BLOG: My Declaration of Independence from Verizon

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one cable customer to dissolve the service agreement which has connected them to their cable provider, and to declare the causes of which impel them to separation.

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Alas, unlike the Founding Fathers, I can’t quit my cable company like they quit King George.

My cable company has me by the, well, by the cables.

Here I am on a sunny day at the Verizon store in Gambrills.

Here I am on a sunny day at the Verizon store in Gambrills.

Forthwith is a story of the absurdity of modern-day customer service. It’s enough to make me want to turn off the internet, tune out the TV and drop off the grid. A threat I am ill-equipped to carry out as long as Mad Men, Homeland and Survivor remain on the air.

It Starts: Channels Disappear

In early September, our high definition premium cable channels stopped working. Not all, but key channels like HBO and Showtime. Not the end of the world, but annoying.

Now the package we get, ostensibly a value bundle, sets us back $250 each month, or about $3K a year, not including extras like movies.

We’re with Verizon.

We used Comcast in the past, but every time it rained, the cable went out—for the entire neighborhood. We told Comcast that the main box sits in a ditch and is covered with water every time it rains. To this day, the box sits in the ditch. We aren’t turning back.

So in early September, the cable channels mysteriously stopped working. We called on a Thursday night and they said they’d schedule a repair. We asked them to not come between 9 and 10:30 on Saturday because our children play sports.

On Saturday morning the phone rang just before 9 a.m. The repairman was on his way at that moment.

“I’ll stay home, you go to the game,” my husband volunteered.

Don’t ask me twice. I was out the door.

The repairman arrived and fiddled with all of the things we had already done before declaring that it wasn’t anything he could fix.

I have to say that these people do not believe a word a customer says. They must interact with an endless parade of pathological liars to be so hardened to a customer’s version of the trouble, because with each and every telephone call, you can tell them that you have done a specific and detailed list of trouble-shooting items and they will blithely ignore you and tell you to do them all again.

But, before you can get to the “I already did it” conversation, you have to go through the dreaded phone tree and push button survey.

You must devote 100 percent attention to this task because the first few minutes of the phone tree have you making various selections. If the kids interrupt and you push the wrong button, or heaven forbid, you zone out for a second, you might get the hilarious, “sorry, that option is not available at this time, followed by, “Goodbye,” followed by a disconnection click.

Then you have to start over.

If you get beyond the push buttons, you might get to the part where you have to tell the automated attendant what the issue is and she’ll try to decipher it. I’d guess that she has a 3 percent success rate.

For example, she says in her polite robot-lady voice, “I didn’t understand you, can you please repeat?”

I say, “I want to talk to customer service.”

“I didn’t understand,” she says. “Did you say that you are happy with your service?”

I feel like she’s trying to be helpful. She wants to communicate with me. I attempt the most perfect pronunciation possible: “No. I want to talk to a human being.”

“You want to know if our company is green?”

“No! Can I talk to a person?” I ask—increasingly frustrated.

“Goodbye.”

Click.

My point is, calling is a tedious exercise. For this reason, I avoid calling.

I set out to do a solid round of troubleshooting. I reboot, I check cables, I unplug and plug in again. When those don’t work, I fish around online for a solution.

After exhausting other avenues, I have to make a commitment to the call.

When you finally get to a live person, they completely ignore what you’ve done and ask you to do all of the things that you’ve already done.

Again.

I indulge. We do it all in the name of togetherness.

The Repairman Can’t Fix It

I digress, back to the story.

So the repair guy who arrives at our home does his thing — from an outsider’s viewpoint, it appears that he does everything I have already done and everything I did again with the person on the phone. But we aren’t professionals at this. Lastly he checks the connection of the cable coming into the house.

All good.

“You’ll need a new set top box,” he says.

Great, my husband says, “do you have one on the truck?”

“No. I’ll have to order it for you. Should be here in a few days,” the repairman says.

It doesn’t come Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday.

By Thursday night I make the bold commitment to the phone tree again.

We go through the whole thing and figure out that he never put the ticket in.

“Ticket is in now,” the customer service lady says. “Should be there in four days,”

It’s the HD box, right?” I ask.

“Yes, just put your old one in the box and drop it at the UPS Store,” she said.

Great! I always love an excuse to go to the UPS Store.

Four days later, the thing arrives. I disconnect all of the components, the game console and the DVD player and I figure out how and where all the cables go in. It’s a good time to clean back there, so a few Clorox wipes later and we are ready to roll.

Except, wait. There isn’t an HDMI cable input.

I soon realize that she sent the wrong box.

Back to the phone tree.

I get through to the robot lady. She doesn’t understand that I got the wrong box. She wants to give me an authorization code. I finally get a person. Of course this customer service representative doesn’t believe me and offer to send me a new box right off the bat. No, we have to go through the motions. After five minutes or so of questioning, she has a revelation.

“We sent you the wrong box,” she says.

“Mmm hmmm,” I say, smart and satisfied.

I reconnect the old box. Still doesn’t work.

I get the new box on Tuesday. I really don’t want to get into this until I can seriously devote my time and attention to it.  I wait until the weekend to get started. On Saturday, I roll up my sleeves for another go.

It’s the right box. I plug it in, I put in the code and alas… It doesn’t work.

Back to the phone tree.

They’re going to send us a repairman for Sunday morning. I didn’t know they did that on Sunday. Go Verizon!

The repairman calls at 8:30 a.m. and pulls in at 8:40 a.m. Great. We’re getting somewhere. He goes through it all again. Still not working.

Curious.

He finds the feed into the house and sees that it is loose. He tightens it and it all comes to life.

“No charge. The other guy should’ve checked that and saved you the aggravation,” he told me.

We shared a laugh at the absurdity.

On Monday, I called Verizon to say that I wanted a discount on my bill. I got through the phone tree with only one hangup and 14 minutes of wait time. I felt lucky! This is going to work out for me. I feel it. I have the facts and trouble tickets on my side.

“We don’t give discounts unless it is an entire month of no service,” the person says.

I say, “this is your fault. Your guy should’ve checked that from the get-go,” I explained.

“Sorry, it is our policy,” he says.

Suddenly, I realize why it took so long for him to pick up the phone. He’s on the other side of the earth.

I’m sure he is a good guy and providing for his family. But as he is talking my mind starts to wander. I start to think about how all of us pay $3K a year to this company, adding up the math from my neighborhood and our town. To know that Verizon is sending these tele-center jobs overseas while people are struggling in this economy right here irritates me. I try not to take it out on him. I know it isn’t his fault.

I continue to press him on getting some sort of discount for my aggravation and time. At this point I’m wondering if he doesn’t understand me or is being purposefully obtuse in order to reject my refund. I’m polite but firm. I’m not hanging up until I get something.

I dig in.

Finally, he agrees to take something off the bill.

“It will be reflected in your next month’s bill. Is there anything else?” he asks.

I can tell that he is done with me. If he just talks to disgruntled customers all day, I bet he thinks all Americans are angry and pushy. I kind of hope he doesn’t have that opinion. But if he does, I’m doing nothing to change it with this phone call.

“Yes. A discount on my bill is what I’d like to see,” I say (quite pleased with myself).

If only my children could see how perseverance pays!

I ask him, “before we hang up, can I ask how much of a credit are we getting?”

“About $8 ma’am,” he says.

Click.

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About Mitchelle Stephenson

I've gotta tell Mitchelle! Send your South County news tips, brag on your fab volunteers, talk traffic, police and fire or just say "howdy" to Mitchelle Stephenson, co-founding editor of the South River Source. Mitchelle@SouthRiverSource.com or reach me in person on mobile: 410-353-4706.

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