By David Henderson
As regular readers of this blog probably know, I am a strong believer in the importance of commercial accountability. One thing that makes markets work so well is that firms are accountable for their errors. They have a strong incentive to be accountable. And most of us have got used to their being accountable. So, for example, when a major firm makes a billing error, which, in my experience, doesn’t happen often, it is relatively straightforward to call the firm’s customer service number and get the bill altered.
One thing that gives firms a strong incentive to be accountable is the fact that when they are not, their customers tell their friends, tell Yelp, Facebook about it, and, occasionally blog about it.
So that is what I’m doing here: blogging about a major corporation that has generally treated me well but recently treated me so badly that it was shocking: that firm is Verizon Wireless.
I’ve waited about 10 days from the time this happened to make sure I was doing this not mainly out of anger but mainly to (a) warn others and (b) do my little bit to make Verizon more accountable. I don’t know how successful I’ll be on (b).
Here’s what happened.
In about mid-May, my wife and I knew we were going to Grand Cayman for a week and knew that phone calls on our Verizon account would cost a lot. We also knew that we didn’t plan to use the phones much.
So I called Verizon to see what plans they had. They offered two options: (1) we could pay $10 a day per phone and use the phones a lot, or (2) we could pay $40 each and have limited usage–100 minutes on the phone and 100 texts. Since we would be away for 8 days, and we wouldn’t be using the phones a lot, I opted for option (2). It would cost us $80 total instead of $160 total.
When we got to Grand Cayman, we each got a text message from Verizon telling us that as soon as we used the phone, we would pay $10 for that day. In other words, Verizon had not complied with my stated, and acknowledged by them, request.. My plan was to contact them if and when I got a mistaken bill. Each day, we received a text message telling us that if we used the phone, we would pay $10. But no way was I going to use valuable time trying to correct their mistake. I would wait until we got the bill and, if the bill was wrong, call them from the United States.
Well, the bill was wrong. No problem, I thought, I’ve had such issues with big companies before and in my experience–maybe I’m lucky but I don’t think so–the company has come through, usually on the first call.
This time was different. The first person I talked to–I’ve forgotten her name–explained that by using the phone I had agreed to pay the $10 each day. No, I answered, we already know what I agreed to and you don’t deny it: it was option (2). It doesn’t matter, she said, because by using the phone each day, we were agreeing to pay the $10. I saw this was getting awfully circular and so I asked to speak to her supervisor.
Her supervisor, named Trey, gave me the same story. He even admitted that they had made a mistake by putting me on that plan rather than the $40-each plan. So, I said, given that you admit Verizon’s mistake, I should not be responsible for paying for it. I don’t know if his next statement was meant to confuse the issue or whether he was genuinely confused: he said that there was no way I could get out of paying the whole $160. I responded that I wasn’t trying to get out of paying the whole $160. I was prepared to pay $80 and if he looked at our usage, he would find it well below the limits we had paid for. Then we went round and round. I followed my own rules that I always have in these situations. First, never use obscenities: it doesn’t fit with the person I want to be and, moreover, it gives the other person the moral high ground if he/she objects. Second, don’t shout. Third, don’t attack the character or intelligence of the person you’re talking to; always go with what’s reasonable. I asked to speak to his supervisor.
I got a woman named Bree, who wouldn’t tell me her last name but is in Florida. Bree gave me the same line–by using it, I had accepted their terms. I gave her the same argument back: both sides had already agreed to the terms in mid-May and Verizon was refusing to honor these terms. Moreover, it was not my responsibility to correct Verizon’s mistake immediately.
But then Bree let something slip. She looked at something on her computer, I assume, and told me that the way the Verizon employee had set it up, the $40 per phone version I had bought wouldn’t kick in because the other one was the one the system would automatically go to. I told her that this cinched my case. This was now clearly Verizon’s mistake and I should be made whole. She told me that she couldn’t adjust the bill down by $80 but she could adjust it down by $50. I told her that I found her claim implausible: if it was possible to go in and reduce the charge by $50, I said, then it was hard for me to believe that it was impossible for her to go in and reduce the charge by $80. So, I said, what you’re telling me is not that you can’t reduce the charge by $80 but that you won’t reduce it by $80. Bree kept going to the “can’t” word. I realized that this was probably the best I could do, and so I accepted. I told her, though, that I wanted to speak to her supervisor. This was on a Friday evening. She told me that her supervisor wouldn’t be in until Sunday and so we set up a time–8:00 a.m. PDT and 11:00 a.m. her time–for the supervisor to call. That was June 18. I’m still waiting for the call.
One other little insult to injury. At 2:18 a.m. on that Sunday, both my wife and I received text messages on our phone telling us:
As of 6/17/2017, your INT TRVL 100MB/MIN/MSG FOR 1 MO plan is removed. We hope you enjoyed your trip.
Fortunately, I slept through it. My wife, though, was woken by her text message.
The next day I answered:
I did enjoy the trip. Thank you. Do you really think, though, that I like being told at 2:17 a.m. [I typed 2:17 instead of 2:18] that a plan has been removed, a plan, by the way, that Verizon refused to honor?
Now, as I write this, something occurs to me. Since the 30-day period ended after the end of the last billing period, will Verizon, on my next bill, charge me an additional $80 for the plan that, Verizon admits, did not kick in? We’ll see.