How NOT to Provide Customer Service

Recently I have some experience with Verizon when I changed our telephone (both local and long distance) service from at&t to Verizon. That experience dealing with Verizon’s service order process and more generally speaking their customer service process was a very painful experience. It was probably the worst customer service experience I have personally experienced dealing with a major company in the U.S. It almost provides a textbook example of how not to provide customer service.

I want to share that experience with the reader by summarizing the problems that I encountered with Verizon. More detailed information about those problems are described in the letter attached below that I wrote to Verizon’s CEO and the Presiding Director of their Board of Directors.

Basically, I encountered four serious problems with Verizon:

  1. Incorrect Information: Multiple Verizon agents and Verizon corporate gave me incorrect information on multiple occasions, including incorrect activation date, incorrect description of how activation will be implemented, incorrect charges, incorrect price quotes for additional features, and mistakes in bills.
  2. Promised Dates Were Not Met: Several delivery dates came and gone, and nothing was done.
  3. Lack of a Well-Thought-Out Process: One part of Verizon sent information that was in conflict with another part of Verizon and in conflict with my specific order. Automated voice response always asks for 3-digit code that appears on the bill, but being a new customer, I have not yet received any bill and therefore do not know what my 3-digit code is. Information needed to use the service was not provided to me until about two weeks after I have been paying for the service.
  4. Difficult to Do Business With: Extremely difficult to navigate the automated voice response and get to an agent. After getting through to an agent, the agent was not knowledgeable and had to refer me to another agent in another department or location, who also didn’t have the answer, and then had to refer me again. Furthermore, none of them had any idea where I can get an answer to a basic question of whether the services I ordered actually appeared in the service order for my account.

Originally we were planning to upgrade our service with Verizon to subscribe to their FiOS’s Triple-Play Service Package (telephone, Internet access, and TV), and drop our current Internet access and cable TV services with Comcast. After this experience, we are reluctant to make that switch, especially considering that Comcast has been very responsive and easy to do business with their customer service representatives. However, we do experience quite frequently (monthly, and sometimes weekly) service outages with our Internet access service from Comcast. These outages usually are of short durations, of the order of minutes or tens of minutes, but sometimes could be hours. We have heard that FiOS is very reliable for Internet access service. I would welcome very much readers’ comments on their experiences with Verizon, Comcast, or other related companies.

To Verizon’s credit, a few days after I sent the letter to Verizon’s CEO and the Presiding Director of their Board of Directors, someone from their Executive Customer Relations office did call me. He asked me whether the billing errors have been corrected. He also said that they have been looking for several months at the customer service part of their business and changes will be forthcoming. I also told him that their bills are very difficult to understand, and he said that they have also been looking at making their bills more transparent and more easily understandable. I am taking a wait-and-see attitude to decide whether Verizon is a company that I want to continue to do business or expand my business with. He also tried to call me later, but after we played telephone tags several times, he didn’t call back again.

Date: July 16, 2008

Subject: Verizon’s Customer Service

To: Mr. Ivan G. Seidenberg
Chairman and CEO
Verizon Communications, Inc.
140 West Street, 29th Floor
New York, New York 10007

Dr. Sandra O. Moose
Presiding Director
Board of Directors
Verizon Communications, Inc.
140 West Street, 29th Floor
New York, New York 10007

Mr. Seidenberg and Dr. Moose,

As a customer and also shareholder of Verizon, I would like to report on my recent experience interacting with Verizon with respect to switching my local and long distance telephone service from at&t to Verizon. It was an extremely negative experience. As a matter of fact, having worked in the telecommunications business for about 25 years, including in the areas of operations and customer service, I am sorry to say that my recent series of interactions with Verizon is probably the worse I have come across.

On 5/29/08, I called Verizon and requested to switch my local/long distance telephone service from at&t to the Verizon Freedom Essential Plan with Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail services for the promotion price of $29.99 per month during the first year ($46.99 after the first year). I also subscribed to the International Choice Rate feature for $1.00 per month (rate as quoted to me), that would significantly reduce the charge for any international call.

I would like to summarize briefly the problems that I experienced during the next few weeks with respect to the service order and customer service process.

I. Multiple mistakes in information conveyed by multiple Verizon agents and Verizon corporate:

  1. The 5/29 agent told me that the switchover will be on Wednesday 6/4, between 8 AM and 12 noon. When that date/time had passed, I called Verizon and found out that it was scheduled for Thursday, 6/5.
  2. After the switchover occurred on 6/5, I discovered that there was no Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail! 
  3. So I called Verizon again on 6/6. A second agent told me that the Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail services will be implemented on Wednesday, 6/11. She also told me that I will be receiving an information package which would explain these services. When 6/11 came and went, these three services still had not been implemented.
  4. I called Verizon again on Thursday, 6/12. A third agent told me that the earliest date that those three services could be implemented would be the following Monday, 6/16. I requested to talk to a supervisor and asked that those services be implemented earlier, since it was a series of Verizon mistakes that caused a delay of more than a week (the Caller ID service is especially useful to us and is something that we have relied on for many years). The supervisor finally agreed that those services will be implemented before the end of that day 6/12.
  5. The 5/29 agent also mistakenly told me that to do the switchover, a Verizon technician will have to come to work on the phone box by the curb outside of our house. It turned out that the switchover could be done remotely in the central office.
  6. When I asked the 5/29 agent about the cost of the Inside Wiring Maintenance Plan, she told me that the Verizon Freedom Essential Plan includes that Plan for free. That was a big surprise to me, and I doubted her information. So I asked her whether she is sure about that statement, she said yes and said that only that particular plan includes the Inside Wiring Maintenance for free. Later, I found out that this is also not true.
  7. On 6/16, I received a letter from Verizon welcoming me as a new Verizon Freedom Essential customer for the low monthly rate of $49.99. So on 6/17, I called Verizon and asked why the monthly rate isn’t $29.99. I was told by a fourth agent that that is just a standard letter Verizon sends out to all customers and their standard rate is $49.99 (which was just recently increased from the standard rate of $46.99), although my promotion rate is $29.99. She told me that I can just ignore that letter, and assured me that when I receive my bill, it will be $29.99.

    Even if this were the case, Verizon should never send a letter to a customer stating that the monthly rate is $49.99 when the rate for that customer is $29.99. This just creates concern and confusion for the customer, and wastes time for the customer and Verizon when the customer calls Verizon to inquire. Furthermore, in case of disputes on the price, the customer would not have any written documentation that the service he subscribed to is for $29.99 per month.

  8. On 6/23, I received my first bill from Verizon, and to my surprise the charge was $46.99 for the monthly charge. So this is different from what the agent in Item I.7 assured me, and also different from the promotional rate of $29.99.
  9. I called Verizon again, and a fifth agent checked my account and said that I was incorrectly billed and adjusted the bill. 

    Since I didn’t see any charge for the International Choice Rate feature, I asked this agent about it. He said that my account has not subscribed to this feature, and that the cost of the feature is $4.00 per month, not $1.00 per month as what the first agent told me on 5/29.

II. Verizon did not commit to dates promised:

  1. As explained in Item I.1, the original switchover date of 6/4 was not kept.
  2. As explained in Item I.3, the implementation date of 6/11 for the Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail services was not kept.
  3. I did not receive the information package until 6/20, which was a full two-weeks after Verizon had told me (see Item I.3) that they will be sending me this package and more than three weeks after I ordered the services. This means that Verizon was charging me for services which Verizon has not provided me with information on how to use those services.

III. Lack of a well-thought-out process:  The whole process that I had experienced clearly showed that Verizon did not have a well-thought-out service order and customer service process. For example:

  1. As explained in Item I.7, Verizon should not send the general letter stating that the monthly charge for the Verizon Freedom Essential Plan is $49.99 to a customer with a promotional monthly charge of $29.99.
  2. Every time I called Verizon, the automated voice response unit would tell me to have my 3-digit code (the code after the telephone number on the bill) ready because the system or agent is going to ask for it. However, I am a new customer and have not received any bill yet; so I don’t know what my 3-digit code is. Furthermore, after I was connected to an agent, the agent would also ask me for the 3-digit code even after I have explained to the agent that I am a brand new customer. Either Verizon should give to new customers a separate toll-free number to call that doesn’t ask for the 3-digit code, or Verizon should tell the customer his/her 3-digit code at the time the service was ordered.
  3. The information package (see Item II.3) explaining the services should be sent to the customer as soon as the order has been taken. That would allow the customer to know how to use the services as soon as the services are implemented and the customer is being charged for those services. 

IV. Difficult to do business with:

  1. No matter which Verizon number I called (either the 866-302-6943 as stated in the original promotional letter, or the 800-427-9977 number in the Verizon phone book for Verizon Residential Services), it was very difficult to navigate through the automated voice response system to be connected to an agent, especially when the system keeps asking for my 3-digit code (see Item III.2). 
  2. On two separate occasions, when I called and inquired why the Caller ID, Call Waiting, and Voice Mail services have not been implemented and whether they were included in my service order, the agent transferred my call to another agent in another department or location, who then told me that their department doesn’t have that information. Furthermore, they have no idea where I can find that information.
  3. In talking to the Verizon agents, when I complained about the service order/customer support service I have been experiencing, at least twice the agent would just drop my call. I think they did that on purpose, because they didn’t want to hear any complaints from customers.

From the above, you can see that Verizon is providing extremely poor service order/customer support service. If the bad experience was with just one agent, then one could argue that the problem might be just with that particular agent. However, when the problem was with multiple agents and with Verizon corporate on multiple issues, then the problem is probably due to how Verizon runs its business, i.e., the lack of a well-thought-out service order and customer service process.

We were seriously considering of upgrading our communication services to Verizon’s FIOS for our telephone, Internet access, and TV service, and drop our current Internet access and cable TV services from Comcast. However, after our recent experience, it is unlikely that we will do that switch even if Verizon’s services are cheaper than analogous services from Comcast. This is especially so when we take into consideration how responsive and how easy it is to contact a Comcast customer service representative.

Unfortunately, our negative experience with Verizon seems to be fairly common. We have heard of horror stories from several of our friends, including the following quote:

“When I talked to both companies about their Triple-Play packages, Comcast representative is very easy and efficient to work with, but Verizon representative is awful and very difficult to work with.  This big difference in customer services on telephone conversation drove me to sign up with Comcast. … When I talked to Verizon people on the phone, it seems that nobody in Verizon is capable or authorized to complete the transaction with a customer.  Each representative told me that he/she must switch me to another representative and when he/she switched me, it was not a person but is a machine that announced 6 or 7 options for me to choose. When I went through such machine choice and got to a person, this person had to switch me again.  It kept going this way and I was switched many times and could not get it done.  So, I gave up on Verizon.”

Summary: As a stockholder of Verizon, I am appalled at such poor service order and customer support service that Verizon is providing. It creates customer dissatisfaction and increases cost. I wonder how much business Verizon is losing or not getting because of such poor service. I strongly recommend that Verizon seriously look into this issue and make appropriate changes.



Don M. Tow, Ph.D.

(my complete contact information was included in the original letter)

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