Sprint Credits Customer Satisfaction in Staying No. 3

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (The Kansas City Star/TNS) -

Sprint Corp. added more than 1.2 million subscribers in the first quarter of this year to remain the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier, ahead of rival T-Mobile US Inc.

Sprint ended March with 57.141 million subscribers. T-Mobile, which has grown substantially in the last two years, had 56.836 million. The quarter delays again a promise by T-Mobile CEO John Legere last year that his company would overtake Sprint.

For the first time in three years, Sprint said it gained more wireless-phone customers from the other three large carriers combined than they took from Sprint. Tracking the gains and losses is called porting in the industry.

“It’s a big improvement,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in an interview. “We significantly changed the trajectory of the porting business.”

Specifically, nearly 10,000 more wireless-phone customers switched to Sprint from Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile than walked the other way in the first three months of this year. A year ago, Sprint lost 551,000 customers in these porting battles.

Sprint’s promotion to cut in half the rate plans of AT&T and Verizon customers helped, as did its phone-leasing programs.

The Overland Park, Kan.-based company said it also did a better job of keeping the customers it had compared with a year ago. Its customer-loss rate, called churn, fell when compared with the first three months of last year.

Claure highlighted the drop in churn as the best measure of improving customer satisfaction at the company.

“Churn to me is the voice of the customer. You can run any survey you want, but the only one that matters is churn because that tells you I am satisfied and do I want to stay,” Claure said.

For his part, however, Claure said he’s not yet happy with Sprint’s churn levels overall, which he noted were No. 4 among the big carriers.

Claure said the company’s wireless network has improved and is putting the company in position for profitable growth.

Sprint said it lost $224 million, or 6 cents a share, during January, February and March, which are the last three months of its fiscal year. Sprint changed its fiscal year to end March 31 after it was acquired by Tokyo-based SoftBank Corp., which also has a March 31 fiscal year-end.

For all of its fiscal year, which covers April 2014 through March 2015, Sprint lost $3.3 billion, compared with a loss of $2.5 billion in the same 12 months a year earlier.

Sprint’s bigger loss included a $1.9 billion charge against earnings to reflect diminished value of the Sprint trade name or brand. Sprint said it recorded the charge in light of losing about 2 million of the company’s most valuable customers during the year.

Sprint’s revenues for its fiscal year totaled $34.5 billion, or nearly 3 percent lower than a year ago. The decline included a 6.7 percent drop in revenues during the most recent quarter, to $8.28 billion. Sprint said the recent decline reflected in part customers’ shift to installment plans to buy phones.