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21 December 2004

I went to the Sprint store on 77th and Broadway a couple weeks ago because my cell phone wasn’t working. It turned out to be a hardware problem, and I’d bought the insurance, so they said they’d replace my phone for me, and for me to come back in two to three business days, and that I could call to see if it was ready. So, last Tuesday, I called but they decided that they were not answering their phone no matter what. I called about 25 times to no avail. But on the recording it said that there were special holiday hours until 8PM (they normally close at 7PM). Since they were not answering their phone, I walked over there (more than a mile from my apartment), only to find the store closed at around ten to eight.

I knocked on the door, and they said that they closed at 7. I start to explain that their recording is falsely saying that they are open until 8PM, but the guy, the same technician who analyzed my phone, walks off. I knock on the door again. He comes back, and tells me to beat it. I start to say, “Listen,” but he says, “I won’t listen” and storms off. I knock again, more firmly. He comes back, makes a fist at me through the glass door, and tells me that if I don’t get lost he’s going to “beat me.” I tell him that if he touches me, I’ll call the cops, and he’ll spend the night in jail. He says that he’s going to call the cops on me because I won’t stop knocking on the door. I tell him to go ahead, and I’ll tell the cops about how he threatened to beat me. He calls to someone that they should press the “white button” to call the cops. I say, “Just listen to me for one second.” He walks away before I can finish. I just can’t believe this happening. I’m a customer, and I’m their during their advertised hours of operation, and their treating me like something stuck to their shoe. I’m certainly not going to leave because of a school-yard style threat. So, I knock again, quite forcefully.

The technician comes back with a fire extinguisher. I take a step back. He unlocks and opens the door. I take a step back. He raises the fire extinguisher over his head, and lunges at me, in a way that would make any reasonable person believe that they were about to be fatally struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. “Oh, God! Oh, my God, no!” I shout as I turn and cover my head, believing that these are the last words I will ever utter in my life, because this man is going to kill me. Obviously, he did not do so, and he went back inside, laughing and smirking. I call the police.

The police get there, and I tell them what I have just told you. The people in the store tell exactly the same story that I just told you, with the single exception that they claim that when I was knocking on their door, it was with the intention to break down their door with my bare knuckles. Obviously, this is both absurd and false, and, at any rate, they can only speculate about my private intentions, so they necessarily just making this up. The police tell me that they believe me that I was not trying to break down their door with my bare knuckles.

The police say that, sure, he shouldn’t have come at me with a fire extinguisher, but I shouldn’t have been knocking after they told me to leave. It looks like both of us are guilty of “harassment” and we should just call it a day. I say that, no, I was knocking on their door during their advertised hours of operation, which is what you are supposed to do. By contrast, this man did not harass me, he threatened to kill me with a fire extinguisher. The police man says that I’m exaggerating. I tell him that I am not exaggerating, this man threatened to kill me with a fire extinguisher, and that’s my statement. He says that I don’t know what the legal definition of threatening to kill someone is. I tell him that I’m a lawyer, and I do know. He says he’s so sick of people telling him they’re a lawyer, because he’s on the street doing it every day, and I ask, “what do you want from me? I happen to be a lawyer, and I happen to know that he threatened to kill me with a fire extinguisher.” He asked what he should charge him with, and I said there is a specific statute that outlaws making death threats, and it’s also assault with a deadly instrument. He said that he’d put what I had said in the report, and that he was also going to put what the people in the store said, that I intended to break down their door with my bare knuckles. I said that was fine, and to just call the DA’s office downtown, and they’ll tell you that this man just confessed to a serious felony, and that what I did was not against the law, but they said they didn’t need to do that.

So, this went on for about an hour, between talking about it with me, and talking about it with the other guy, and the time it took for them to take down our information from our driver’s licenses, and so on. So, I’m waiting outside the police car for my license, feeling very upset as the adrenaline rush of having my life threatened starts to fade, and I realize that after having my life threatened I’ve had to deal with two idiot police officers who don’t know what they’re talking about, and have been yelling at me and being very rude to me, right after I’ve been through a terrible, frightening experience. Then, the cop opens his door to give me my license back, and the cop says that he called downtown, and the guy is getting locked up tonight. They asked me not to stand right there, but told me I could watch from the corner. I did, and saw that they’d put him in the back of their car in handcuffs.

So, that was okay, I guess, to win in the end. Except that the very next day, I still had to come back to get my phone. And when I did, I saw the same technician, back at work. How is that possible? Something is seriously wrong with Sprint as a company.

You know I was only being half-sarcastic when I described this as a story of bad customer service. Obviously, this goes beyond just a complaint about bad service. But the truth is, I believe that there is a culture at sprint–which in my experience has horrendous customer service–that views customers as a hindrance to getting through the day, rather than as a resource to be valued. An employee of a company that values its customers and creates a culture of respect for them, wouldn’t even feel the urge to threaten one of them, much less act upon that urge.

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