Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Verizon's Copper-Free Diet and the Poorly Educated Consumer

          The frustration, confusion and anger of an elderly friend showed the upcoming public relations debacle awaiting Verizon and other incumbent carriers in their expedited rush to eliminate copper-based services.  From my experience Verizon’s employees—particularly ones on the wireless side—have no clue on how to minimize the harm.

           My friend should be the kind of customer Verizon should cherish.  She’s a triple play subscriber with a triple digit monthly bill.  She accrues no benefit in subscribing to both wireline and wireless Verizon services, because the company has a bizarre policy of completely separating the business dealings of the two ventures, except for offering a single bill. She’s paying Verizon wireless for unlimited long distance even as she has plenty of anytime, anywhere wireless minutes.  She’s satisfied with Digital Subscriber Line “broadband” transmission speed.

            My friend’s satisfaction came to a quick halt when she went shopping for a new wireless handset.  She wanted to use the same shiny, cutting edge smartphone, because that’s the device her children use.  For that privilege, she had to abandon a low cost wireline/wireless service combination.  Okay so far: having access to a 4G smartphone has its costs.

            Despite repeated assertions that Verizon Wireless employees do not receive commission’s my friend’s salesperson routinely inserted a 2 Gigabyte data plan.  No examination of my friend’s data use.  To add insult to injury, the sales person convinced my friend that she should use a “wireless solution” to her in-home, voice telephone requirements. 

            Might there be a spiff, kickback or other gratuity for salespeople spearheading the migration from copper to wireless, or fiber?

            In any event, the Verizon Wireless employee conveniently failed to mention that my friend would have to buy a special version of old school cordless telephones to access a wireless router that the company would provide “free of charge.”  This router handles in-house voice calls using 2.5G cellular spectrum thereby guaranteeing that the new, allegedly cheaper voice service could not be used for data applications.

            Convenient or not, the Verizon Wireless employee also failed to mention that in migrating to the wireless solution, my friend could no longer access the Internet using her DSL connection. Of course she could use her cutting edge 4G smartphone to access the Internet cloud at speeds far in excess of wireline DSL, but get this Verizon, some people do not want an Internet experience viewed from a small, smartphone screen.  My friend still wants broadband access using a personal computer: quaint, but possibly essential for an older person with declining vision.

            To her complete dismay, my friend found out that she no longer had Internet access and that the new black box provided by Verizon Wireless did not work with any of her existing phones still plugged into the existing RG-11 jack.  Obviously this is not what she bargained.

             Verizon added insult to injury by skimping on telephone-based customer service.  Repeated called got disconnected, probably because the representative realized the call would take too long to resolve in light of severe expectations on the number of calls handled per hour.

             I got involved and accompanied my friend to the local Verizon Wireless store.  The place has an uncanny similarity to a car dealership.  The company uses multiple salespeople and a hand off process that sure looks like a way to “tenderize” the customer and beat them into submission so that the last representative can lard on insurance, extra features and accessories, of course accruing no commission, spiff, or kickback.

             Two hours later, I achieved a remedy, albeit a still costly one.  It was remarkable to see that the Verizon Wireless representative experienced the same recordings and runaround as my friend.  A wireless call triggered a wireless Verizon customer service agent even though the local Verizon Wireless employee used a wireline Verizon toll free number.  The local employee had to resort to a wireline telephone to get through to Verizon wireline.

             How ironic (copper/iron pun intended).

             The lessons learned:

 1)         Verizon is one of those “too big to fail” ventures that screws up customer care, even if arguably it invests more in the process than a company like Comcast;

 2)         Verizon is using far too aggressive tactics to nudge and push wireline customers onto wireless options, particularly in areas lacking FiOS;
 
3)         Verizon Wireless has so many walk-in customers—even in the little town of State College, Pennsylvania—that sale people forget their scripts and checklists.  The emphasis is on speeding up the transaction and not assessing the customer’s requirements, and understanding about the battery backup limitations and the need to buy new phones, etc.; and

 4)         Consumer interest in having the latest and greatest smartphone can lead of costly and unneeded service arrangements; and

 5)         Consumers surely must prepare for the high pressure, time is of the essence decision making that still locks most into a 2 year service agreement.

1 comment:

Ben Cramer said...

Evidence has come to light that the Customer "Service" employees at Comcast are incentivized to sell new plans and generate revenue, with few or no rewards for actually solving the customer's problem. Don't know about Verizon but it would not be a surprise if they incentivize employees in the same way. The same is probably true for the in-store employees too.

Here is a personal story. A few months ago my rechargeable smartphone battery was getting worn out. Eventually I just bought a couple of replacements online. But before I did that, I figured that I would visit my friendly local AT&T store to see if they had any replacement batteries available and to enjoy the personalized customer service. The dude made FOUR attempts to convince me that my real problem was that I needed a whole new phone (with new service plan, of course). I resisted the four attempts with an increasingly annoyed tone before the dude finally admitted that they didn't have the batteries in stock. I have since ditched AT&T, by the way.