A little disconnect on Sprint’s discount offer

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Sprint promises Jennifer Thomas a discount, but it doesn’t come through. Can she force the phone company to honor its word?

Question: My cell phone bill is too high, and I recently contacted my carrier, Sprint, to find out if it could do any better. I told them I was thinking of switching to Verizon.

A Sprint representative, via online chat, offered a family plan with unlimited talk, unlimited text and 1GB data for $45 a month, or a 23 percent discount, because we are USAA members. That seemed like a pretty good deal.

A little too good, it turns out.

The discount never came through. When I asked Sprint about it, a representative told me I was given “incorrect” information about the USAA discount and that only employees of USAA are eligible for a discount.

I’d like Sprint to do what it promised. Can you help me? — Jennifer Thomas, Greensboro, NC

Answer: Offers such as the one Sprint made to you are usually difficult to verify because they’re made by phone or in the store. But not yours. You had a chat transcript.

Let’s play some of that tape between you and Abigail S, the Sprint employee. Mind the English, please:

Abigail S.: I have another good news to share! I have checked that there is a 23 percent discount for all USAA members! So, congratulations!

You: Thank you. May I have the 23 percent discount if I don’t switch to
the Family plan?

Abigail S.: Yes! In fact it will be better as you will get the discount on
the Plan that has the Unlimited Data. Jen, you do not need to worry at all now.

Ah, but you did need to worry, because, apparently, a company’s written offer isn’t official until … well, I don’t know when. I’m not a lawyer, but you don’t have to be one to know that this isn’t right.

You followed up with a supervisor and appealed this to a Sprint executive. Remarkably, the answer remained the same: The discount wasn’t valid.

You know, at this point, you’d think someone at Sprint would buy a clue and give you the 23 percent off in the interests of good customer service. But that didn’t happen. You sent me a series of corporate denials, one more strident than the next. Sprint would not be moved.

Your experience makes me wonder about something else. If a company like Sprint does this for someone who has an offer in writing, then what if it’s a verbal offer? What if an employee promises you a USAA discount by phone and there’s no record of the offer? (Well, technically there’s a call transcript, but only Sprint would have access to it.)

How many employee mistakes are dismissed because they weren’t made in writing? I can’t even begin to imagine.

I contacted Sprint on your behalf. It apologized for the misunderstanding, offered to honor the discount and agreed to re-train its employees to prevent this from happening again.

Should Sprint have honored its offer?

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