Monday, February 06, 2006

An All-Verizon Family

Like me, you've undoubtedly heard plenty of anecdotes about lousy service. But such complaints rarely go anywhere. That's why it's nice to see one make the Washington Post.

In this case, the story was written by none other than Steven Pearlstein. For those who don't read the Post, Mr. Pearlstein writes a regular column in the Business section - usually on financial matters. Not so this week. In his column this past Friday ("Service Call"), he described how his family thought it would be a fine idea to sign up for a complete Verizon package: local phone, long distance, wireless, DSL, and TV (not FIOS TV (sorry) but rather DirecTV).

This led to over a month of frustration at the hands of Verizon sales reps, service reps, and installers, which he details in his column. His key messages are:
  • Verizon (like most companies) is organized to care about itself - it's procedures, it's organization and so on, instead of caring about things from the customer's point of view.
  • Verizon is investing huge amounts in expensive technology (of which fiber is just one aspect) only to see possible benefits frittered away by, ahem, dumb-ass policies and people who place those policies first - ahead of doing "the right thing".
In his article, Steven mentions some of those policies. I'll mention another - one which I've never seen publicized: Since Verizon uses subcontractors that don't appear to dependably follow Verizon's own policies, Verizon has seen fit to hire its own inspectors to follow the crews around. Sounds good, no? It lets Verizon save money by not having to directly hire and train temporary crews while still leaving Verizon with the final word on how work gets done, right?

However, the Verizon inspectors aren't allowed to talk to their subcontractors. The inspectors have to file reports with their supervisors who can (after waiting for the next meeting) go back to the contractors who then talk to the subcontractors who talk to the site supervisors who talk to the actual workers. As if that's not enough, the inspectors don't even work the same hours as the subs. For example, if crew supervisors are ordered to finish jobs with overtime, they can order their crews to keep working but they have no authority over the inspectors who don't have that same flexibility and have to leave when their shift is over.


To Steven's key points, I would add another - directly counter to his initial premise. His initial premise was that the goal of bundled service - as many services as possible coming from one provider and on one bill - is a good idea. I disagree. Bundling makes people much more reluctant to walk away from shoddy service since the services can affect one another.

Example: If your provider suddenly jacks up your wireless rates, can you afford the penalty of breaking your package agreement? More likely, will you even notice? And even if you notice, will you understand it? Most people can't even figure out their wireless bills now - how difficult will it be when combined with 4 other bewilderingly impenetrable charges?

The result? Bundling encourages customers to accept increasingly shoddy service. Sure bundling is convenient. But then so is giving control of your bank account to your provider. And you already know how I feel about that.


Anonymous said...

Does Pearlstein live in MC?

Don Libes said...

I believe he lives in DC.