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Is Verizon taking lessons from AOL?

I only wish that I had taped it. (They told me they were taping the call for quality control, so I hope they listen to it.) I remember a couple of years ago when AOL’s phone reps were taped trying to weasel out of a service cancellation, but I really expected more from Verizon.


It started a few years ago, when my cable company offered the “triple play”—where we got phone service, Internet access, and cable television all for $100. I was a bit nervous about how the phone service would work, and within the first couple of weeks we had an outage. They told me they’d come the next day to fix it until I told them that Verizon would come immediately. They came immediately.
Now I had no great love for my cable company, and when Verizon announced its FIOS Triple Play offering, I took a look. It turned out that it wasn’t any faster or any cheaper than my cable offer, so I let it go by.
And it turned out that we haven’t had a cable outage since, more than a year later. So I decided it was time to switch my business lines to cable, which would save my company about $40 a month. So they came in and installed it and I was all set. All I had to do now was cancel my two lines with Verizon.
Easier said than done.
I started by going to Verizon’s Web site. It took a while, but I finally found a place where you could disconnect your service, and I filled out a form with the information. Several days later, I got an e-mail explaining that I could not disconnect unless I called Verizon.
That’s frustrating, but I was willing to do it. I was on the road when I got the e-mail, in a different time zone, so it wasn’t easy to call within Verizon’s business hours. I waited until I got home and Friday I finally had a chance to call.
Boy, was that an experience. I reached the now ubiquitous voice response system that asked me several questions that it had a tough time understanding my responses for, which was a bit frustrating. It asked me my phone number and then put me on hold in complete silence. After a few minutes of this, I lost faith and hung up.
I tried calling back and this time the voice response system understood almost nothing I was saying. I tried saying “operator” to be connected with a person, but had no luck. No matter what it misinterpreted, I had no way to go back. At the point that it announced that I was being transferred to “Verizon Wireless,” I decided to start over once again by hanging up and calling back.
This time the voice response system worked. Until this point, it was frustrating, it had wasted my time, but now things got worse. I finally got to speak to a person who asked me my phone number and why I was calling even though the voice response system had asked me the same things. But, we’ve all seen that before.
Then the Verizon rep started asking me why I was canceling, so I explained it. I was switching to my cable company. “How much are they charging you?” I told her. “How much do you pay for all of your cable services?” I told her that I had been on the phone for 25 minutes trying to disconnect my service and that I really didn’t want to answer any more questions.
So she transferred me to someone else who asked all the same questions. It was like I had dropped into an endless loop. Now I was starting to get irritated. I pointedly explained that I did not see why I needed to answer the same questions over and over again when all I want is to disconnect my service. He told me he was going to transfer me to the department that could disconnect my service.
So, now we were getting somewhere. The disconnect person began by asking me for my phone number (again) and then began asking me why I was disconnecting. And how much I am paying for cable—you get the idea. At this point, I decided that was enough. I let him know in no uncertain terms that there was no reason for people to ask me the same questions repeatedly when all I want is to disconnect my service.
At this point, he professed shock that I could be so upset when he was just having a conversation. He told me he just wanted to ask me some simple questions. So I told him, “You can ask all the questions you want, but I am not answering them.” Still, he persisted. When I just said, “Next question” in response to each one, he started to get the idea.
Now he was annoyed with me. He told me in an irritated voice that he was completing the disconnect order for me. I think I am a nice guy, and I started feeling bad for being annoyed, so I apologized for being so gruff with him, but that he should know that it had taken me 40 minutes to disconnect my service. At this point, he cut me off and said, “I know how long it takes, sir.” He then gave me my confirmation number and we hung up.
I was extremely surprised that this is how Verizon treats its customers. I was even more surprised that Verizon seems to know that this is how their various systems and representatives work. Why would you treat people like this?
I am a very happy Verizon Wireless customer, and found great contrast on Saturday, when I called Verizon Wireless to retroactively increase my daughter’s instant messaging plan so she would avoid (some) of the consequences of her relentless texting. They were incredibly helpful, even though they could have said that they can only change the plan for this day forward (costing my daughter $18 she would struggle to pay me). It was hard to believe these two conversations were with the same company.
I don’t have any great loyalty to my cable company, but they have never treated me like Verizon did on Friday. I always thought that if Verizon came up with faster Internet access speeds or lower prices, that someday I might switch back to them from cable, but this incident has given me pause.
Why don’t companies understand that treating people well when they cancel makes it more likely that they will consider them again someday? I don’t understand why I can do almost anything with my Verizon account online, except to cancel it. And then it takes 40 minutes to do it by phone, with repeated badgering about why I am canceling.
I’ve always thought highly of Verizon, but they seem to be taking a page out of the AOL cancellation play book today. Now maybe this was an isolated incident—I hope it was. Whether it is isolated or not, it happened to me and it made an impression. We need to remember that every impression we make on a customer is important.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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