Category: "Verizon: My Battle w/ the Behemoth"

Are You On The RIGHT Plan?

I thought I'd share 2 recent observations. The first one (from which the title) was with Verizon Wireless. The second one was shared by my GF.

1. Verizon story.

I happen to have a fantastic deal as far as my wireless subscription is concerned. As a Hopkins employee, I get a 25% discount already, plus (as I use the phone in large part for work), my bill is partially paid from my discretionary account at work. All in all, the total cost is little and the difference I would save going on a lower minute plan is even smaller, close to negligible. Therefore, I am now on a 900 min/month plan, even though I don't use more than 200-300 (also, I use 1-2 texts, under a 250/month plan). I know I could save a few bucks by going to a lower min plan, but since its costs are negligible, I don't mind the cushion of extra minutes.

The other day a Verizon Wireless rep called me on my cell and announced that she wanted to review my usage, to make sure I am on the "right" plan, implying I am not paying more than I need to. So we went into the details and there was very little question she was looking for overage. Not only there was no overage, but the opposite. Quite a bit of unused minutes. She then checked a few previous months, where the same pattern showed. This caused her to pause, as she was really not ready to "address" that (very clearly, she was all warmed up to convince me that it is really to my benefit if I upgrade). After the pause, she realized there is no upgrade that could be sold (I guess if one uses 200 minutes on a 900 min plan, trying to explain that it is for their best to go for a far more expensive 1350 min plan would be somewhat of a stretch, even for the best sales person with superior intellect that this particular rep clearly didn't have). So she concluded that I was on the "right" plan, congratulations.

Right. The "right" plan for whom exactly? Clearly, not for me. If I am using 200 min on a 900 min plan and 2 texts on a 250 SMS plan, I am obviously subscribing to far more services (and pay more) than I need. This call made it very clear that such a problem is not a problem for Verizon. If it is a problem for me, then it is my job to deal with it, not theirs. They are not going to call me (and pay an employee for their time, etc) to help me save money and allow them to make less in profits. That makes sense. We live in an individualistic capitalist society, where everyone should attend to their own interest, nobody (especially a for-profit entity, working solely to pursue their shareholders' interest) will look out for you.

Yet, I can't help but noticing the sneaky representation of this marketing effort, which is intended to trick you into something you probably don't need (i.e. if you just occasionally go over your minutes by a few, which they try to use as an excuse to sell you a more expensive plan, chances are you will end up paying far more with the standing higher subscription than the occasional overage, otherwise they wouldn't bother calling you). Of course there may be a few customers who actually pay more in overage on a regular/recurrent basis than they would if they upgraded their plan. But almost all of those will figure that out themselves and buy the plan they need as opposed to wasting money. I agree a few people may not be noticing that and the call from the phone company asking to upgrade actually could save them some money. But that will never make this tactic overall benefiting the customers versus the phone company. Again, if it did, they could not justify the costs reaching out to you. The minority of players may actually win on slots and even win the lottery, but there is no question who benefits as a whole.

I think the experience I had just showed how blatantly false is the representation that this call (and review of the usage and the plan) would help customers find the "right" plan. When I was obviously on the wrong (for me) plan, subscribing to a plan with far more services than I used the rep absolutely did not discuss or mention the possibility I was over-subscribing and in fact I could save money going on a cheaper plan. Well, that obviously wasn't in the cards, wasn't her (and her company's) plan, and the idea of finding the "right" plan really was taking a shot at perhaps selling a more expensive subscription under the disguise of helping to find the "right" plan. In other words what she was obviously told was to "try to sell the costliest plan you can, based on any remotely rational-appearing references to the usage data and ensure everyone is paying the most we can make them to pay". Clearly, with such instruction, she was not to inform me that I could actually benefit from downgrading my plan.

2. Personal Banker

The other story I would like to share is similar in that it involves a company, solely looking out for their own interest of increasing profits, representing to their customers as they cared about them. (Well, they may care about the customers, as long as that caring works towards increasing their profits.)

My GF runs a consulting business and she has her business premium accounts with the same bank (will keep it anonymous for the purposes of this blog and I also don't think there is a lot of difference in this regard between different banks) as she has multiple personal accounts with as well (including credit, checking, mortgage). She has a "personal banker" "helping" with matters related to her business account. Turns out the personal banker shared with my GF that her mortgage account was overdue (which she knew very well as she prefers to pay the mortgage after the first due date, technically late, so that the funds earn interest during the overdue period before reaching the penalty date). Now this personal banker should have absolutely no dealings with her personal mortgage!

Another time, the personal banker commented on my GF's personal checking account balance. That she also should not have accessed! So my GF had trust issues with this personal banker, and when she went to the bank to deposit a large check and to get some other minor banking work done, she went to the teller as opposed to the personal banker (who also was in the bank at that time). The personal banker noticed this and came over to the teller's desk, and from behind his back, was checking out all my GF's personal accounts. When my GF asked the teller about this, he obviously was somewhat inconvenienced by the situation , but said that the personal banker only wanted to make sure things are good, in her effort to "help" my GF. Right.

From this story one thing is clear. This personal banker's main interest was to protect the bank from any possible liability (that could stem from my GF's personal finances), snooping around my GF's personal accounts that she was absolutely not asked to do. Looking into my GF's personal finances could not have possibly be of help to my GF in any way as it relates to her business banking. The personal banker's job should have been strictly limited to the business accounts and she should not have been even aware or knowledgeable about the fact my GF had personal accounts with the same bank. Again, a "personalized" approach to "help" customers or just another way a company is looking out for its own interests disguised as something that looks like something else.

CONCLUSION

These every day observations are minor and many of you will say that there's nothing surprising about this, what do you expect? Yet, when you don't pay attention and subconsciously assume genuine help (as that is how you are) on the part of a for-profit entity, you may forget that you are vulnerable to the tricks and tactics that exploit that natural and subconscious assumption of true help intent most good-willed humans have.

Perhaps iPhone/iOS is not exactly losing to Android overall?

Link: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/12/13/androids_weak_sales_drive_verizon_toward_apples_iphone.html

Some have accused me of being biased toward Android... Well, I am not biased that way, I think, just a user, not even particularly loyal (i.e. if something works better for me I don't hesitate for a second to switch).

I have, however, been somewhat biased against Apple, because of their controlling marketing behavior that reminds me of communism (which nevertheless clearly works; I wished I owned some of their stock as Forrest Gump).

New market research now shows that the big hype behind the Android-VZW presumed juggernout actually stands on weak legs... See attached link.

I think the iPhone is a great product, I never questioned that. It does not work for me, due to the fact it allows less flexibility (and I am customizer, but not jailbreaker type). If Verizon heeds Steve Jobs' controlling approach, that's because the Android dream failed (at least for the short term, at least for VZW).

However, if the roumor proves correct that the VZW iPhone, presumably coming out after Xmas, will be 4G/LTE, it definitely be a shocker.

BTW, I just ordered my VZW 4G/LTE USB modem...

LTE and the separation of voice and data: how long can they force the concept of "voice" calls on people, to the sole benefits of carriers and their shareholders (against everyone else)?

Link: http://www.pcworld.com/article/211760/verizon_readies_lte_what_to_expect.html

This post discusses some thoughts regarding wireless business strategies and their relevance to our way of living in the context of emerging LTE technology; a relevant news article may be viewed at http://www.pcworld.com/article/211760/verizon_readies_lte_what_to_expect.html

The separation of church and state is believed to be (by a narrow majority) a good thing. The artificial separation of voice and data, on the other hand, unless you are a Verizon Wireless (or other mobile carrier) shareholder, would seem like a really bad thing.

Wireless companies, for the sake of maintaining their traditional business model, try to make everyone believe (including the FCC, who so far agreed to go along with this) that voice and data should be separately handled. At the age of 4G and 3MBS+ wireless data speeds, that is simply untrue; this is simply an artificial discrimination of digitally transmitted data that's only purpose is to help wireless carriers' profit.

Companies whose business is based on service delivery inherently are faced with the challenge of juggling the conflicting interests of shareholders and customers (which is BTW also the main issue that plagues the private health insurance system). Giving too good of a deal to customers could eat into profits (to shareholders' dismay), but on the other extreme, blatantly disregarding customers' interests to the point of defrauding could backfire, too. Where is the healthy balance? -will always be a tenuous, sensitive, and dynamically changing question...

With the innovative technology referred to as "LTE", it became clear early on that the separation of "voice" from "data" over mobile networks no longer will be a technological necessity. In the end, all will come down to just zeros and ones, no matter how you are going to make use of it.

Several analysts had predicted that voice calls, including international ones (especially international ones), will soon drop dramatically, and 4G/LTE customers will be able to pick a one-rate plan, where overall data traffic will be measured and paid for, irrespective of how the data is used.

What an idealist view! Turns out, at least until now, they were wrong. The reality, if you look around, is completely something else... Mobile carrier companies are digging in deep to fight this concept as hard as they can and they spare no time, money, and energy to sabotage any opposing movement or initiative. Clearly, to customers, such a simplified one-rate system would be a tremendous bonus and it indeed would very likely make voice calls (especially long distance and international ones) far cheaper. Why, then, should those companies do everything possible, throw everything they got, to harm their customers' interests?

Because this is a situation, where the classical conflict of interest service providers face, if resolved to their customers' obvious benefits, would directly translate into giving up some artificially maintained profits. and pretty big ones... Big enough for them to think that their entire business could fold if letting go on this one...

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Importantly, this whole thing comes down to supply-demand basics. Voice calls, if translated into bits, considering current demand, would become far under-priced compared to the same amounts of bits that are used for, say emails or internet browsing. In other words, due to our demand and dependence of voice calls, which are much harder to live without (than browsing, for the majority anyway), voice bits can be sold at a premium price on today's market. Why would anyone, who is on the sales end of this, discount that potentially higher price and announce a unified data rate plan that includes voice, when they have a market for the voice bits at a much higher sales rate? And that gives the practical basis for mobile providers to even be able to force something artificial as this on the public.

One alternative would be to set a unified data rate somewhere between the current voice-data equivalent and data rates. This would mean we would pay less for voice and more for what we now have in our data plans. Unfortunately, this would probably be DOA, from the perspective of both the customer and the carrier. First, nobody would ever consider paying more for data than they pay now. Second, such voice discounting would only push the system toward eventually all (voice or otherwise) data being discounted to the lowest overall rate.

Therefore, what naturally follows, is that mobile carriers are in for a (what they perceive as their last straw they can hold on to stay alive) long and desperate fight to maintain the artificial and arbitrary separation of voice and data, "discriminating" between different kinds of bits and bytes... The FCC, the friendly arbiter, for some reason, goes along with this clearly outrageous anti-customer and non-sense artifact that only maintains profits for a small privileged group. I think the main reason (besides the obvious and cynical assumption they were bribed) is that they are scared of the industry changing commotion potential their decision otherwise would carry.

In other words, by letting the voice-data separation business stand (for now), they sign off on letting this go along "business as usual", versus turning things completely upside down, where voice service would get devalued to dirt status and business who's primary income is from voice would simply become history.

But how long can this situation be maintained? Not sure. Looks like it won't be the FCC (or customer groups) that will bring this artificial situation (to keep traditional mobile careers on life support) to an end. The clearwire, cricket, and other high-speed local/mid-range city-neighborhood-WiFi etc initiatives may as well help accelerate the decay of this rotten system. Those WiFi phones right now still have to be tied to one of the big carrier networks in order to make them functional outside of your home city. But as cheap as high speed connections are and as ubiquitous they get, VoIP only phones will soon become more popular and old traditional mobile carriers could find themselves irrelevant (together with their voice-data separation obsession and artificial "voice" overpricing model) as fewer and fewer people will not need them.

Telecom Billing Culture: Changing? Hidden charges and other tricks and the FCC

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/04/technology/04webphone.html?src=busln

When I moved to the US in 1995 and opened my first telephone account in NY I was excited that the service was fast and I had a dial tone in a day or so (compared to Szeged, Hungary where I was lucky that only after 3 years I got a phone, despite the fact that the previous owner of my apartment in Szeged already had it all wired, others before me sometimes waited 10 years).

My enthusiasm quickly evaporated when I began receiving bills. Month after month there were some (usually small) charges that I did not recognize or that did not make sense. The entire bill was extremely complicated to begin with (this was before the FCC ordered telecoms to clean up the outlay of their bills to make it simpler and comprehensible to people with below PhD education).

To me these billing errors were just as unusual as the fast service was, as in Hungary if there ever was an error on the bill it tended to be in my favor.

When I called they always agreed to remove the charges (after giving me a little bit of a run-around). The plus charges were said to be the result of some "error". These errors usually were related to international calls (when they played with the rates), but not always. Typically the extra charges were amounting to less than $5, but in one instance it was several hundred dollars (all of which was credited back after I called).

After a short while, I started to suspect that this relatively consistent phenomenon actually may not be completely due to some random error, as they implied, considering almost every bill had some "error" and 100% of the time it was an extra charge, to the benefit of the telephone company and never to the opposite direction. If this was random error, I thought, it must be going more or less 50%, on average, to each direction. However, it was 100% unidirectional.

The possibility that this was a deliberate scam by the telecom then made me rather angry. I assumed that if they just try this crap, with thousands and thousands of customers, perhaps millions of them, and they get away with it say 10% of the time (which might include people who are very busy and only look at the bottom line and if that is not very unusual or outrageous they just pay, without reading every line of the multi-page overly complicated bill, especially if $5 really doesn't matter to them, or incapacitated or disabled customers who may not have the ability to fully comprehend the complicated bill), they will handsomely improve their profits by collecting free money.

I thought, then, how is this possible in America? How come nobody complaints? How come regulators are not after these practices? I slowly realized that this relates to representation and eventually politics. Regulators are obviously pulled by opposing forces, including the outcry of duped customers and the silent workings of telecom deep pockets.

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With the revolution of technologies underlying the telecom industry of course the pricing structures and the entire business model had to be changed. This, to the most part, greatly limited to nearly eliminated the above practices. Not because of a step-up in regulation alertness or enforcement, but simply because nobody has a large land-line bill anymore that includes "long distance" or even less so international call charges, nowadays in the age of Skype and Google Voice, and of course increasing numbers of cell phones where flat-rate all-North America calling plans are more the norm than the rarity.

However, as seen in the linked article, telecoms, still not fearing from customer and regulatory ire, pursue those low practices even today. I find it particularly arrogant now, when they should be really making good with their customers in the middle of the telecom revolution.

Particularly arrogant is for Verizon to say they are refunding customers now (those who have been complaining and ignored for years), because they care so much. Bullshit. The only reason they refund anybody is because they are being forced to do so by the F.C.C. and had such pushing not existed, they would just continue ignoring these complaints ever as arrogantly and in an in-your-face manner as they have so far.

Then the question becomes whether the FCC should penalize Verizon Wireless, beyond just having them refund what they stole. The fact that this is even a question to anyone is frustrating. When you go rob a bank, pocket $1 million, and you get caught, do you walk away free as long as you return the money? Of course not. You will be thrown in jail even if you pay back more than what you stole. That's a great part of what keeps people from stealing. If you don't face such penalties, you will just keep trying again. Who knows, perhaps next time you will be luckier and will get away with it. And hey, the worst case scenario is that you just have to return the money and wait until your next try.

Not only should they be penalized, but I would urge the FCC to create a highly deterrent example. To the point where telecom companies introduce so efficient protections against "erroneous" overcharging that they rather err on the side of their customers than the other way around. Of course that would very likely eat into their profits and with that their lobbying and other influencing powers, which of course would close the loop.

As we are transitioning into a new, digital, internet based era of communications, which mostly relies on cell phones and computers, before telecoms can develop a new model of criminally overcharging their customers, it is particularly important to make a strong precedent and make it clear that consumers are strongly protected against crimes, because in the end they (consumers) are the ones who drive the economy and should be ultimately protected.

Android versus iOS: Pay Attention to the Context

Recently, I posted this comment on a friend's FB page where this popular question came up. I thought my blog readers may be interested in the pros and cons as well...

This is applicable to somebody who so far has not invested in either and is about to make a choice. Watching Hulu and using flash, as well as good and reliable high speed data coverage were among the factors that were relevant to this friend.

I think if you add everything up (including coverage, flexibility, options, freedom, costs, future) the only reason you would want the iOS at this time is if you are already "hooked" on the iPhone "universe", i.e. its feel and unique integration of hardware, OS, and software.

If you are not addicted to iPhone already, it may be a more rational choice to go with Verizon (superior/dependable coverage) and android (you may want to wait for the Droid Pro, in a couple of months, which will have BOTH a CDMA and GSM radio). But it mostly depends on your needs and personality, which are of course individual so there is no universal good choice or bad choice.

First, data speed. Regarding speed, AT&T has the edge over Verizon. On the other hand, Verizon has the edge in coverage and reliability, both for voice and data (to me voice actually is a big issue, for why I went to Verizon in the first place).

Many believe WiMAX (Spring 4G) is a dead end. The larger carriers will soon roll out LTE as their version of 4G and that will have overwhelming advantages overWiMax. LTE will come in 2011 to most big cities, most carriers, including Verizon. Only consider WiMAX/EVO if you really can't wait any more and want Hulu and the maximum available data speed now.

Cost, another aspect (that people often do not mention). I needed a new protective hard-case last week, for my Motorola Droid. On eBay I got one for $3.20, including shipping. Try that with a case for iPhone. You will be looking 4 times that, at least. Same goes for cords, other accessories, etc. Overall, in the apps arena you will be paying more in the iPhone apps store, for equivalent functionality, but this could change in the future.

Finally, this is a choice that has a lot to do with your personality. Growing up under communist regime, I am allergic to the "bad landlord" like tyrannic and controlling approach, where the big and all knowing Steve Jobs comes and says: "We will tell you what you want and we will bring it to you". As long as you like it, you will be happy. If you want anything differently, too bad.

E.g. I like to play around, tweak around my gadget. Bad idea with iPhone. Another example, I need to switch SD cards (to use the phone as a storage device I carry), switch batteries (in case I don't get to charge). Well, if you want to do things like that w/ iPhone, you are out of luck. Batteries can be defective or simply age so you may want to replace them. With iPhone you will have to ship the entire phone to Apple for a battery replacement...

In the end, I can certainly understand those who are so emotionally attached to the iPhone and "biased". I am not emotionally attached to my Droid, I will replace it in a second as long as something that better fits my needs comes along. But I think overall, for me anyway, Droid (in combination with Verizon) is a better choice.

Verizon Wireless tests how their Droid users tolerate insult on intelligence

Link: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/08/verizon-droid-android-update/

OK, so Froyo (Android OS 2.2) is supposedly coming to my Droid this week. Great news, no? Yes, that's what everyone thought at first.

But now, Verizon announced that the news is generally true, but there is a "but". It is Froyo, but MINUS tethering and mobile hotspot features.

OK, I guess the story was just "too good to be true" and I kind of understand that these features they would like to make extra cash on. That doesn't necessarily upset me. In the end it is business, right? You pay for services.

What threw me off is their commenting this, i.e. saying the reason these features (otherwise available in Froyo) aren't offered to Droid users as part of this upgrade, b/o Droid's hardware limitations.

That kind of BS makes me mad. Why is that necessary? Why insult the intelligence of the Droid community? That was absolutely unnecessary. Everyone knows the rooted Droid can well do both, so it can't be the hardware.

I just wonder (and chip in with your ideas) what the "genius" strategist at Verizon had in mind when he/she came up with this maddening bullshit. Was he/she thinking that consumers are just really THAT stupid to suck that just right in? Or is it their arrogance that was deciding? Probably both. This is shameful. I don't feel like a Verizon Wireless fan right now.

Which is "good": Comcast or Verizon?

Link: http://zneuro.net/blog2.php/2010/03/26/verizonagain

It is hard to say "which is good". I am inclined to say "neither". The issue goes down to the model of customer oriented businesses.

The way they make money is to have "efficient" customer support, which includes saving money on hourly wages (obviously getting sub par semi-idiotic and/or outsourced customer support staff) and making customers' interest the lowest possible priority (i.e. not bothering with the fact you have to hold the line for hours on the phone, not having effective communication and coordination system to protect your time and avoid inconvenience, not putting sufficient resources to have a billing system which avoids over-billing, etc).

At the same time, some of the money saved ignoring customers and having shitty customer care, will go into propaganda where they say in a pleasant loving voice all they care about their customers' satisfaction.

Bullshit! They absolutely DO NOT care about that, more than some bare minimum that allows them to stay at or above "industry standard", which is horribly low. What they care about is to make money, for their shareholders. Obviously these interests are conflicting. If they were all super loving and caring, making sure every customer received 1st class service, the shareholders would boot the management for wasting money, as that kind of customer service most certainly wouldn't pay off.

That is exactly the epitome of this question, the "industry standard" of customer service and satisfaction. Because it is so low, you can't solve the problem. You are stuck. So answering your question, neither is good. Same thing with the banks or other "competing" customer oriented businesses. If you switch to the competitor, it is just a question of time and luck when you will be in for the same exact type of shit you decided to leave the other company in the first place.

There is nothing you can really do to make it better than it is, this is still the best system, because at least there IS a bare minimum industry standard. In other words, the shareholders and management do get incentivised to NOT allow customer satisfaction into a free fall, i.e. going well below industry standard, because then the competitor would start picking up business. At the same time nobody (except for customers who just hope for a miraculously good deal by improved support) are much interested in improving customer support above the industry standard minimum, as for every dollar invested above that level you get declining returns.

The only way the model perhaps could accommodate people like me, who could afford (and without thinking would pay for) "premium" services, in other words a tiered support system. It exists, there are many examples, but most mainstream big volume providers (banks, internet, phone companies, etc) did not quite bite on it yet. The ones that are working, are not working very well (I tried for example CompanionLink, a software to sync Outlook and Google), where I purchased the premium customer support level, only to realize it is not exactly working too well...).

Verizon: Almost One Year Later

Link: http://zneuro.net/blog2.php/2009/07/01/1st-followup-to-verizon-saga

Just a another Verizon followup (or rather, a brand new post) from today, 3/26/10, nearly a year after my first similar posts...

Last night I went home and found that my internet wasn't working. I called tech support and after the usual hold (or perhaps a bit longer than usual) I got somebody to tell me that the account was suspended. Without being able to confirm it, the person told me that seemingly this was due to "non-paying" (I have always paid all my bills in full, on time). I was also told that nothing could be done to this (to activate my internet connection) at that time (it was 11 PM), and that the issue needed to be addressed during normal business hours.

I took the time and called today. I was on the phone for an hour and a half (!). Let me summarize (below) what happened during that 90 minutes...

Somehow I was connected to FiOS support first (navigating through the tricky menus I selected the option that I wanted a new service, hoping that would give me quick access to a live person, assuming their incentive to sell you "new" services), but then when asked about the type of service I just dialed zero.

Interesting that I still had to hold 20 minutes despite the hope of a quick sales line. Nonetheless after 20 minutes I did get a live person, albeit a FiOS one.

Anyhow, I did get a live person. After some 5 minutes on the line with her (asking all my account information etc), she determined I needed to be transferred to the DSL people. BTW, she offered, so that next time I don't get connected to the wrong area, a "direct" line to DSL (800-567-6789). Very nice, I said, that actually was the number I called in the first place for how I managed to get to her...

After another 10 minutes of music (which wasn't too bad, at least for the selections, the quality was sub par), I now got the usual outsourced accented gentleman. We started chatting in a friendly tone and after a little while I learned from him that he is actually sitting in the dial-up department. He courteously offered, however, to transfer me to the DSL department. Not only that, but he even helped me further than that. He actually went ahead and offered to disclose the DIRECT number to DSL (800-567-6789).

Unfortunately, at this point, my friendly attitude waning, I declined, citing the fact that was the very number I called in the first place (and the only number I always call), yet managing to get to all sorts of departments around Verizon, with the only common denominator being they can't help me. The outsourced gentleman, with apparent modest to moderate communication challenges related to the use of the English language, unfortunately did not understand exactly why I would decline his help offering this secret, direct number, so he said it anyway.

As calm as I was earlier, this was getting a worthwhile experience. My cognitive self-therapeutic efforts focusing on not becoming frustrated, showed some wear and tear at this point.

Now, as you probably guessed, came more transfers... I finally got to the DSL folks, which, on the surface, you would think is a good thing. Right? Wrong. After another almost 10 minute hold and getting to another outsourced gentleman (who sounded exactly like the previous one), I had to painfully realize that no real progress was being made.

Anyhow, I share the account info, answer all security questions, describe the problem, to this new gentleman, my new friend. My account is suspended, I am told, therefore the billing department should be working with me. Great. Yes, that means TRANSFER!

So I weather another transfer with some mix of apathy and frustration, and this time sounds a non-outsourced voice on the other end, hurray. Of course the hold time adds on again. After share my convoluted story, which includes the fact I moved my voice part of the account to VoIP (Vonage) recently and I suspect this had caused the issue in the first place (and all I want is internet only, restored right away, something I previously had been told was possible).

Unfortunately, the billing person is confused, challenged, frequently puts me on hold to look into things. As the situation is getting more and more hopeless for him, he even (cautiously) tries the "t" word (transfer), which, by that time, had become my rage trigger.

Increasingly seeing no way out between his intellectual limits and the complexity of the situation at hand, as a punchline at the height of tension, the line gets dropped. After 90 minutes total.

I call back. This time I use a different approach. How about if I pick the "cancel" account option from the main menu instead of trying the sales lines. In fact I did not have to fake it. At that point I was determined to do it too (i.e. cancel the entire Verizon account for once and all).

Surprise! I get somebody on the line in less than 5 minutes! So I share my story for the 6th time in 90 minutes. Another surprise: the person speaks English well (understands almost everything I say), plus, as an added bonus, actually he is almost semi-competent. Huge contrast with all the earlier imbecile folks. Makes me wonder if they pay higher for the "cancel my account" reps as that is of even greater relevance than the new sales and definitely greater than customer support. If I can give you one advice here, if you have a problem and want to get somebody on the line quickly, go for the account cancellation option...

The guy relatively efficiently reviews notes, maps out the situation, and it becomes clear to both of us what had happened. My act of moving the voice away from Verizon did not automatically activate a "dry loop" (I wonder why they call it that way) DSL only subscription under the same account, but somehow caused suspending my account. The reason for that is that when you change your subscription that way you have to pay, up front, using a credit card, before anything else happens (I thought I would just be billed as I do normally).

OK, now that the investigation of history is done, let's look into the future and figure out what can be done. Again, my intention at this point is still to try to just simply reactivate the account.

There is some complexity regarding how the still technically open DSL subscription from a discontinued DSL+voice subscription, in the context of moving the voice to another provider, plays out, so I won't further complicate this technologically heavy post. Enough to say that my internet service was in "limbo" (that's the exact word the guy used), so we needed to make some decision regarding how to proceed.

Turns out, my internet service, after all this, could not simply be re-activated. If I wanted Verizon DSL internet back (in a "dry loop" manner), I would have to do the entire setup from scratch.

Why is that relevant? DSL tends to be a bit more complex than cable, including setup. My situation is even more complex, because I opt to not use the Verizon DSL modem as a router (which would be the routine setup), because I use my own (gigabit) router and use the DSL modem solely as a bridge, which requires some special account setup, which is a nightmare.

When the guy revealed that all my account settings were now erased and if I wanted to have my internet reactivated (without voice; i.e. "dry loop"), I would have to do the setup from scratch.

OK. At this point my decision matured to the point of no return. Cancel my account. I felt bad, because all day this was the only time I spoke to the most competent, and nice sounding gentleman, who was actually helpful and was on top of the situation. He was classy. Once I told him I just wanted to cancel, he acted accordingly.

Of course, I am writing this post before I see any further development, letters, bills, etc, so I'm pretty sure it is appropriate for me to say now (about this blog): "to be continued"...

1st followup to Verizon Saga

When I decided to create an entire category of blogs for Verizon, I had 3 contributing factors/reasons in mind.

First, I wanted to do the blog as we take an umbrella to improve our chances it won't rain. I.e., it is a hassle to carry an umbrella for no reason. One can even feel stupid for it. But that mini frustration is leverage, a lesser of 2 evils, a price, we decidedly pay to avoid a bigger evil, plus we buy the illusion of being in control with it. I figured I could look somewhat stupid for doing a blog on Verizon, which is something I am willing to take happily, over the unfortunate situation of having to deal with them. In other words I felt if I write about this crap, it will help me avoid it. I jinx it :)

Second, I felt so out of control, so beaten, so without options, so helpless. When I came to the idea of publishing my experiences on the web I suddenly felt relieved. I felt I actually AM doing something about it. It may not help solve the problem, but it does start something, I create something over it, I felt productive, leaving a mark out there, which is available forever (supposedly).

Third, I hoped to start some discussion over the "big picture", the philosophy of customer service management and strategy of large companies, which could be a pretty stimulating conversation (BTW feel free to make comments here, that's part of the idea).

With that, in line with the first motive, I actually expected to have this prolonged and worn out PIN debacle with Verizon to be solved relatively painlessly.

As you probably figured by now (if you got to read to this point), my flawed and detached hopes of a resolution were murdered. Raped. This of course starts to question the concept I raised in the previous post, i.e. the possibility of this whole thing just being a totally random and sporadic bad luck in the field of a generally OK-working system (as opposed to a system that is not working for the most part, but we just don't hear about it more due to customer apathy and lack of time/practical forums to raise hell).

Well, nothing "extraordinary" happened, I think, only that I ran another round in the match and realized that I am back in square one (which is BTW the same as the "red corner").

Of course, despite this being a major burden, I managed to make time to call during the communism-like 8-5 weekday-only slot, today. Actually, the wait time was a lot shorter (remember, 28 min in the previous case). Of course, the same navigation skills through dead-end and customer-killer menus were required again, but I was actually talking to a live person within 8 minutes!

This time, no "rewards" or "billing" departments were recruited or mentioned, but the gatekeeper person (I think correctly, for the first time during this saga) realized my issue belonged to the "e-whatever" department. Not only that, but actually when I got transferred (and again spoke to a live agent) it still appeared I was in the right place.

The e-agent spoke little English and we had a few minutes spent on clarifying what kind of PIN I really needed. However, when this was clarified, I suggested I go to the same website, where she was to navigate me through the process.

This time we chose the call home phone option for PIN delivery. She was somewhat unhappy and shocked I wasn't home (it was about 2.30 PM EST-daylight saving) and declared this could be a problem. Nevertheless, when it was revealed I had an answering machine, she said it should work, as the automatic system would leave the PIN on the answering machine.

The idea was that I would go home, get the PIN off my answering machine, then go online and everything is solved! I did go home and I did find 3 messages on my answering machines, each one the same, an automated voice asking to press 2 and that they would call back. Of course, there was no PIN or any actable information, thus my only conclusion was that (1) I got fooled again; and (2) achieved nothing.

Clearly, my next plan is to request a phone-delivered PIN when I am actually at home. If you don't see any more Verizon blogs that is because I succeeded... However, even if that happens, I am still likely to post a final analysis on this...

Verizon "Customer Service": the bad, the ugly, and the frustrating

OK, after all those years, I decided I should do something about my frustration with customer service (or the lack thereof) utility companies (and others) "provide".

For years, I felt truly helpless. I felt they can do ANYTHING and you can do NOTHING. Of course you can always scream or yell. Or break the telephone. Or something like that. But that does not address the sad reality: you are absolutely screwed.

Yes, there is Better Business Bureau, etc. You can even call local politicians or newspapers, I guess the most egregious instances (assuming you have a lot of time at hand and are EXTREMELY determined) warrant/justify such action. It still won't guarantee your problem is going to get solved or that you won't have similar problems again. And if you look at the invested time+energy/results ratio, even if your issue does get fixed with fanfare and you emerge as tough customer-fighter, in the end, you are still a loser, actually.

But what are you going to do with plain BAD customer service? Something not necessarily newsworthily egregious or fraudulent per se, but bad enough to turn any levelheaded analytic head into an overheated lilac pressure chamber or boiling pot. Also, what if you just are not able to spend a month full time pursuing BBB and similar avenues?

Of course, you can just ignore bad customer service and quit at the point of service (i.e. lack of it). Well, this likely won't work either. First, it is time-consuming (and mishap-prone) to discontinue one service and start another. Second (even more importantly), the sad thing is that from the "competitor" you will be getting almost exactly the same service (lack of it) and frustration as before, so this option is generally not recommended.

I started Verizon service in January 2009 (of course, I had had them MANY times before, in one way or another). I was switching from Comcast (one day I will summarize my experiences with them, too; well that won't be a blog, but a book, to give you some hint why I wanted out, in a totally delusional false hope Verizon would offer something better). In any case, I wished to register online w/ My.Verizon (or something called like that) to be able to view/manage my account on-line and I have been trying to achieve that since January. Without success, obviously.

At first, I was told I needed a PIN. However, they could not just give it to me over the phone (no matter what level of personal secure information I could provide to verify it was really me; BTW banks, where I have accounts and where security to access accounts obviously needs to be tighter, don't have this cumbersome customer-defeating system).

Verizon insisted the PIN be mailed to me. All right, I said. Then nothing came. After I while (weeks later) I revisited the issue and called them again. I don't have to mention that every time I call I am on hold and/or repeatedly transferred to the wrong area, dead-ends/no-human automated menus, etc. Eventually I had the fortune to speak to a live representative, who promised to have the PIN mailed again. This happened a few times, but then, miracle, the mail actually DOES show up with the PIN! I had a few tears running down my face with warmth spreading throughout my body. My legs trembled. Yes, my persistence paid off! Actually, no. All the uplifting emotions turned into something else when the PIN just DID NOT WORK!

But even then, I made myself believe there was hope! Because on the website, www.verizon.com/registertoday/ I actually found a link (which I did not see before) that promised generation and delivery of a new PIN! This was exciting! I got started on it immediately, but the process was stalled as it wanted my last bill's amount or the date when I paid it (when my very reason to want to do these things on-line was because I am not too good keeping snailmail).

OK, then I went back on the phone, calling "customer care". I called the 866-326-7937 number. I only had to wait 28 minutes, before I had a human with whom I shared my experience. She was very pleasant and it was just a little bit more than minimally distracting that in the background the loud and boisterous bursts of laughter only ceased briefly, intermittently allowing the obviously happy crowd to relax for a second or two, also to listen to the next joke.

She agreed there was a problem and repeatedly apologized. It probably might have also been useful if she actually understood what my problem was. I am still unsure if she is aware what the words "internet" or "online" encode and clearly, the challenge of getting that I am having trouble setting up my online account and needed a PIN was way above and beyond what anyone could expect her to grasp.

For the lack of a better idea, she decided to solve the issue and told me she was going to transfer me to the "Rewards" department. I did not know Verizon had rewards or that they had such department. As it did not seem to connect with my problem after I was told I was being transferred "Rewards" I just asked "why", as it obviously had absolutely nothing to do, not even possibly or remotely, with anything I said.

This "intrusion" was obviously not expected and her jovial and sweet attitude seemed to be challenged for a second at which time she decided to punish me for being such a difficult customer. She turned tough on me by announcing that OK then if I don't want to go along with the nice and friendly plan of being transferred to the "Rewards" dept (who were still open), my problem all of a sudden now belongs to the "Billing" department (which is closed). Although I guess the word "online" might have still been circulating in her challenged mind without a hope to connect somewhere firm, and "Billing" probably came as close as it was possible, I guess.

I was told at this point they (billing) were only open from 8 AM to 5 PM. The sentence was delivered: you CAN'T get this fixed. Not with me, not tonight. I sadly remarked during those hours I see patients and cannot spend hours on the phone requesting a PIN and asked her for any alternative. She announced no alternatives existed (i.e., appeal NOT granted).

In other words, she pretty much declared that if I was unwilling to abide by their rules, I can just go and screw myself. We politely thanked each other, she asked if I was interested in getting help with "anything else", which sounded like a joke as I obviously did not get help with ANYTHING let alone "anything ELSE", and I was let on my way.

I know nothing about the internal dynamics and science that drives the customer care policy decisions of these companies. Clearly, the only thing they care is to improve profits and thus these experiences must be somehow connected to that main drive. And somehow it must have been confirmed by data that shitty customer service (where customers are left on hold for prolonged periods and transferred to the wrong departments and/or receiving inadequate/incompetent service), which likely negatively correlates with how much funding is allotted to this area, saves money/improves profit.

What is it that one as a hapless customer looks for when faced with these frustrating situations. Clearly, preserving piece of mind, avoidance of frustration and wasting time. Given there is a conspiracy as these companies are not truly competing with one another, at least not on the level of customer service, we are all left boiling in our own frustration. I think this is a national crisis and we, as society, waste so many hours on stupid things like this that makes it a very relevant matter at the national level.

I am not sure what the solution is. I do not have the internal information or the business training to allow me understand the situation. Can it be that these companies are barely profitable and can function with taxpayer help, but they are so essential they have to be kept alive. Then they just have no choice but cut costs anywhere they see an opportunity and customer care is a low lying fruit. Or can it be that they simply make decisions to save money to be more profitable?

I am not sure. I guess it is also possible that my consistently outrageous experience with customer care is simply an aberrant rarity and if that is being the case I shall not waste any more characters on this topic. However, until I am convinced that the latter is the case, I will continue posting my experiences as it seems to at least let some steam off even if I fixed nothing else with doing so :)