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Ralph Nader: The Agony Of Accessing Verizon; CEO Vestberg Should Play Customer For A Day – OpEd

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Who hasn’t had difficulty just getting through the multi-layered, often automated call center of your telephone company? Never mind getting a solution to your problem in due time.

I’d like to share with you our experience with Verizon. We have a simple residential landline with no bells and whistles. We started getting calls every day that went “Ping, ping, ping, ping,” with no robocaller trying to sell anything. It began with a “ping” and ended some 90 seconds later if we didn’t hang up.

The other problem was that we were cut off in the middle of a conversation with a human being on a 1-800 line.

So, I embarked on the journey of getting answers from Verizon. It took about 90 minutes. As usual, if you ask sequential questions, you learn a lot despite the frustration.

I called Verizon and was put on hold. A person comes on and asks for my PIN number for “safeguarding my privacy.” I was told all calls are recorded. No PIN number was readily available. She said, “OK then,” she would have to call me back for verification. She called back and asked, “Are you migrating to fiber?” “No, we have a copper line.” I asked: “What’s this got to do with my two problems that I had described to you?” She said that her office could only handle complaints from copper lines where fiber optic was not available to the customer.

“Are you trying to push us into fiber optic?” I inquired, recalling friends who complained of such pressure tactics. She said something like fiber-optic provides better service at no extra cost. If I agreed, she could then send a “troubled ticket” to the repair station. Otherwise, she would have to send me over to the “Business Office.”

At the “Business Office,” a recording comes on saying that “due to the high volume of calls,” I’d have to wait 8 to 10 minutes to get a call back if I didn’t want to hold on. Ok, later a robot came on and asked for my “10-digit phone number.” Three times, I gave it and three times it was rejected.

Finally, “Michelle” came on, again asked for the PIN number, again had to call me back for “safeguarding your account.” She looked over our accounts and asked about moving to fiber optic. “It costs only $20 plus taxes,” she said, contradicting the previous Verizon person. She added, “if you don’t want to migrate to fiber, no problem, but why don’t you want to go fiber?” Again, I said we were satisfied with the copper line. Then she tried to address our problems by transferring me to “Tech Support,” because “she didn’t have the tools to fix it.”

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Anticipating losing contact and having to start all over, I asked Michelle if she would stay on the line until another human being from Tech Support came on. She agreed. Then began a series of waiting periods because Michelle herself couldn’t get through. Music started playing and every three or so minutes, Michelle would come back on to reassure us that she was still trying. After a few of these holds with music, I asked her if she could record a flamenco for a change. Rare spontaneity – she laughed and said she wasn’t in charge of the choice of music.

Finally, she got through to a Tech Support staffer named “Andi.” Michelle stayed on the line while “Andi” was reviewing Michelle’s notes. I felt ever more sympathy for these Verizon employees after Michelle plaintively declared: “My goal today was to provide you with outstanding service.” She thanked me, waiting for my concurrence, mentioning she needed it “for my files.” The “performance evaluation” dragon, no doubt.

“Andi” confidently came on the phone. She says the problem with the beep could be a “network problem coming from Verizon” or could be “a wiring problem” down the street. It could be either a physical issue or a signaling matter. If the latter, she might be able to fix it from her computer. She asked me to wait some minutes for the results of the test. She returned to say that it doesn’t seem to be a physical problem. She’ll have “to escalate” to the “central office” for a “definite not temporary fix.” Meanwhile, she’ll keep trying to fix it herself, advising that the “central office” will call me once they do some tests. (For you readers, the direct tech support number, to save you time, is 1-800-922-0204).

So as not to lose contact (they don’t give their extension) and have to start all over, I asked her for my repair ticket number, which she gave me. Whew! She concluded by saying that a robot would come on, ask whether our line is “copper” or “fiber,” and then a human being comes on.

Two hours later, a man phones. He seems really experienced, speaks down to earth without jargon. He gives me a contrary “Tech Support” opinion. Namely, there’s nothing Verizon can do about the beeping calls. Millions of customers get these calls. It’s part of the robocall, spam calls, beeping calls assault. He gets them too. Been going on for years. Every attempted fix is circumvented by the outlaw telemarketers who keep doing this. But I noted, that’s not what “Andi” was telling me. What gives?

He responded by saying that Verizon has a “special group” that deals with automated calls, but neither they nor anyone else, have succeeded in developing software that can end this daily harassment of telephone customers. He agreed that putting the beeping phone down until it ends persuades the computer’s algorithms that you’re not a worthwhile call and lets you off – for a while.

As for being cut off in midst of a conversation on a 1-800 line, he suggested asking whether the person is using a cellphone or a cordless phone, to possibly find the cause.

With some prompting, he related that the structural problem is rooted in (1) reducing the needed number of employees, (2) less reliable outsourcing, and (3) top executives who are “so far removed” from the activities of their staff-customer relations. He added that not only is this robo nightmare making people not answer their phones, but that Verizon itself when responding to customer complaints can’t get through for the same reason. Quite an irony, I noted, describing “the old rotary phone days” when it was so much easier to get through to one another, including the phone company.

I concluded with the suggestion that Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg (Corporate Office: 908-559-2001) should spend a couple of days “playing customer” calling with a variety of complaints or questions and learn the agonies, if only in a simulated manner. He sighed, as I assured him that this is the kind of experience, we and many others will be demanding from this very highly paid CEO! A new horizon for Verizon’s boss.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a politician, activist and the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel. In his career as consumer advocate he founded many organizations including the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Center for Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action Project, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility and The Multinational Monitor (a monthly magazine).

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