Monday, April 13, 2015

Can't Knock Sprint for Trying Hard, Now Direct 2 You


Direct 2 You is the company's latest action at building differentiation to stand apart against competitors.

 In a In a nutshell, it's concierge and personalized direct to the customer fulfillment of a previously placed order for customers who are upgrading.  Though it's positioned as a national program, only Kansas City, Chicago and Miami were announced.  As part of the announcement, Sprint notes a fleet of 5,000 branded cars and job creation numbers of 5,000.ANALYSISThere is no doubt that Sprint is trying out a lot of ideas to get itself out of the hole. CEO Claure deserves much of the credit in lighting a fire and compounding a sense of employee urgency in the company's restoration journey. Direct 2 You comes at the heels of the free unlimited international data (albeit 2G & only 15 countries)/text roaming announcement and RadioShack distribution deal in which immediately after the bankruptcy decision,  Sprint soon opened some sales doors.  Intertwined was a very 'political' announcement in a important spotlight market, Chicago where infrastructure investment and job creation (300) led the headlines. Here are some Direct 2 You pros:
  • The effort is for only upgrades, which means that this is a customer retention effort. There is no minimum bill spend on attaining this concierge service.  Rewarding and cementing loyalty directly impacts churn. While 'Cut Your Bill in Half' and RadioShack store distribution expansion is about acquiring gross adds, Sprint needs better ways to fight against T-Mobile's switching momentum.
  • The markets are important and 'friendly.' Starting off in the home HQ market, it gives Sprint some political capital for local job creation, rather than the very visible downsizing in recent past. Chicago as a market has been long discussed as a revitalization of the company story even in the Hesse era. Continuing that on top of meeting public commitments to re-elected Mayor Emanuel only makes sense. Finally, Miami is Claure's old home and obviously heavily Hispanic (a segment Sprint is heavily courting).  
  • The effort is through an outsourced partnership, one that has a long history of residential/office fulfillment. There are no Sprint employees in the mix but ostensibly, the job creation is non-direct and there should not be any Sprint CapEx spend.
  • Direct 2 You fulfillment is on the customer's schedule, seven days a week during business hours, and subject to where the customer decides to meet.  If customers cannot work around doing fulfillment around this flexibility, there's something wrong.  
  • Sprint is working with a delivery zone structure where the representative can be dispatched productively according to meeting customers' time requirements. Further, there's linkage to Sprint systems and additional devices in case there is a customer's change of heart in a device.
  • Finally, the fleet of 5,000 Sprint branded vehicles serve to further the company's brand awareness, much like everyone knows a Best Buy Geek Squad car or telephone or cable company truck.
Yet some cons and questions bug me:
  • How much does this cost and how will this effort hit the bottom line? Clearly, it's a retention effort that hits the marketing and cost of goods sold line. This may be a wildcard from the financial standpoint but will market goodwill (e.g., Sprint for Chicago) pay off in terms of business and government accounts?
  • Sprint says that in the delivery zone concept, it may not be economically feasible to meet a customer who may be outside a delivery zone. Financially, it makes sense but there may be the odd ball cases of high-value customers outside of those zones. Of course, marketing and public perception will be tested once those cases have media focus.
  • Is this a beta effort? How long will the commitment be there? Yes, it's national but unlike T-Mobile that can paint itself in a corner with an Un-Carrier X.0 moniker, Sprint can get out if it gets too expensive and suffer ridicule. I supposed this could be a double-edge sword.
Competitive response may not be forthcoming as the big two of AT&T and Verizon Wireless does not have to do anything as they're still in the driver's seat.  T-Mobile has always prided itself as a leader of innovative things (i.e. Un-Carrier) and they have market momentum.  It's likely that competitors will paint this effort as a desperation gambit.  For Sprint, to its credit, they're trying things and cannot be faulted for that. But what's the cost and anticipated churn impact? We'll have to wait to see in calendar year 3Q and 4Q15 to see, won't we?