Every time I have a bad customer service experience (which seems to be increasingly frequently these days), I am reminded of my worst customer service experience ever. We turn back the clock to the year 2000(ish), when I was set to ditch my 56K modem for DSL.  I contacted my local phone carrier, Verizon, to get the ball rolling.

Several days later, I had everything in place.  I fired up the DSL modem and … nothing.

I gave a call to tech support.  They couldn’t figure out the problem, so they gave me the number of someone else to call.  This cycle repeated itself for an entire weekend, at the end of which I had twenty different numbers for Verizon scribbled on a sheet of paper (I’m not exaggerating).  Once, someone referred me back to the same area that referred me to them – but used the acronym for that area instead of the full name and gave me a different number than the one I had.  I’m not sure if this was out of spite or incompetence.

This entire experience was frustrating for many reasons.  Some of the troubleshooters were apparently hired off the street five minutes before the shift began.  Yes, the DSL modem is plugged into the power outlet, just as it was when the last person asked me. I work in IT, so I wanted to bang my head against the wall in response to some of the possible root causes they suggested.

The most frustrating aspect was the obvious fact that they had no way to track problems.  Every time I called, I had to repeat every single detail of my experience to the new “customer service” rep – by the end of the weekend, this took a lot of time.  I work for a company that utilizes a tracking system for problems.  If I route your call to another area, the new person immediately has the entire history of the problem.  This is a very, very good thing.

At the end of a very long weekend, I told them to just forget it and cancel my account.  I was just going to stick with 56K.  I couldn’t even justify getting cable internet.  At that time, I received free cable in my apartment, and getting cable internet would have meant switching to a different provider – meaning that I’d be paying for cable TV in addition to cable internet.  Regardless, the joy of high speed internet was not worth the hassle of fighting with Verizon.

While I was on the phone, the customer service rep gave me two options to return the modem.  I could have them send me a postage paid box, or I could simply drop it off at my local Verizon Phone Mart.  In an attempt to make things easier for them, I said I’d drop it off at the Verizon Phone Mart.  Hey, why incur shipping fees when I could easily hand it back to a member of their organization?

Well, apparently the folks at the Verizon Phone Mart didn’t realize that they were being used as an outlet to return DSL modems.  They had no idea what to do with the modem.  I told them I’d call Verizon back when I got home and have those folks touch base with the brick and mortar store.  The Phone Mart people agreed to give this a shot.

When I called Verizon back, they assured me that they would touch base with the Verizon Phone Mart and process the return.  Wonderful – problem solved.

About ten days later, I got a call from the Verizon Phone Mart, wanting to know what to do with the modem.  I told them that a Verizon representative should have contacted them about the details of the return.  Unfortunately, the customer service rep hadn’t actually followed through and contacted them.  Again, this wasn’t a case of me randomly showing up at the Verizon Phone Mart with the modem – I had been given this option by a customer service rep.

I drove to the store and picked up the modem.  The people at the Verizon Phone Mart seemed to be as much of a pawn in this as me, so there was no point getting upset at them.  I called Verizon again and had them send me the postage paid box and finally sent the modem back.  Wonderful – problem solved.

Well, not exactly.  For about six months afterward, I kept getting charged for DSL service.  It took a lengthy phone call each month to finally get charge taken off the bill.  Each time, I was assure that the system showed that I did not have DSL service and would not be charged in the future.  Each month, the charge reappeared.

The story does have a happy ending, though.  One customer service rep managed to actually stop the charges from appearing.  However, even this was not mistake free.  When the representative applied the credits, she credited something twice.

At this point, I had an ethical dilemma.  I had money that rightfully belong to Verizon – around $20, I believe.  Should I call to inform them of their mistake, or just keep my mouth shut?

After six months of battling with them on billing issues, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.  I didn’t really want to waste more of my time arguing with them in an attempt to return their money.  Even worse, I feared that the process of reversing this credit would cause the whole mess to start up again.

To this day, I refuse to consider Verizon when I make purchasing decisions.  Over the past decade, I’ve also told this story to a great many people in order to explain my hatred for Verizon.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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