distributing stuff for free. The way things are going right now, it’s going to take me longer to set the thing up than it did for them to get it to my house.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.