Grading Sprint’s Palm Pre Experience


Share on LinkedIn

On June 6, 2009, Sprint proudly launched their latest flagship product the Palm Pre. While numerous reports have lauded the success of the launch and the phone itself, a more important storyline is the strides that Sprint has made in their overall customer experience. Sprint’s customer experience problems have been well documented. Their ability to effectively address those problems may be the one thing that will make or break the company. Although Sprint’s recent performance with the Palm Pre had its pro’s and con’s, Sprint appears to have done this one right.

Sprint obviously has a lot riding on the Palm Pre. Over the past few years, Sprint’s customer satisfaction woes have been well documented and new CEO Dan Hesse has made it clear that improving customer satisfaction is priority number one. While Sprint has been making strides on fixing their problems, no one seemed to notice. Sprint needed to grab the stage – even if for just a short period – to demonstrate that things had changed. The Palm Pre has provided that stage and Sprint’s performance is sure to be closely scrutinized. Dan Hesse went so far as to refer to last weekend’s launch as a “coming out party” for Sprint.


While some may look only at the launch day to determine if Sprint is truly different, a more important barometer should be the overall customer experience. The experience began when Palm and Sprint unveiled the Pre at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. There had obviously been a lot of pre-work done (pun intended); Sprint had established an exclusive arrangement with Palm to create the most innovative new device since the iPhone. This exclusive partnership alone highlighted Sprint’s innovative roots and placed it squarely in the spotlight to deliver something special.

The pre-launch buzz began to build from that point forward. Special blogs were created, tweeters were tweeting, and rumors abound. If Sprint and Palm wanted the spotlight, they surely got it.

How Sprint and Palm would perform in the spotlight would be an important part of the overall customer experience. Fortunately for Sprint and Palm, they performed admirably.


Building upon the success of the CES event and the subsequent interest in the Palm Pre, Sprint and Palm responded by launching special web pages to try and quench a seemingly unending thirst for Palm Pre news. While Sprint and Palm web sites offered little to any additional information regarding the Pre, the blogosphere was kicking into overdrive.

Hundreds of smart phone enthusiasts began to sleuth every possible angle to learn more about the Palm Pre and its eventual launch date. It became almost a game; the dearth of information from Sprint and Palm only fueled more speculation about pricing, features, and availability. Most companies would pay dearly for such successful viral marketing.

Eventually Sprint launched its own series of ‘Now Network’ ads that seemed to tease the audience even more by showcasing the Palm Pre at the end of each ad. Even though the phone had not yet been released, the ads whipped up even more anticipation for the eventual launch.


With the bait firmly set, it was now up to Sprint to determine how to best land as many prospects as possible. In a very smart move, Sprint launched a Palm Pre landing page that contained a simple prompt: “Sign up to be notified when the Palm Pre is available.”

It was a simple and brilliant way to allow prospective customers to self qualify themselves for Sprint. As a result, Sprint was able to collect a highly qualified list of prospects that could be used for target marketing to ensure that the prospects were converted to customers when the Pre became available.

That’s exactly what they did.


Prospects that self-qualified themselves, as well as existing Sprint customers, received regular email newsletters that informed them of special offers, accessories, new plans, and other products. This simple but effective interaction helped to keep prospects engaged during the waiting period between the CES product announcement and the eventual product launch on June 6.

Unfortunately, the majority of these email newsletters provided few additional details about the Palm Pre. Perhaps the lack of Palm Pre related information was part of their strategy of secrecy, but this is one big opportunity that Sprint may have missed. If they had provided more juicy tidbits through this channel, perhaps they could have significantly grown their prospect list as more and more people were clamoring for information.

Although many people get annoyed with companies that overload their email inboxes, this is a case where I believe that additional and more timely communications would have been welcomed.


As part of Sprint’s drive to improve customer satisfaction, they also have begun to more actively utilize a loyalty program called Sprint Premier, which rolled out in February of this year. Once again, Sprint did this right. Long time Sprint customers were automatically enrolled in the program and notified via email and or direct mail that they were being recognized for their loyalty.

The loyalty program includes perks and privileges like most programs of its kind. For example, one direct mailing included a special $25.00 coupon that could be used to purchase any accessory. Unfortunately, this excluded Palm Pre accessories – at least during the launch weekend.

Perhaps most important to the customer experience, Sprint sent a special notification to Premier members that invited them into stores one hour before opening time on launch day to demo and purchase the Palm Pre. While others were planning overnight camp-outs to be the first in line to get the Pre, Premier customers got special treatment.

Overall, it was a nice touch and a great way to reward some of Sprint’s most loyal customers.


June 6th was an anxious day for everyone. Sprint and Palm were nervous for obvious reasons. Prospective customers were also anxious in light of the rumored short supplies of the Palm Pre. Although some out of stock situations were reported, the supply situation over the launch weekend did not appear to rain on the parade.

Personally, I arrived at a local Sprint store around 10:30am, nearly 2 and a half hours into the launch day feeding frenzy. I arrived with low expectations; I had resigned myself to the fact that I would probably be greeted by long lines and news of inventory outages.

However, my experience was surprising. Upon arriving at the store, I entered my name into a customer waiting queue. If you haven’t been in a Sprint store in a while, they’ve revamped the store environment as well, capped with a large flat screen monitor that shows your place in the waiting queue in real time.

Overall, the in-store experience was good. I waited only 20 minutes to be greeted by a Retail Consultant, who quickly started the purchase and activation process. While the activation process was underway, he successfully up-sold me on a few accessories for my new Pre. The sales and activation process was lengthy, but largely overshadowed by the anticipation of getting my hands on the shiny new Palm Pre.


The new phone has worked almost flawlessly on the Sprint Network. Although I have experienced a few glitches, the overall experience has been fantastic. The experience started with growing anticipation since the January 8th introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show and has culminated with the launch of the Palm Pre on June 6th. Daily usage of the Palm Pre, which so far has been great, will only expand upon the overall experience.

While many people will look only at the launch day or even certain characteristics of the phone itself to gauge the experience, Sprint and Palm have done a great job of managing the total customer experience over the past 6 months. Although not everything went perfectly, I give the overall customer experience at grade of 3.75 out of a possible 4.0 experience.

Robert Howard
Robert G. Howard, Partner at Kurt Salmon, has more than 20 years of experience designing and implementing innovative customer experiences across web, retail, customer care, and mobile channels. Mr. Howard is the co-author of the The Customer Experience Fiasco, and 7 Steps to Customer Experience Domination.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here