Once in a while, I find myself daring enough to brave the waters of a customer service call center. It is generally a frustrating experience, but most often results in a happy ending. This was not one of those times.

My Droid Incredible has been broken for quite some time now, likely by my own fault…it reboots randomly, doesn’t start up every time, has shoddy data – probably the result of a bad Radio flash. I’ve been holding out for the Droid Bionic, since I wanted to get a 4G phone and rid myself of my Incredibrick, but unfortunately it doesn’t come out until September 8th. Since my current phone was broken, I decided to attempt the infamous “transfer to Google Voice” – something I had wanted to do for a while despite the various horror stories. Taking the advice of previous adventurers, I took the first step by calling Verizon customer service to confirm that what I wanted to do was in fact possible.

I made my first call on Thursday (9/1), and spoke to a few very pleasant customer service representatives. One woman in particular (who I wont name since I honestly do feel bad for her) told me happily “Of course you can transfer to Google Voice and it will be no problem to keep your unlimited data on a new line, since you are essentially just changing your phone number” – she even put a note on my account to that effect. I thought I was golden, that getting confirmation from Customer Service would solve all of my possible future problems. She told me that I should port the number out and call back when the transition was complete.

I called back the next day from JFK airport on my way to Michigan for a wedding. At this point, I had no device to call on except for my somewhat broken Incredible. It seemed to work, and I was able to get through to Customer Service so that I could have my line be assigned a new number. I requested a transfer to the representative I had spoken to the previous day, and was told that such a transfer was impossible. I explained my story to the new representative, and they confirmed that there was a note on my account, but that Telesales would have to handle the number assignment. I was placed on hold so that they could transfer me, and much to my dismay, I was hung up on. Being a persistent man, I called back. Yet again, I was placed on hold for a transfer and was hung up on. I didn’t want to give up at this point, since my hour on hold would have simply gone to waste… So I called back, and after explaining my story yet again, I was told by the lovely representative that “Of course I know what Google Voice is, and I’ll be happy to get you a new number!” – so I was placed on hold, but with a more optimistic outlook. I came in and out of hold, and was told that she was working on it despite running into some hurdles. And then, my phone cut out. Shit. It wouldn’t even boot up due to the bizarre problems its been having… A day gone to waste, but I decided to call back the next day since my flight was about to leave.

So Saturday night I called them back, eventually got through to a representative who insisted on yet again transferring me to Telesales, this mysterious division that could fix my myriad of problems. Telesales told me, quite bluntly, that what I wanted to do was absolutely impossible. There was no way to get unlimited data on a new number, since my plan was cancelled when my old number was transferred out. I knew that this would happen, however, and was assured by the first customer service rep I spoke to that they would be able to override this since I wasn’t actually intending to cancel my account. “I’m sorry, sir, you were given misinformation.” My confirmation efforts were in vain, but I decided to push my luck and asked to talk to a supervisor. I was eventually transferred to a supervisor, and they even brought my customer service rep back into the call. So here I am, on the line for about an hour at this point, conferenced in with a Telesales supervisor, snarky Telesales rep, and customer service rep. I told my story, yet again, and was told by all three of them that I was misinformed, the agent in question would be disciplined, but there was nothing they could do to help me. The conversation went something like this: “So you’re saying that one of your reps promised me that this would be possible, but because they were wrong, I’m screwed?” “Yes, sir. We apologize for the inconvenience.” “And you seriously want me to believe that not a single person in the entire corporation of Verizon can override the data plans to assign unlimited data?” “No, sir. We would have to submit a request in writing to our off-site team, and it would be turned down due to our policies.” This argument went in a circle for a bit, and after having spoken to about 15 different reps for a total of 6 or so hours over the last couple of days, I was understandably frustrated.

I eventually asked them to bring in another supervisor, this time from Customer Service, who they assured me would tell me the same thing they had. I even asked if I could speak to their manager, trying harder and harder to cut through the thick lines of red tape they had so carefully created. Unfortunately, their manager would not be back until Tuesday, so I was out of luck. Well, I was put on hold again and once more hung up on by Verizon (I guess they have sticky buttons or angry robots or something) – frustrated and dismayed that I would lose my unlimited data forever, I decided to just go to the wedding and try calling back the next day.

I called back on Sunday, and having given up all hope at this point I told my sad story to a customer service representative. They told me that the only way I could get my unlimited data back was to transfer my number back in, since grandfathered data plans were linked to specific phone numbers, not to accounts. The guy I was talking to this time was very understanding, and a really nice guy, he stayed on the line with me while I talked to Telesales and eventually to his supervisor, and we made the group decision to port my number back in. This would be an exciting process, I was told, because it involved cancelling my contract, charging me and early termination fee, re-activating my 2-year contract (which was set to expire in a week) which involved an activation fee, and losing my upgrade eligibility. But yet again, I was assured that they would waive all of the fees, and their Winback department (which would also be back on Tuesday), could fix all of this. I explained to them that I had been promised things before that had been negated in the future, but they convinced me that they would be able to follow through on this one and fix everything, even downgrading my corporate data plan (which I had no recollection of upgrading to) to the normal $30/month unlimited data plan.

Long story short, I am now in the process of porting my number back and having Winback fix my account.

But this story would all be for naught if it didn’t have a lesson, I suppose. That lesson, for me, is that customer happiness is KEY. As a corporation develops into a megalith like Verizon, they often lose sight of this through their arcane policies and massive, disconnected systems (both from customers and from each other). This results in purposeless, generic rules. Such rules do not make the customer happier, and in fact serve only to group all of the customers into one dissatisfied blob. This is why the telecom industry is RIPE for disruption, because it is arcane, completely disconnected from their customers, and essentially uncaring. There are many things that propel a business to greatness, but in this situation I highlight two: a focus on customers, and providing a solid product. Verizon, I suppose, provides a solid product. But if there were a startup to come along and provide the same product (or even a slightly lesser one) with a willingness to actually work with their customers to increase their happiness and investment in what they had purchased, it would win with me, no questions asked. Why should it be unreasonable to make such a simple request as “I want to keep my current plan and have a new phone number, but not lose ownership of my current phone number.” This is not a technically difficult request, nor is it an unreasonable one.

At this point, if I had any way to switch providers and get unlimited data on a powerful device, I absolutely would. Unfortunately, due to the recent plan changes by both AT&T and Verizon, I’m stuck with Big Red despite the shitty experience they provide. Necessity is not fun.

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