I’m reporting in from Florida, down here for a three-day break to visit my mother in sunny Dunedin.
On day one alone, I got enough customer service nightmare stories to keep most bloggers busy for a week.
So we are trying to set up my mother’s high-speed Internet account, which involves several calls to Verizon. In the brochure they promise customer help 24/7, but I think maybe those are just percentages.
1. When we called for support, they began shifting us around between billing, long distance, Internet, and billing again before we finally found someone to help us.
2. When we finally got the right technical support, “Paul” was able to identify quickly that are trouble was coming because of a broken DSL modem. No problem, he said: we could buy a new one at any Verizon store, or at Radio Shack or Best Buy. Then he asked us what day it was.
We soon found out he is located in the Philippines, so I guess that question is almost forgivable. He promised to connect us with Verizon customer service, so we could arrange to buy a new modem over the phone. We waited fifteen minutes for “service” to answer their phone before we decided to take our chances at retail.
3. Arrive at mall at 8:00 PM. Verizon store is closed. Fortunately, there’s a Radio Shack outlet right across the hall. But when I ask if they sell Verizon DSL modems, they laugh and laugh. I guess it’s old technology to them. It’s not funny to me.
4. Arrive at Best Buy. Yes, they sell DSL modems. They show me the empty shelf where they used to have one. They’ve sold it, and when they check the system, there are none on order. Fortunately, they can check to see what local stores have it. They suggest Destin or Panama City, which are more than 200 miles away.
5. On Saturday morning I go back to the mall. They have the modem and package it up for me, charging it to my mother’s account over three months. Good enough. Then I make the observation that I was surprised last night to find that they were the only store in the mall that closed at 7:00 PM. Chris laughs. “Sweet, isn’t it?” he says. “Union rules.” “It turns out that Verizon retail clerks belong to the same union as the guys who lay the telephone lines, and I guess they don’t work overtime in November. Chris couldn’t be happier. Over the next few weeks, he says, everyone else in the malls will work till 9, 10, 11 PM. “We’ll g0 home at seven.” But, he adds, that’s the only good thing the union does. I found it fascinating that he could so misunderstand customers' needs, and diss the union that enables him to, in the very same breath.
6. Making small talk, I ask Chris why a modem should break so soon. I was about tell him my mother only had it for two years when he said, “They only last about two years.” He said something along the lines that, if you could see what kind of components they use inside, you’d be surprised that it lasts that long. Whoever let this guy serve the public should be sentenced to six weeks manning the Verizon tech support line. Sure, his honesty was refreshing, but from a business point of view, it's got to be a firing offence.
6. When I got the modem home and unpacked, we found it came with filters and cables that we already had. It annoyed me that we had to pay for this complete kit when it was clear that we already had these components, and all we needed was a new modem. If this modem really needs to be replaced as often as Chris said, surely they should offer a less expensive package that doesn’t make us pay for a bunch of electronic components we don’t need and seem so wasteful to throw out.
One more story: on the way home from that shopping trip, I saw the dumbest advertising sign ever, outside a True Value hardware store. The sign said: “Only six more days till the greatest sale ever.”
I know that it’s trying to generate some buzz over the Friday-after-Thanksgiving retail blowout, but I can’t imagine a better way to say: “Don’t come in and buy anything today.” And in fact, on a very busy retail day, their parking lot was almost empty.
Sometimes, the sanity of small business, an entrepreneur’s ability to bring common sense to everyday life, is a huge competitive advantage.