"Can You Hear Me Now, Sprint?"

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Tim Boyle / Getty

Sprint Customer Care Center

Dear Customer: You're fired. Beat it. Scram. GFY. We're way too big for your two-bit account, especially since you never stop complaining about it.

Go bother someone else for $29.99 a month.

So went the letter that Sprint sent to its Biggest Pain in the Butt customers, thus eliminating 1,000 mobile users who take up so much time complaining that they're not worth keeping. The actual wording might have been more diplomatic, but you get the idea.

So isn't it odd that they just didn't call these people? "Hello, it's Mandy, calling from the Customer Deservice Department. We'd like to have an engaging conversation about the quality of our product but there's no time, because your phone is going dead in 30 seconds. Have a nice day."

Or maybe Sprint couldn't be sure of getting through?

Sprint isn't necessarily being unreasonable. There are customers who refuse to be satisfied. What's the fun in that? To these ultimate whiners, a cell phone contract is not an exchange of money for a specific service, it's an opportunity for corporate combat, for indulging their Goliath-killing, "they can't mess with me" fantasy. It's a chance to continually move the goalposts and then complain about a rule change.

Corporations genuinely do want to hold on to their customers (airlines notwithstanding, of course) given that your lifetime value as a profitable client is much too high to discard because of a couple of nasty complains. The math is compelling: it costs a lot of money to acquire a customer and relatively little to keep them if they get mad — some free minutes or a couple of bucks off the bill will usually do the trick. The companies know that there's a a certain amount of inertia that keeps us from moving, even if the service is lousy. (Think about the last time you switched banks.)

But the chronic complainer is another category. You know the type: if a lightbulb blows in his hotel room, he wants to be comped for a three-day stay. If the cable is down for a minute, the demand is a month's refund. Some people just love to play the game hard. I remember standing behind one of these chronics while on line at an airline counter. He wouldn't give up demanding compensation for something ridiculous, and the agent wouldn't give in, until he finally got to the usual ultimatum: "I'm never flying this airline again." I found myself rooting for the airline. Hey buddy, I said, why don't you start today and get out of the way?

Complaining is an absolute necessity in this zero-sum service economy, and I am not shy about doing it — in what I like to think is a reasonable way. Okay, there was that sarcastic series of letters to Hertz, but shouldn't they actually have cars on hand if you've reserved one? Anyway, we've patched that one up. And companies absolutely need to hear about problems, otherwise they can't improve and you'll still be unhappy.

But when it comes to the cell phone companies there has been much not to love, so it's equally understandable that some people are outraged by these cancellations. First, the industry charged us coming and going — remember paying for incoming calls? Then it made promises about coverage that hardly matched reality, a shortfall that Verizon Wireless (Can you hear me now?) cleverly turned into marketing campaign. And let's not forget that there were no options if you were unhappy because you were padlocked into a two-year contract. The good news for Sprint's castoffs — no termination fee. Oh, thank you.

I'm not currently a Sprint customer nor am I thrilled with my phone service — the canyons of Manhattan are filled with dead spots — but if I were going to be canned by Sprint, here's what I'd envision. They'd call my number and get my Automated Saporito Annulation Program (ASAP). "Please listen carefully," my voice would say mechanically, "not that you ever did, but my menu has changed so I can annoy you just the way you have annoyed me. Press 1 if you'd like to continue in a language that I can't speak; Press 2 if you'd like to be given a series of increasingly useless options. Press 3 if you'd like to discontinue having Saporito as a customer." Sprint would hit 3. "Your call is very important to me," my voice would say, "please hold and someone resembling me will be with you shortly after the next Ice Age."

Wait a minute, I'm not being charged for this call, am I?