I’ve had an instructive interchange with my now former cell phone provider over the past week. It started with the USAToday story that Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth were allegedly providing customer call records to the NSA. I called Verizon Wireless, (VW) my cell phone provider, the next day to ask about the matter. The customer service manager told me all VW customers were being referred to a special 800 number set up to handle calls like mine. What the VW manager did NOT tell me was that she was referring me to the Verizon Communications (parent company to VW) customer relations office at its California regional headquarters. The Verizon Communications (VC) manager I spoke to next confirmed that Verizon was participating in the NSA program (which later turned out to be not quite true). At no time, did she distinguish between Verizon Communications’ policy on this and Verizon Wireless’ policy. I believed at the time I was talking to a representative of Verizon Wireless.
On the strength of that information, I decided to sever my relationship with Verizon Wireless (with whom I’d had almost a complaint-free relationship over five or six years). Since Qwest appeared to be the only phone company which flat out said No to the NSA, I decided to switch to Qwest.
The evening following the conversation with the VC customer relations manager, the Washington Post reported that Verizon Wireless denied its involvement in the program, stating its “customers are not affected by the NSA matter.” I wrote to Jeff Nelson, VW’s corporate communications manager, asking for further detail and a clearer statement as I felt the nine word statement was vague and open to interpretation. I did not receive any clarification from him. Several days later, Verizon Communications released a statement that it was NOT participating in the NSA program–though there is a caveat in that MCI, purchased by VC in January, appears to have cooperated with the NSA, possibly even after its purchase by Verizon.
Since I’d already put in motion my switch to Qwest and was still distressed at what I viewed as VW’s communications gaffe in sending me to Verizon Communications for a reply to my original question instead of having Verizon Wireless answer the question directly, I decided not to return to Verizon Wireless as a customer.
Today, I called Verizon Wireless asking a customer service manager named Jeff to waive my termination fee for ending my two year lease prematurely. Despite telling him that I was leaving Verizon Wireless because of their repeated communications miscues which led me to believe information that later turned out not to be true–the company would on no account waive the fee. I told Jeff that if he waived the fee and I didn’t like Qwest’s service (a distinct possibility considering its rather spotty customer service reputation), I would return to VW. But if VW didn’t waive the fee I’d never return. I also told him that if VW didn’t waive the fee I would tell the story on this blog. Despite VW’s terrific customer service record (among the highest marks of all cell phone companies), they were not moved by my story. The only sop they threw to me was that if I decided to return to VW within three months, they WOULD then waive the termination fee. My reply was that I didn’t want a conditional waiver such as that; rather I wanted an unconditional waiver.
So if you’re considering Verizon Wireless as your provider, think of this. This is a company when faced with an urgent communications emergency chose to bury its light under a basket by not informing its concerned customers clearly and directly of its corporate policy regarding the NSA. And its first response was not to say anything at all, but rather refer its customers to its corporate parent’s customer relations department. Second, when faced with their own corporate miscommunication snafu which caused customers to leave them–they made no effort to cushion the blow so said customers might be persuaded to return. Their retention strategy is to quote the rules to you and say we’re sorry for the problems we caused you but you’ve got to pay up anyway.
Does this instill confidence in you that VW is a company that knows how to ‘do the right thing?’
By the way, one thing Jeff, the customer service manager, did tell me today was that Verizon Wireless has now released a much more definitive and emphatic statement explaining it has not given any customer phone records to the NSA. Great…but too little too late. I asked Jeff why the company couldn’t have released this statement last Friday when the story first broke. His reply: “well, it’s a complicated issue and we had to do a lot of checking before we could ascertain the real facts.” I thought that was lame. In this day and age, when a company is caught up in a potential controversy, every minute it dithers is an added opportunity to lose customers’ trust, which has happend to me in this particular case.