For years, I’ve used Verizon for my residential land-line telephone service. For most of 2007, I also used Verizon’s DSL service. In fact, Verizon’s “same price for life” offer on DSL lured me away from the more expensive Charter Communications broadband I had been using since 2002.
Over that time, however, my wife and I noticed our Verizon charges gradually rising until the phone part of our bill passed well above fifty dollars a month. We realized that, given our calling habits and cell phone usage (our cells are handled by a different provider), we just weren’t getting our money’s worth.
We debated dropping our land line altogether, but opted instead to try Vonage. The VOIP provider was running a special — $9.99 / month for three months and $24.99 a month thereafter — that would save us a substantial amount of money. Since we wanted to keep our Verizon DSL service, I did some research.
A very friendly woman with Verizon’s customer service department let me know that keeping DSL would not be a problem, even though I was “porting” my telephone number to a different company. Verizon, she assured me, would change my DSL service to something called “dry loop” DSL — essentially, DSL that isn’t associated with a telephone number. The entire thing would happen automatically and seamlessly — the only thing different would be a slight increase in my monthly DSL bill.
Fantastic! I’d get to keep Verizon’s DSL service, which I’d used without complaint for almost a year, and I’d be cutting my all-in phone and Internet bill by thirty dollars or so.
The lady with Verizon asked if it would be all right if she had someone call me to try and work out a way they could keep me as a telephone customer. I figured, hey, why not, and we set up a day and time Verizon would call me.
That day and time came and went, marking the first of what would be four times a Verizon representative promised to call and did not. Their loss, I thought, and went ahead with my plans for Vonage.
The Vonage equipment arrived; our telephone number was transferred from Verizon’s dominion to Vonage. By the beginning of November or so, we had Vonage up and running flawlessly and the DSL continued as before. I was very happy.
Then, on the 25th of November, I noticed Internet service had stopped. My first thought was a network problem… then I booted up my laptop’s browser and found a splash page from Verizon telling me my DSL service had been suspended.
I got on the phone to Verizon. After some time, I found myself in a very difficult conversation with a gentleman who called himself Mr. Singh. He would be the first of at least three Mr. Singhs I would speak with over the next few days, all with heavy accents and English language skills that lacked the finer contextual nuances so essential to clear conversation.
Once I repeated myself several times to Mr. Singh and managed to get him to deviate from his prepared script (at times the conversation felt like a Turing Test with a very ill-equipped artificial intelligence) I learned my DSL service had been disconnected due to non-payment on our bill.
Except… I had our latest bill in front of me. It had been paid several days before the due date, which was, in turn, several days before the 25th of November.
And so it began.
I’m not going to take you through it step by step like I had to live it; while I wouldn’t mind having you experience the level of frustration and lost time like I did, other people will read this and I don’t want them to suffer. This letter will be long enough, trust me.
After three and a half hours on the phone with Verizon’s Internet, Billing, and Phone departments, my DSL was restored… temporarily. The issue? For some reason, Billing had never communicated the need to transfer my DSL to dry loop service, and so my Internet was shut off. No one could tell me exactly why Mr. Singh thought I had an overdue bill.
There was a larger issue: a supervisor believed I had to have Vonage contact Verizon in order to set up the dry loop. She would not be swayed from this belief, despite what I had been told by the first, very helpful Verizon representative weeks before. Vonage, for their part, were baffled by this request, and could do nothing to help me because, of course, they are not DSL providers and have nothing to do with it.
At the end of the day on Tuesday the 25th, another very polite and sympathetic woman explained that “there are so many laws and regulations involved” that many people at Verizon were unclear on the protocol for porting numbers and keeping DSL service active. I’ll get back to that in a bit.
She explained that there was “some problem” with my order (the dry loop DSL) and that Rob from the “local office” would be looking into it first thing in the morning. He would call me with a resolution.
Rob became person number two from Verizon to never call me. My Internet disappeared on Wednesday the 26th at around 11:30 AM. At first I thought it was simply part of the transition to dry loop DSL. I’m an optimist, I suppose. By two o’clock, though, I figured I’d better call, because the next day was Thanksgiving and I had a feeling people might leave early for the holiday.
So began another three and a half hour stint on the phone with Verizon’s Phone, Internet, and Billing departments. Different departments tried to talk to each other to put all the information together — different departments based apparently in different countries and which apparently do not share call logs on the same account. Every time I was transferred, I had to explain — from the beginning — exactly what my issue entailed and what I needed.
By the end of Wednesday, a gentleman in Tech Support decided that the real problem was with the telephone line coming into my house. He wanted to schedule a technician to come out.
Of course, the next day was a holiday, so I knew that meant waiting at least until Friday for satisfaction. That meant no Internet (and therefore no land-line phone service) for another thirty hours or more. I was very, very dissatisfied with this, since I had no reason (given the conflicting explanations provided regarding the nature of the problem over the last two days) to believe it was actually a technical, on-site problem.
Nevertheless, I agreed that the gentleman could call me back with a scheduled time a technician would arrive. I stressed that no one from Verizon who promises to call back ever does, and insisted he return my call within fifteen minutes. With a tone of great assurance, he told me, “I will call you back in five minutes, ma’am!”
(Yes, after over an hour on the phone with this gentleman, he still had not gleaned from my name or the timbre of my voice that I was not a woman. I let it go. What point in clarifying it?)
Guess what, Ivan? He never called me back.
I spent Thanksgiving with my wife, sister-in-law and her boyfriend. Everyone chipped in to make a different dish. I did the turkey. We watched some football, and a movie. All day, in the back of my mind like bile in the back of your throat, I couldn’t stop thinking that come Friday, I would have to get back on the phone with Verizon. I wondered if I’d gone over my cell phone minutes with all this calling. It was stressful.
I started calling at eight in the morning. I began with Tech Support, which had no record of a service call order being placed on Wednesday. I was not surprised. At one point, I was back on the phone with Billing, who assured me they would connect me with the people who could help me — the California local office. They connected me with Tech Support, who not only insisted that Billing was not working today and no one was there, they also were, judging by their Pakistani or Indian accents, most assuredly not the local California office.
Turns out the local California office answers their phones in Tijuana, Mexico. No problem. The customer service rep there spoke perfect, fluent English. The only issue in communication — a common one for all of my telephone interactions with Verizon — was the absolutely abominable quality of the connection. Strange that a telephone company would have consistent static and noise on their lines. Apparently your blue-jacketed, bespectacled spokesperson and his “it’s the network” cadre of Verizon troops don’t bother with the quality of the customer service connection.
In case you’re wondering, Mister Seidenberg, it was not my cell phone connection — that is perfectly clear on all other calls.
Anyway, this last customer service rep tried to get me to the right person, and again, I was left on hold for so long he asked if he could try calling me back on Monday. I said sure, thanks.
Ivan, I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track, but when I hung up with that person, counting Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday all together, I had been on the phone with Verizon a total of ten hours and thirty minutes.
Ten hours and thirty minutes.
Guess what I did next, Ivan?
I called Charter Communications. Spoke to a nice guy named Earl, who was based somewhere in the Southern United States. In a little more than thirty minutes, he had my 5 meg cable broadband account set up, gave me a deal on the first six months and arranged for a technician to install it the next day — a Saturday. Twenty four hours later, I had a strong broadband Internet connection and the use of my land line telephone back.
One Charter Communications person did this in a half hour, while a dozen or more Verizon customer service representatives with ten and a half hours could do nothing.
Monday came and went, and of course I received no call back from Verizon.
Allow me to reiterate the specifics of my complaint. Indulge my inclusion of a few things I didn’t address above.
- Verizon undoubtedly has many customers who wish to port their telephone numbers to Vonage or another VOIP service and still maintain Verizon DSL service. Based on the several conflicting sets of instruction I received from different Verizon representatives at different levels of authority, Verizon has not trained their staff on the correct way to handle this. Verizon is a telecommunications company. Figure it out. You would have kept me as a customer if proper training was in place.
- Verizon does not link a customer’s account from one department to the next, and Verizon’s customer support representatives do not share call logs for a customer from one department to the next. This results in a frustrating game of — you guessed it — telephone — when reps from one department try to explain things to another. It also causes your customer to repeat themselves innumerable times in the course of seeking satisfaction. Ridiculous. Coordinate and link your departments.
- I do not begrudge the right of people in other countries to work for Verizon. That said, Verizon would do well to make sure foreign-based representatives are fluent in English. The quality and efficiency of the customer service experience diminishes a great deal when on the phone with Verizon’s outsourced foreign labor.
- Without direct call-back extensions for each and every customer service representative, there is zero accountability to individual customers. Four times, a Verizon representative promised to call me back, and four times, they did not. Why should they? I have no way of reaching them, and the odds that I will be connected to them by calling the toll-free number are so low, they have no fear of ever being called to task. Zero accountability means no personal commitment to each customer’s satisfaction. That’s unconscionable.
- The quality of the connection on hold and during conversations with customer service representatives is terrible. Static, background noise, flanging effects and other line noise make communicating with a representative — and being clearly understood — very difficult. Add to the mix a representative for whom English is not their native tongue and Verizon’s ability to deliver excellent customer service is reduced almost beyond the point of redemption.
Mister Seidenberg, as you can tell, the experience of last week has upset me.
Do you know what ten and a half hours of my time is worth?
I’m a freelance new media and social networking consultant. If you were my client, ten and a half hours would set you back almost $850.00. In fact, I fell behind in my responsibilities for a client because my work depends on reliable high speed Internet and I was on the phone with your company for… say it with me… ten and a half hours. I’m not even considering the other freelance work I could have sought and contracted in those ten and a half hours.
According to Forbes, you make $11.5 million dollars a year. Assuming a forty hour work week, ten and a half hours of your time is worth $58,052 and change. Would losing that hurt you? I don’t know. I do know that the time I lost hurt me. Think about that. I hope it matters to you.
Ivan, you not only lost a customer, your company provided such poor customer service and operated in such an inept, disconnected (ha ha) and disorganized fashion I’m sharing my grief with the world. This letter includes the words “Verizon” and “customer service” so often, I’m confident it will appear high in the results at all the major search engines.
I’m putting a Creative Commons license on this so people are encouraged to re-post it and spread it around. I’ll be posting it on Twitter and encouraging my 1,000 followers there to spread it around to their connections. I’ll post it to the 650+ friends I have on Facebook. And of course there’s the five thousand or so people who read my blog every month.
Maybe, just maybe, the result will be that fewer people choose Verizon for their telecommunication needs. Perhaps… just perhaps… another result will be that you will read this and instigate a sweeping reform of Verizon’s customer service operation. Maybe. Frankly, I’ll take either one.
Am I being vindictive, Ivan? You might think so. Here’s my perspective: Before my career in information services, I spent twenty years as a customer service specialist in a retail setting. All that time has made me a strong advocate of the importance of excellent customer service. I know what it takes to do it right. Therefore, I have very little tolerance when it is done wrong… especially when a company with the resources and depth of experience Verizon possesses gets it wrong.
Honestly, there’s no excuse.
Make it right. It’s your job.
Matthew Wayne Selznick
Update: On Friday, December 5, 2008, I received a call on my cell phone from the Verizon Customer Advocate. My open letter to Verizon CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg got their attention. The Advocate apologized for my customer service experience and let me know they were working on the situation. She asked if there was anything they could do for me to make it right.
I told her there was nothing they could do to get me back as a customer. I let her know that I appreciated the call, but the best thing they could do was fix it — that the attention this post has received and the comments it has generated point to the fact that my experience was not uncommon, and that it struck a chord.
I suggested that, while the private call to me was appreciated, it may be more effective for Mister Seidenberg himself to respond in public — either in the comments section of this blog post, or on a Verizon blog with a link back to this post. If I heard from Mister Seidenberg personally — and more importantly, if he made a public commitment to reform Verizon’s customer service department with specific steps to take and a timeline for execution — that would send a real message to Verizon customers past and present. It might also reassure folks who were considering Verizon but changed their mind after reading about my experience.
As soon as I made this suggestion (possibly as soon as I told her they would not get me back as a customer) the Customer Advocate seemed like she was in a hurry to end the call. She assured me that she would pass on my comments, but did not specifically state that she would tell Mister Seidenberg directly. So that’s what I’m doing here with this update.
Let’s hear from you, Ivan Seidenberg. What are you going to do, personally, to make sure the customer service at Verizon is radically improved?
Everyone else, if you’d like to contact the Customer Advocate department and urge them to have Ivan respond with a commitment and concrete, executable plans for improvement, the number they used to call me is
1-972-399-5913. (Turns out that number has been disconnected as of 12-11-2009) If you’re a Verizon customer, let them know how you feel.
An Open Letter To Verizon CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg by Matthew Wayne Selznick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
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