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August 20, 2012

Verizon Needs to Find its Customer Mojo

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Verizon (News - Alert), seriously, you need to have a serious retreat on customer service and reliability because you've gone off the rails. The 911 fiasco during the June Derecho storm indicates there's a cultural problem, rather than a simple "My bad" going on internal to the company. You've lost your customer mojo and it is time to face up to it.

Once upon a time, Verizon was known for technical excellence and decent – if not full-proof – customer service.   My turning point with the company probably came around 2006, when I had to move a pair of phone numbers from (literally) across the street when I moved. Same area code, same NPA (News - Alert) (NXX), same ZIP code, same CO, in fact it’s a seven minute walk on foot between old and new residence.

Despite having notified Verizon in advance, known-working wires in the new residence, and a promised date where a tech would come out and "switch" over the phone number, nobody showed up on the Friday date to turn on service in the new home as I sat around for eight hours. Multiple phone calls, including walking up through the service call chain to a supervisor between Friday and Monday, got no results until Monday morning – where I managed to get one line turned on without a technician and a rescheduled service call for the second line – this after I had been bumped out from the first call.

My second phone line went over to Cox (News - Alert) Communications shortly thereafter and it took Cox – with a different CO and network infrastructure – about an hour tops to switch service. It would have been a shorter service call except the lead tech was training another one, so he was carefully showing him how to cable tie things in and he was on hold for about five to seven minutes with his ops center to perform the switch over.

Did I mention Cox gave me a two hour window for service and showed up on time? Verizon's window was half of an entire day, when they showed up.

When I had an outage on the remaining Verizon line in 2009, I had a similarly poor experience. Verizon said they'd come out and look at the line in seven days.   Let's see, two hours, seven days? Hmm, interesting.

July 11, 2009 rolls around, and I call (on my working Cox line) to see when the technician was going to come to fix my service. Instead, I get an auto-bot telling me my line is fixed, trouble ticket is closed. I get to a human and go through a call center person reading through a script telling me to unplug my phones, plug them back in and asking me if I hear dial tone. No, it's as dead as it was when I first placed the call.

At some point, my vision turned red and I e-mailed a complaint to the Virginia public utilities commission at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. By noon, there were techs scrambling to patch in a line, followed by a full fix by Monday morning.  Verizon's "normal" window at that time was supposed to be five days.

My individual problems are nothing compared to the failure of backup systems for multiple services in the June 29, 2019 "Derecho" storm. Among the causalities of that storm were four Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in the Washington D.C. area, including loss of 911 service. Verizon says three of the PSAPs didn't receive 911 calls for "several hours" according to a report it issued on August 13, 2012, but local leaders say it was several days before service was fully restored.

At PSAP facilities in Fairfax and Arlington, VA., one out of two backup generators at each of the facilities did not start. The Arlington facility had two generators that "must operate in tandem" to support the sight. In other words, you lose one generator and can't get up and running, you're out of luck when the batteries run out -- which is what happened between loss of power at 10:55 p.m. on June 25 through battery drain at around 5 a.m. The Fairfax had two generators with distributed loads, but when one of the two generators there didn't start, yup, you guessed it, when the batteries went down, so did the 911.

One of the secondary causes listed was the loss of Verizon's remote telemetry monitoring system, but does that really excuse the fact that there should have been N+1 generators available at the 911 centers in the first place? Verizon's corrective action is to tinker with power loads to make sure telemetry is working and redesigning the monitoring network with more diverse connections and failover. 

I guess my bigger point here is that I'm loath to buying more Verizon consumer services based upon both my person experiences and the more public issues involved with 911 in my area. If I do so for something like cellular, it will be reluctantly rather than enthusiastically.   Corporate buyers have to be thinking a little harder as well, since 911 services should be an elite example of what Verizon brings to the table.


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Edited by Jamie Epstein
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