Coming Up: Wireless Rewards Programs

Until now, U.S. wireless carriers have done little to encourage customer loyalty. Well, that's changing, as Sprint Nextel is preparing to unveil a consumer rewards program.

Like many consumers, I am a member of rewards programs at my local Borders and a bunch of local grocery stores. I love them. For the privilege of being able to e-mail me, these retailers reward me with coupons and discounts. I save money, and visit their stores more often. Next up, I suspect we will see lots of wireless service providers starting similar programs as well.

Until now, wireless carriers have penalized their customers at every turn instead of rewarding them. When my cell phone stopped working a year ago, my local Verizon Wireless store wouldn’t give me a new phone at a reasonable price unless I renewed my contract. Instead of experiencing a surge of loyalty toward the company, I felt like a slave in bondage. I felt stuck.

Well, that could soon change. Just today, Sprint Nextel announced it will unveil a customers rewards program in early 2008. It’s yet to provide any details, but I suspect that long-time customers will receive deep discounts on new phones, for example, without having to renew pesky contracts. As basic as that sounds, that’s a practice that few wireless carriers practice today. And they should.

In the coming year, as new nationwide wireless service providers make their debut and prepaid outfits like Metro PCS and Leap spread out to more cities, for incumbent carriers, customer retention will become more important than ever. Why shouldn’t my wireless carrier e-mail me coupons for music downloads? Or offer me discounts on cell phone accessories? Or reward me with data minutes for answering survey questoins? Rewards programs make a lot of sense. They make customers feel appreciated — and make them want to stick around. I applaud Sprint for this initiative.

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