Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Lengthy Rant Against Verizon

I don’t expect anybody to really read this. It’s just my petty effort to make a record of all the myriad frustrations I had with Verizon during the years I was a customer of theirs. It’s nothing important, except in the sense that it’s meant to discourage anyone from doing business with this horror of a company. That’s all I really need to say, here: Never give your money to Verizon. But if you’re skeptical and need good evidence against them, feel free to read my lengthy narrative diatribe. Presently, I will return to blogging about things that matter to more than just me.

I got new internet service hooked up yesterday after having been offline for several days. That put me behind with work, but I’m not nearly as bothered by that as I am about having permanently lost my office telephone number. The silver lining in both of those setbacks is that I will never again have to deal with the Verizon company. I would sooner run lengths of fishing line to coffee cans in the homes and offices of the people with whom I have to communicate than I would ever trust Verizon to provide me with any type of service.

There is a bit of history behind the reason for the severed internet and telephone connections. When I moved into the home out of which I currently work, I was living with an ex-girlfriend. I had signed up for internet elsewhere, and when we wanted to move the DSL to the current address, she called to have phone service installed as well. Somehow, merging the two services into one caused my name to be wiped clean from Verizon’s records. So far as billing was concerned, my both services belonged exclusively to my cohabitant.

It remained that way after she left me to move in with a new man, and it remained that way as I continued paying the bill, with my name above the return address, for two entire years. Not long after she left, I called the company to try to update the account information, but as it turns out that is impossible to do. On one attempt, I was told that they could attempt contacting the former account holder at the number listed on the account. I wasn’t okay with Verizon calling my ex, and I didn’t even know if she would be reachable at that number or at whatever time I happened to be on the phone with the company. Deciding that I couldn’t make the update myself, I sent an e-mail to my ex at some point, asking her to take care of one of the loose ends she had left behind. She never saw fit to do anything about it until, with no occasion or warning, she e-mailed me to say that she would finally make the change.

In the meantime, I had frequent problems with the service that was not in my name. My internet service blinked out of existence for a week out of each of two months. Getting it fixed was a horrible struggle. First, it involved calling their automated telephone directory. When I was able to navigate through it, I was connected to call center representatives in South Asia, who sometimes identified themselves by names like Carl or Cindy while speaking through heavy, obfuscating accents.

These workers were apparently trained to follow a series of prompts without the option to bypass or modify them. Each time I lost internet service, I was made to reset the modem, no matter how many times I had done this on my own before calling. I was always interested in minimizing my exposure to their technical support, so I confirmed ahead of time that the problem was not on my end. Toward the end of tediously confirming this, they then ran a line test, controlled from India on lines that ran about three miles from my home.

This, however, was the process only if and when I got through on the phone. On one notable occasion, the recorded voice asked me over and over again to enter the phone number about which I was calling. Each time I did this, it reported hearing nothing, and the messages started to berate me about refusing to provide needed information. On several occasions I got past that first step and followed the prompts all the way to the point where it told me to press 4 for high speed internet tech support or 5 for dial-up internet tech support, at which point I pressed 4 and was connected with dial-up internet tech support. This happened without fail over the course of about half a dozen consecutive calls, proving that it was far more than a momentary glitch.

It’s problems like that that make me wonder whether Verizon is aware of the fact that it is a telecommunications company. If the proper maintenance of phone lines is the entirety of its business, and it can’t even handle the structure of its own internal communications, or even respond to problems with that structure in a timely fashion, it has no business providing such a service outside the walls of its own offices. Let me be an analogy. I am a writer and editor. If I was incapable of e-mailing my clients without multiple misspellings and grammatically vague run-on sentences, it would be crazy of me to think that I could help other people develop their communications. If that was the case, it would be time for me to find a new line of work.

But despite all of this, I stuck with Verizon mostly because my service wasn’t in my name, I had put my home number on all of my business cards, and I wouldn’t have been able to keep that number if I had changed service. Also, the price was reasonable if I pretended that there was never noise on my phone line and that I was receiving consistent internet speeds. I wasn’t, though.

After one technician’s visit restored my connection, I found that my speeds were literally less than one-tenth of what I was supposed to be receiving on DSL. That began a new series of struggles to get a customer service issue resolved. One Verizon operator to whom I spoke actually downplayed the problem of waiting for simple web pages to load on a DSL connection by telling me that the speeds associated with my service were quoted as being “up to one Meg,” and that that maximum wasn’t guaranteed. She did not, however, agree that by that same logic I could agree to pay the company “up to eighty-five dollars” for internet and phone, and then pay whatever the hell I wanted.

When I was finally returned to reasonable – though not at all good – service, it was immediately time for a new conflict over billing. Verizon offered me no reduction whatsoever to my bill on its own accord. They did, however, agree fairly readily to a discount of ten dollars, in exchange for having been without service for two weeks, having had drastically reduced service for another week or two, and for overall inconvenience. Because I’m unreasonable, I didn’t think that was good enough, and I committed three hours to arguing with various operators before they discounted my outstanding bill by twenty-five percent. It required waiting until I was connected to that one Verizon operator in twenty who knows the definition of the phrase “customer service.”

Make no mistake, there are some good employees at the company. Visits from their technicians are generally quite pleasant, in no small measure because they freely admit that they work for a terrible, terrible company. One of them pointed out that if he has a full schedule of repairs to do in a day and an order for new service comes in, he is always told to do the installation first. It is seemingly no secret that Verizon, which has local media plastered with advertisements but never improves its local infrastructure, is committed to getting customers in the door, but has not an ounce of care as to whether it provides decent service once a person is on the hook. That is not just a former customer’s assessment, but an employee’s. I know other technicians have reported that they won’t sign up for their own company’s service, opting to have a spouse sign up for a competitor under her name, instead. Having a different name on the bill might be a problem if they were Verizon customers, though.

The only problems I’ve had with technicians were really problems with their dispatchers. When I was trying to get my service speed raised above 0.1 Megabits, the technician simply never arrived. No one called to make a new appointment, and as near as I could tell, the company had decided to ignore my problem and hope it went away. It took another trip through the labyrinthine phone system to get someone to acknowledge the missed appointment.

The operator got in touch with the technician and said that he claimed I never answered his phone call. But I was home the entire day, and my phone never rang. So that couldn’t be true unless they were referring to my cell phone, but I can’t figure out why they would call my secondary contact number if I was meeting the man at my home. And if his primary attempt to contact me via my secondary number failed, why would he not secondarily attempt to contact me on my primary number? Do Verizon employees just not trust Verizon telephone lines, and avoid them at all costs?

This is another point at which I think it bears repeating that Verizon is a telecommunications company. What hope could there be for providing a customer with that service if they can’t even be trusted to contact a customer through it? It couldn’t be simpler: If Verizon doesn’t know how to use phones it can’t possibly provide service for them.

The other issue that I had with a tech visit was when I sat on the phone scheduling an appointment for later in the day while I was looking at a Verizon technician out my window. That fellow had somehow managed to cut my phone line at the source while he was doing some work on the school across the street from me. I noticed that my internet went out, and then saw the Verizon truck parked on my street and the man in a hard hat standing on a ladder. I picked up my phone and confirmed that there was no dial tone, and then watched the truck pull away before I could run outside and kindly ask the driver to reconnect my service.

So I called Verizon’s technical support line and explained the situation. After asking me to check all of my phone’s connections, they let me know that they’d get somebody out there to look at it a few hours later. In the meantime, the first technician drove back onto my street, and because I was still naïve, I figured the company had done the right thing and sent him back to immediately fix the problem he’d caused. Instead, he went back to work on the school. I walked outside to speak to him and see if he realized what he had done. He had not. I asked him if he could plug my service back in while he had his ladder out. He informed me that he could not, as it wasn’t on his schedule of repairs. Another technician came out later that afternoon. I still wonder how much ground there was between his previous appointment and my home, but I’ll bet it was more than two hundred yards.

Maybe it was because it was silently agreed that my service could be cut off without warning, at any time, for no reason that I sometimes received sales calls at my residence from Verizon while I was a Verizon customer. This would come from India and they would inform me that the representative could sign me up for phone, internet, and television service. I would tell them that I already had two of these through Verizon and didn’t need the third. They would then say, “Oh, you’re a Verizon FIOS customer?” And I would have to tell these people – these people who worked at Verizon – that no, I was not a FIOS customer, because I had long ago been informed that FIOS was not available in my area.

The first of these sales representatives responded, “Oh, it’s probably available. Verizon works hard to get the new networks installed in all of its service areas.” He then asked me to hold the line, which I did despite the fact that I knew he was talking bullshit, because other former Verizon customers had told me that when the company told them that the new infrastructure wasn’t available in their area, they added that the customer could sign up for it anyway, and once they had enough subscriptions in the neighborhood, they would actually install it.

A minute after putting me on hold, the first sales representative came back to the line sounding crestfallen and said, “We don’t have it. Sorry.” It’s probably not a good sign when one’s customers know more about his operations than his employees do. As a telecommunications company, you’d really think that Verizon would be able to manage its call directories. If it’s to be regarded as an expert in communicating information, it damn well better be capable of keeping abreast of internal changes as to who is and isn’t a customer, or who is and isn’t accessible to some of its services.

Another sales representative who called me with the exact same offer put me on hold for the same reason, and rather than sheepishly acknowledging that I knew what I was talking about, she disconnected the call. Or maybe the call was just disconnected. It happened to me when I was fighting to get back my phone number just the other day. I managed to reach one of the rare helpful employees, and when I explained why I had lost the number after my ex saw fit to finally disconnect service, she asked “Well why don’t we just put your name on the old account?”

I was stunned, because I’d been told many times over the course of two years that that could not be done, and my ex had been told the same thing before she went ahead and had me cut off altogether. This particular operator asked me for a contact number for my ex, and then put me on hold while she tried to call her. After a moment, the line went silent and was disconnected. Dropped customer service calls are hardly the hallmark of a good telecommunications company.

My chances of reaching the same operator again were slim to begin with, but dropped to nil when the automated directory gave me a different set of options from what it had given ten minutes earlier. The next operator was rather less helpful. Amazingly, she agreed that a change could be made, but she insisted that the only way she could do it was to try to reach the contact number that they had on file for the person whose name was on the account. I figured that would be fine if the number was correct, so I asked what it was. She said she couldn’t give me that information. I told her what the current contact number was and asked her if the one she had matched it. She said she couldn’t give me that information. I asked her what she would do if the number was wrong. She said nothing.

It bears repeating just one more time: Verizon is a freaking telecommunications company. Also, it’s the twenty-first century. We have home phones and phones that we carry around with us, physical mail and electronic mail, SMS text messaging, call waiting, voicemail. Surely in this environment a telecommunications company can come up with more than one method for trying to confirm information between two parties. It would have been a simple thing for me to call my ex and ask her to call Verizon to release my number. Or they could have checked her IP address via e-mail to confirm that she doesn’t live in my area anymore and doesn’t need a local number, and thus Verizon could elect not to hold the number for her for eighty days. But as it is, they can’t elect not to do anything, because the computers are in charge and policies can’t be overridden in favor of common sense.

I called one more time, and received an operator who offered yet a different set of information. Though she thought that adding my name might have been possible before my ex cancelled the service, she insisted that it absolutely could not be done now. Despite being unhelpful, she strove to sound sympathetic, repeating that she understood my frustrations. So I trust she understood my decision to never come near her company again.

My contact number is gone, turning my current business cards into unique bookmarks, but at least I’m free of the egregious service that Verizon had subjected me to. I’ve got internet through Time Warner now, and it is already infinitely better. I’m a little afraid I’ll never have a problem and thus never be able to compare their customer service. I’ll probably get my new office phone number through the Magic Jack. I don’t know what to expect from it, but Verizon has set the bar for my satisfaction very low.

So in case it hasn’t be said clearly enough with the preceding 2,900 words: Stay the hell away from Verizon!

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