Why Framily Failed: Lessons From Sprint’s Latest Misstep

Sprint needs some Framily counseling, and we’re more than happy to oblige.

It looks like Sprint needs some Framily counseling.

This past January, the wireless carrier introduced (with much fanfare and an expensive ad campaign) its “Framily” plan – which was essentially a family-shared wireless plan that could be adapted to groups of friends.  The more people in your Framily, the lower the cost per phone line.

At the time, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse touted Framily as the company’s “platform for growth.”

Fast forward seven months later and Framily is no more.  Sprint replaced the program with a more traditional family-share plan like those offered by other carriers.  In addition, Dan Hesse was pushed out of the Sprint Framily and a new CEO was hired to replace him.

What went wrong?  Sprint violated some cardinal rules of customer experience with the Framily plan.  Here’s where they went astray, along with some advice on how you can guard against similar missteps:

1.  Nail the fundamentals, first.

For any product or service, there are elements that are “must-have,” “nice-to-have,” or a “delight-to-have.”  Customers will penalize you for focusing on the latter two categories before nailing the first (think of it as putting the icing before the cake).

In the case of wireless carriers, a key “must-have” attribute is reliable cellular service.  Drop my calls or lose my internet connection and you’re dead to me, no matter how economical the wireless plan.

Sprint’s made no secret about the quality of its wireless network.  It needs work, and the carrier is investing a reported $7 billion this year on network improvements.  During the first half of 2014, when Sprint launched and promoted its Framily plan, the carrier scored dead last in overall network performance, trailing far behind Verizon and AT&T in nearly every measure – including reliability.

The absence of that must-have element translated into a hard sell for Framily, contributing to its ultimate failure.

Key takeaway:  Think carefully about the pecking order of your customer’s priorities.  Pinpoint what the must-have, fundamental product/service attributes are – then execute on them exceptionally well before adding too many bells and whistles.

2.  Minimize customer effort.

Oftentimes, it’s not the best or most economical product that wins in the marketplace.  Rather, it’s the one that is easiest to understand, purchase and use.  The more effort you ask customers to expend when buying, setting up, utilizing or servicing your product, the less appealing that whole experience will be.

The Framily plan sounded good conceptually, but in practice, it was pretty onerous for the consumer to set up and maintain.

First you had to herd cats to get friends and family to agree to be part of your group.  Then you had to establish a Framily ID to link everyone’s accounts and communicate that ID to all parties.  And then, every time someone tried to join the Framily, you had to provide verification that they were allowed in.

But wait, it gets worse…  There’s even more mental effort involved in the form of “stuff” that consumers had to think about when considering the Framily plan:  Who am I comfortable inviting into my group?  What if I have a falling out with someone who’s in my Framily?  Can I kick them out?  Will other Framily members have access to my calling/billing information?

All those thoughts and questions created a cognitive impediment, making it difficult for consumers to wrap their heads around Framily, let alone decide to purchase the plan.  Even though other carriers’ offerings may have been more expensive, they came without all this cognitive baggage and, as a result, were perceived as more appealing alternatives.

Put simply, the aggravation of setting up and monitoring a Framily plan just wasn’t worth it for many consumers.

Key takeaway:  Look for every source of unnecessary, avoidable effort when customers interact with your company and its products – then root it out.  With every ounce of effort required, consumers will be less inclined to explore, purchase, use and, ultimately, recommend your company’s products/services.

3.  Create a consistent and controllable experience.

Two things that are inherently unsettling in any customer experience is a lack of consistency and an absence of control.

Consistency comes into play when the quality, speed or price of an offering is unpredictable.  That’s jarring to a customer, particularly when their expectations have been honed through prior interactions with the business.

Lack of control becomes an issue when those variations in quality, speed or price are disconnected from the customer’s own behavior.  We’re OK if a shipping fee changes because we’ve chosen expedited delivery, but we’re not OK if the fee fluctuates due to circumstances beyond our control.

By design, the price of one’s Framily plan could be inconsistent and uncontrollable.  If someone in your group decides to defect (to another Framily, or a different carrier), your phone bill goes up – and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In essence, the cost of your wireless service is no longer in your direct control, and can be adversely impacted by people over whom you have limited influence.  That concept simply didn’t fly for many consumers.

Key takeaway:  Make your customer experience consistently good before you make it sporadically great.  And if, by design, there are variations in the features/quality/cost of the experience, let customers influence how those variations manifest, so they at least feel “in control” of the delivered product.

*      *      *

Over the past few years, Sprint has been dealing with a lot of challenges.  Instead of helping the company, the Framily plan gave consumers yet another reason to hang up on the carrier.

It’s a valuable example of a poor customer experience design that was virtually doomed from the outset.  Framily was one product launch where Sprint simply made the wrong call.



Jon Picoult is Founder & Principal of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress their customers and inspire their employees.  As a consultant and keynote speaker, he has advised thousands of executives across some of the world’s foremost brands.  Learn more at www.watermarkconsult.net, or follow Jon on Twitter @JonPicoult.

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