The Verizon Saga

Back when we bought the house, Kate's parents were having miserable problems with their cable Internet service-- at peak times, the real bit rate went down so far that it was impossible to get anywhere-- so we opted for DSL service. Five years later, we still have DSL, and even the same modem.

When we had the garage remodeled, we had the contractor install a phone jack near the front windows, with the idea being to move my computer downstairs to free up a bedroom to become a nursery for FutureBaby. The contractor put in the jack, and we dragged the computer downstairs, hooked everything up, and... No connection. A line tester showed that the polarity was wrong, so I spent a little time swapping wires around until the tester lit up green. Nothing.

So, we called Verizon to get a DSL tech sent out to fix the new jack. This was one of the most frustrating customer service experiences I have ever had, as will become clear below the fold.

When we first called, it didn't seem that bad. Kate called from work, and the service rep arranged to call back in the evening to check things. After verifying that the DSL modem worked just fine on the upstairs jack where it had always been, they agreed that there was something weird going on, and gave Kate a number to call to set up a service call. As I have a more flexible schedule than she does, I agreed to make the call.

First of all, Verizon has the smarmiest-sounding phone menu voice ever-- some incredibly smug-sounding woman who just oozes superiority to the people calling for tech support. Their computer system is also completely worthless-- every time I called, I had to give my account number to the automated system, and then again to every single person I talked to. They never once managed to transfer my account information from one person to another.

This, of course, gives me great confidence in their abilities as an Internet service provider.

After several minutes in Phone Menu Hell and on hold, I was connected to a thickly-accented woman in India, who did manage to locate the record of Kate's earlier call, and agreed that a service visit was called for. However, she said that the dispatching of technicians was handled by the analog service department, not the DSL service department, gave me a different number to call, and transferred me.

After several more minutes on hold, I got a woman in the analog service dispatch department who asked what the problem was, and as soon as she heard the word "DSL" transferred me back to the DSL hold queue. Without waiting to hear my explanation.

Two calls later, and a lot more Phone Menu Hell-- the "direct" number I was given went to exactly the same phone menu system as the first number-- I managed to get another operator, who actually listened, and set up a service call for Saturday, between 1 and 5 pm.

At 5:30, before heading out to see Hellboy, Kate called and told them that the technician hadn't shown up. They apologized, and set up a new appointment for Monday morning, between 8am and noon. I agreed to stay home from work and wait for the tech.

At 11:00, I called to see what the status was (more Phone Menu Hell, more holding). "They picked up the job at 10:30-- they should be there any moment." was the answer.

At 12:05, I left for work, steam coming out of my ears.

After lunch, I called them again (more Phone Menu Hell, more holding), and said "This is the second time in three days that your service people have missed an appointment. I am no longer willing to pay for a service call-- I'll give you one more chance if you waive the fee, or else I'm calling Time Warner."

After a flurry of transfers and call-backs it emerged that what happened was that the tech who picked up the job at 10:30 was not one of their regulars, and managed to drive all the way out here before noticing that it was a DSL problem. He didn't actually have a DSL tester, so he turned around and went back to the office without closing the ticket. And nobody saw fit to tell me, the customer waiting at home for the goddamn tech to show up.

They apologized profusely, and agreed to send a tech out Tuesday morning. He was here for all of about fifteen minutes-- the problem turned out to be a 25-year-old radio filter that was put on the line entering the house back in the 80's. The upstairs jack was a later addition, and split off from a point before the filter, so it was the only jack in the house that could possibly get DSL service.

When he finally got here, the service guy was terrific-- he fixed the problem in no time, and was very nice about the whole thing. The process of getting a tech out there was absolutely miserable, though, and I can't recommend it. The next time we have a problem, I think I'm going directly to "Fix this, or I'm calling Time Warner," which seemed to be the magic phrase for getting results (the contractor put a cable jack in with the phone jack, just in case).

The important thing is, we've got wired connectivity again (which means I can use my desktop to access the Internet, and not wreck my neck and shoulder hunching over the tablet). We also have a spiffy new networked multifunction printer, so I can hasten the deforestation of the Amazon basin by printing book drafts out for editing purposes...


More like this

Our home Internet has been out since Friday, which is, as you might imagine, somewhat vexing. The most likely cause is that our DSL modem is dying (it's nine years old), which raises a technical problem. A few years ago, when we last had a problem requiring a service call, the tech who came out…
So here's what I've been through for the last few days. Two trips to Lansing (an hour away), one in a driving rainstorm and the second in a driving snowstorm. Yes, it's Michigan and we're getting snow in October. On the first trip, I bought a brand new case, motherboard and processor. I brought it…
I'm baaack. Well, thanks to free WiFi at Panera's, I was never really truly away. Thanks to Comcast, I was away longer than usual. In any case, although between waiting for Internet access, running errands, and doing some snowblowing last night, I didn't have time to do the usual epic substantive…
Up to this morning, I really thought I'd be able to get some real work done on this blog over the next couple of weeks. We're moving out of the hotel and into the apartment tomorrow (finally), and I had planned to catch up on a lot of the housekeeping around here once I have regular access to…

We had two unfortunate experiences with getting Verizon DSL. When we lived in an apartment we decided to upgrade from dial-up to DSL. Made the call, got the modem, and they scheduled a date/time to make the switch at their end (I forget the exact timeline). Well when they made the switch we lost our phone -- no dial tone, no internet connection. It took a couple days of sitting on hold on a cellphone to determine the problem. Apparently there were two switches that had to be made, one at their central location and one at a more local routing station. The local switch had been made on schedule, but the central hub was backlogged (I believe there was some employee work stoppage or sick-out at the time) and would take some time before they could get to us. And the Verizon office handling my local phone service had no idea and was never told of the switch to DSL -- a supervisor even admitted that communication between departments was poor. Finally after 3 days both phone and DSL were up and running. A couple years later we bought a house and contacted Verizon as soon as possible to set up transferring our DSL to new place across town. This time there was no interruption in phone service, however I was informed that the DSL would not be up for a couple weeks after moving into the house because the local substation was unmanned and it would take a while to schedule a subcontractor to go there and make the switch. Frustrated I called Comcast (whom I already had cable with), explained my situation and asked how long to get a tech to set me up with Broadband access. They scheduled an appointment for the very next day, and within 24 hours I had broadband cable access and had cancelled my DSL. It was probably the worst customer service experience I've ever had.

Google the Board of Directors, write each a polite short (less than one page, large font) letter on crisp white paper. End with your signature, your title, then Cc: your local newspapers and the FCC Commissioner.

Charging under contract for services not provided is civil fraud. You deserve proper service, compensation for your losses, and punitive levies against a rogue business.

A consumer interface is meant to dissuade not aid. Management is about process not product. Support evolution - shoot back. (Don't alledge criminality vs. compensation, for that is extortion.)

Had a similar experience dealing with Verizon customer service on an old cellphone account. Don't be so sure that your threats will be effective. In my case, I got sufficiently frustrated that I finally leveled an ultimatum: "You have 2 billing cycles to fix this problem, then I switch to a different provider." (The problem involved services that were supposed to be bundled with my plan appearing as additional charges, for which they repeatedly offered a credit and then charged me again).

I thought I was being nice by offering them the extra time. When they got down to the final round, I made sure that the people I spoke with knew the situation: "If these charges are on next month's bill, I am going to cancel my account." I made sure to get the name of the manager I was speaking with and made sure that he knew I was going to name him as the person who promised me the problem would be fixed. He even joked that if the problem wasn't fixed he would deserve to be fired for poor service.

Needless to say, I had to cancel Verizon cellphone service the next month, and they were shocked when I told them I was cancelling. When I pointed out that I had been promised repeatedly that my billing problem would be fixed, they claimed they had *no record of my previous complaints*.

Verizon customer service lies and is completely bloody incompetent. Their tech end is pretty good, but if the customer service people tell you that the sky is blue, you might want to open a window and check.

Reading your tales of woe in Verizon phone-hell made me more thankful than ever for having recently quit my job--an outsourced Verizon DSL Technical Support agent.

Verizon is indeed incredibly disorganized. This phenomenon is due largely to the merged nature of the company. Resultant from the alliance of GTE and Bell Atlantic, many of the redundant departments failed to merge and standardize. What's more, the DSL and phone services operate much like separate companies. The customer contact record-keeping databases of each section of the company do not in any way interact, and the maintenance control/dispatch system is inaccessible directly by DSL technical support agents.

Yes, the voice-activated robot is annoying. The agents are actually provided with your phone number when you call, and do have caller ID--but Verizon insists nonetheless that the agent request the phone number again. This is but one of the questionable policies that agents must endure. It's also not necessarily the case that the customer service representatives are lying to you--more likely it is that the agent has been misinformed, conflictingly informed, or is unable to access/find the information they need. The software systems agents have to work with are notoriously convoluted and outdated.

As with most outsourced customer service, agents are paid bonuses based on the length of their call handle time--the shorter their average call, the more money they make. Moreover, the company that employs the agents makes money based on the number of calls handled. As a result, the agent's first goal is to get you off the line as quickly as possible. This leads to the behaviour you experienced--having your call transferred to a different department as soon as an excuse can be found to do so.

The best bet in navigating your way through technical support is to know the keywords that will get you what you need. If you have feedback to provide, Verizon Direct at DSL Reports can get you in touch with a representative. There is also a customer feedback mailing address should you want to send them a letter--ask your helpful technical support representative.

I had an experience similar to Scott's @ #3. Verizon offered me DSL once they started the service in my area. When I told them I was already getting cable, they said they'd give me a second month free, beyond the one month teaser. I said okay & they sent the modem and the software. Well, they hadn't worked the bugs out of the software yet, so it didn't work. The cable modem came about a week later, so I said screw it and sent all the DSL stuff back to Verizon. Lo and behold, I got charged for two months DSL service. Cue Scott's frivolity - same crap. Never got my $$ back, and after one year of arguing & fighting with them I threw in the towel.

Just to be contrary, I've had verizon DSL and actually haven't had too many problems. I had a funny call once when we wanted to upgrade our modem. I kept asking questions about different service options, and it seemed that with every question (not real biting questions, just general questions), the tech on the other line offered me another month free of service. By the end of the call, we had a new, higher speed modem, three months of free service, and a cheaper month-to-month contract to boot!

Honestly, though, I feel your pain. Customer service is a lost art. Don't get me started about Lowe's...

To be fair, you can substitute Comcast or AT&T (Cingular...) for Verizon without loss of accuracy. I won't go into detail on my experiences because they weren't with Verizon, but I will say that my pulse begins to race when I sit down to call any telecommunications company.

Unfortunately this isn't a recent turn of events. Around the time of the AT&T divestiture New Jersey Bell published a full page ad for ISDN service. When the number was called you'd get a recording listing the hours of service. This was during their hours of service.

Not accepting responsibility for problems is traditional as well. Data service would be down over a weekend and would suddenly come back up when they'd run a diagnostic. Of course they'd never admit to finding a problem.

My favorite Verizon customer support story has been immortalized at its own website called VerizonMath. Check out the recording or transcript of the call where the poor victim goes through multiple support people and managers who just don't understand that "0.002 dollars" and "0.002 cents" are different quantities.

I used to be a new hire trainer for a contract company that provided customer service for Verizon cellular subscribers. Several points:

1. Our hiring requirements were that you could pass a diagnostic test that evaluated whether you might be a good CSR. No HS diploma or GED required, not even a resume. Applicant who came to interview in unlaced hi-tops, jeans at mid-thigh, boxers hanging out, FUBU hoodie? Hired on the spot. Applicant who stared at the interviewer's breasts while answering questions (not just glanced, but stared such that she had to duck her head down and sideways to look him in the eye)? Hired on the spot. So the employee pool is not exactly comprised of Rhodes scholars who can see the big picture. Doesn't excuse their inability to do the job, just bear that in mind.

2. Since we were a vendor we were only partially tied into the internal systems, so we did not get the screen pop based on you providing your phone number or account number. We had to ask for it again just to bring up the account, although the cell number is also used as the primary means of account verification, so they may be asking for it for that reason as well.

You'll notice that I said my former employer. One of the reasons I left, in addition to low pay and horrible benefits (from the vendor, not Verizon) was that ongoing frustration I experienced having to sit and listen to calls every day. I trained these people the best I could, but sometimes it was like trying to sculpt the Pieta out of mud.

Lord knows cable is no promised land, but it's a damn site better than DSL, in every way. I can't imagine voluntarily dealing with a legacy telco.

Why not just use WiFi from a neighbor's open port? ;-)

A backup position would have been to put a hub in the kids future room and network the rest of the house. All of the bandwidth will be used by the kid in about 6 or 7 years anyway, so why not plan ahead?

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 16 Jul 2008 #permalink

I don't watch enough TV to make cable attractive, so I've had DSL for about a decade from two different providers. The first provider got bought out and I transitioned to AT&T (SBC.) I must be an outlier because of the 5-6 problems I've had, AT&T has resolved all but one of them in a reasonable amount of time with very little nonsense.

The one problem is what I call the Green Acres Incident. My DSL would go out, but every time I picked up the phone to call tech support, it'd come back. I'd hang up and it'd go out again. After two calls, I tried an experiment - would DSL come back if I lifted the phone off the switch hook? Yes it would.


So I called tech support and explained the situation. I didn't have to derail someone from a script and I wasn't transferred all over the company. They tried dissuading me against having a truck sent out ("if it's a problem inside your house, you have to pay for the truck.") Duh - that's why I run my tests from the interface box before calling you. So they sent out a tech.

The tech fiddles around and confirms that something weird is going on but doesn't know what. I suggest that he go over to the other AT&T truck down the block and ask if what the guy on the pole is fiddling with could be affecting my DSL. He wanders down the block and has a nice chat with the guy on the pole. He comes back.

"So they're replacing the line on your street and the way they do that is put up the new line, stitch it into the old line at both ends, then move all the taps from the old line to the new line, then cut the old line down when they're done. That way each individual customer's outage time is limited to the time it takes to move their tap. What's probably happening is that you're getting half the current on your line so DSL is dropping out, but when you take the phone off the hook, you draw enough current to pull DSL back up into a usable range. They'll be done moving the line in about a week, so the problem should be gone by then. Honestly, I've never seen this kind of a problem before."

I don't fault AT&T for that outage because a) it was really freaky and unpredictable, and b) it's a great example of an issue with signal and power electronics. Besides, I had a cell phone so keeping the landline off the hook for a week was no big deal.

YMMV, but AT&T DSL here has been very reliable and service has been pretty reasonable.

Verizon is a four-letter word.

By themadlolscientist (not verified) on 16 Jul 2008 #permalink

Verizon may be a four letter word, but the part about being passed around on the phone sounds exactly like my own experience with BT in England, so I wonder whether this is a universal incompetence. BT, it eventually emerged, have two entirely separate customer databases for telephone and internet customers, which do not communicate in any way, in spite of the fact that the two services are sold as a single package and even use the same physical line.

I wonder if even Verizon could cap that.

These stories sound like something out of "Brazil", especially the last mention of "if the problem is inside your house".

BTW, if you haven't seen "Brazil" (preferably the original cut), WALL-E's use of a fresnel lens to watch a VHS tape on an iPod is totally an homage to that movie.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 17 Jul 2008 #permalink

"First of all, Verizon has the smarmiest-sounding phone menu voice ever-- some incredibly smug-sounding woman who just oozes superiority to the people calling for tech support."

Heh -

Now I want to call just to hear the smug, smarmy voice menu lady. What's the number?