Technology

Sprint to hire 5,000 as it hand-delivers new phones nationwide

Sprint has been testing a concierge phone delivery and setup service in Kansas City with this bright yellow fleet.
Sprint has been testing a concierge phone delivery and setup service in Kansas City with this bright yellow fleet. Sprint Corp.

Sprint Corp. is launching a nationwide service to hand-deliver new phones to customers in their homes.

The Direct 2 You service, which first rolled out in a Kansas City pilot, will lead to the hiring of about 5,000 mostly full-time employees as it spreads nationwide.

Direct 2 You is the brainchild of chief executive Marcelo Claure, who took charge of the Overland Park-based wireless carrier last August and has stepped up the company’s efforts to attract new customers with promotional pricing.

With the free concierge delivery service, drivers in a fleet of bright yellow Direct 2 You labeled cars will meet customers in their homes and workplaces, or a local coffee shop if they prefer. They will deliver, set up and demonstrate the customer’s new phone as well as transfer contacts, photos, apps and other data from the customer’s previous phone.

The visit also includes a signal check to learn, for example, whether the customer is getting a strong enough signal in the basement.

“We’re also giving out free signal boosters to make sure you’re having a great experience,” said Rod Millar, a Sprint vice president heading up the service.

The service starts out as an offer to customers who are eligible for a phone upgrade, though it will expand to include new customers. As an upgrade feature, it adds to Sprint’s efforts to hang on to customers, something the company has struggled to do in recent years.

“It’s about creating customer delight,” Millar said. “And delighted customers become loyal customers.”

All of these offers come in the wake of rapid subscriber growth at rival T-Mobile US Inc. It may have surpassed Sprint in total subscribers to become the nation’s No. 3 wireless carrier. The companies will update their customer counts in the coming weeks.

Sprint’s delivery service surprised Berge Ayvazian, a senior analyst at Wireless 20/20, as an outsized effort to interact directly with consumers. He was struck by the obvious cost of hiring, training and deploying so many Sprint employees to residences.

“It’s more than face to face. It’s hands on. It’s personal,” Ayvazian said of Direct 2 You. “Un-carrier-like behavior is going on at Sprint. They’re trying to become the customer-centric operator.”

Un-carrier is the name T-Mobile has given to several actions it has taken to attract customers away from the largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T, such as eliminating service contracts and offering installment plans to buy phones.

Under Claure, Sprint has initiated cellphone leases in which the customer can return a phone to the carrier for an upgrade or buy it at the end of the lease.

Sprint also is in the process of establishing retail operations inside about 1,400 RadioShack outlets, an expansion that will add 3,500 retail jobs to Sprint’s payroll.

The company has been testing Direct 2 You in the Kansas City area. In the pilot, about 30 Sprint employees have been demonstrating phones to dozens of customers in the Kansas City area, Millar said. Customers who are eligible now receive a text or email from Sprint advising them the service is available.

The service will expand to Chicago and Miami on April 20 and throughout the nation as the year progresses.

The delivery service mirrors in part a story Claure told last year about his early days as the owner of a small cellphone store in the Boston area. Working on the idea of 30-minute pizza delivery, he hired drivers to deliver phones to customers and grew his one store into the largest cellphone retailer in the Northeastern United States.

Direct 2 You cuts new ground as a concierge grade delivery, Millar said. He talked about wearing shoe covers in customers’ homes and working on velvet mats to avoid scratching the kitchen table.

A visit might last 45 minutes to an hour and include demonstrations of the new phone’s features. Employees, he said, would be retrained for each new device that launches on the network.

Direct 2 You is one of three ways Sprint customers will be able to get their devices. Subscribers can still go to Sprint stores and other retail outlets, and order devices online for overnight mail delivery.

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @mdkcstar.

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