For years - since the first one was released - I had an iPhone. I had the iPhone, then the 3G, the 3GS and the 4. For me to continue to acquire that fashion statement, I had to suck it up and go back to AT&T, a carrier that I hated for eons - because of continuously bad customer experiences. They were designed not to partner with me, the customer, but instead to suck out my life's blood, some joy, my money - all the while dropping calls merrily along the way.
I finally cracked when I took a trip to London in November 2010. For the zillionth time, I had to leave the iPhone data roaming feature off or, even with AT&T's $20/mo (not prorated), 2GB program for international data, I would be out hundreds of dollars in five days. It put me in the ridiculous position of waiting until nighttime to see what emails I needed to respond to right away - which, with a reasonable data plan, would have been 5 hours ago. And, the phone didn't work everywhere in the world.
So imagine my delight when I found out that there were phones like the Droid 2 Global that worked in every country in the world AND that the carrier with this phone, Verizon Wireless had an international data plan to die for. It went something like this.
For Email Global, the charge will be either $64.99 or $69.99 per month but pro-ratable. The data? Unlimited. That means for roughly $13.00 for a five day trip to London, I had unlimited data. Perfect. Totally, beautifully perfect. To add to this, Verizon was rolling out their 4G LTE network, making me happy for the future with this new and (I thought) better carrier.
My hopes were sky high. I was excited enough to make the effort to consolidate all business and personal phones to Verizon - 3 landlines and two cellphones. I consolidated my Mifi to the Droid 2 Global which had a hotspot (though domestic). In other words, mostly all in on Verizon. Not only did I have this shiny new telco to handle all my communication needs, but perhaps I could have them handle my Internet needs too? I was willing to try.
So, I figured, that I would ask them about FIOS. When I made the transition in December 2010 (near Christmas) I told the Verizon store rep I was dealing with that since the FIOS trunk lines were literally buried in my front lawn, I would for a reasonable deal be willing to move from Comcast to Verizon. She promised to get back to me. Didn't. Promised again after I called her. Didn't. Promised again after I called her again. Didn't. The result, I'm still with Comcast, because of her total (and stupid) lack of attention - for a possible sale.
Notable here is not the FIOS part of the story. Its that during the first blush of honeymoon, when I was most prone for what would be a sale based on the good will engendered - and that I was looking for - the sales representative completely ignored the central rule of customer experience. Pay attention to the customer. This one would have a tangible financial benefit too - a FIOS monthly subscription for a high bandwidth solution.
I should have suspected something then but since it was early, I was in a forgiving mood - and just let it ride.
Already somewhat less enthused because of Verizon's lack of response - I began to use the Droid 2. It was fine. While the experience is not nearly as smooth or as good as the iPhone, it's not bad, Android is a highly promising system, the phone/OS had a few features (a pulldown summary of actions menu) that were not on the iPhone and highly utilitarian besides being cool. So all in all, I was willing to overlook the issue of the non-responsive service person. But I understood Laptop Magazine's C+ rating for Verizon when it came to customer service in 2010. They didn't rank real well (tied for lowest I believe) and apparently, it was deserved.
But, now, the story gets so much worse.
On January 18, I had to make a client visit to Fredericton New Brunswick. When I got there I realized I had forgotten to "turn on" the international data roaming service (the $64.99 deal). I didn't think much of that either way, because I was given to understand by both friends of mine who used it and the Verizon Wireless guy who sold me the phone and services, that I could do that easily from the Web. The service was called Global Email and when I checked in early January, it was easy to find. So I got online and went to where Global Email Service's link resided. And, it wasn't there. Nowhere to be found. Non-existent.
Of course, since I knew that it had been there, I did what any human with an internet connection would do in this circumstance - I googled it. I found the page with the link. Clicked on the link. It was broken. I tried half a dozen ways to find an unbroken link to the Global Email program. No dice.
"What the...." I thought "Something is amiss, askew, astray." I began checking Verizon forums and here's what I found out.
On January 16, the day that the Verizon iPhone was announced, the links to the Global Email program were deliberately broken by Verizon and were replaced with a new program that I won't even dignify with a name. But it charged $100/mo for 200mb. That's right. 200 megabytes. In other words, what was apparently the best program in the industry, in the space of 1 day, became the worst.
I doubt that it was a coincidence that this new horrible program was launched the day the iPhone was too. Clearly designed to prey on iPhone users and to align with AT&T's gouging of customers for international data. And I do mean gouging. I'd love to hear Verizon's explanation as to how costs have gone up SO much that they went from unlimited data down to 200 mb with a more than 50% price increase. This is just another Verizon attempt at price gouging - in this case under the cover of the release of the iPhone 4.
Interestingly, this isn't the first time they've been accused of price gouging either. In 2009, David Pogue, the super-influential, highly respected technology columnist for the NY Times did a column on how Verizon charged customers for data use monthly even if they never downloaded any data.
The pricing isn't what I want to focus on here - though its certainly an aspect of what I think that Verizon has done so, so, so wrong.
Verizon and Customer Experience: What Did They Do? What Should They Have Done?
Here's the problem. Its not the program that replaced the one that sold me on them - though there is that - but its the way that they handled it.How should they have handled it, you ask?
An anecdotal answer: there was this software company for a consumer software product which had pricing for lifetime updates - which I already had purchased. This company decided that they weren't going to offer lifetime updates any longer. But instead of just changing things unannounced. 90 days before the change, they told their customers about it and gave them a chance to buy the lifetime updates. Then 60 days, then 30 and then 15. Ample time, ample attempts.All lifetime update purchasers were then grandfathered in.
By comparison, think about how Verizon Wireless, this paragon of false virtue did this. What are their mistakes and what could they have done to at least minimize damage if not do something that would have supported a good customer experience? I'll answer that, not because I think Verizon gives a damn, but because there are answers that might help another company. Verizon itself is an obviously customer-ignorant company. Okay, first, what did they do. Then what they should have done:
- They changed the program unannounced - this is the cardinal sin. What could they have done, other than succumbing to the greed that the Verizon iPhone seemed to open the gates to? First, give their international customers some notice. Meaning if you had a Droid 2 Global or other international phone, the likelihood, if you make some obvious assumptions, or if you don't trust that simple judgment, do some basic analytics, is they are international travelers who want to use or have used the Global Email program at some point. I can't believe that Verizon Wireless didn't know they were going to do this 30 days before they did. So, in the interests of transparency - and an honest relationship with their customers and future customers, tell the f--ing truth via an email to the holders of international phones - and to the store sales reps and service reps who can inform prospective customers that there are going to be changes to the program in 30 days that should be part of your consideration for purchase.
- I read in the forums that they are still offering the original plan to their business users but no longer to individuals. I don't have confirmation of this. But under the assumption its true, they would have been wise to remember something. I'll explain in the form of an anecdote involving a smart telco - not a Verizon Clueless, er,...Wireless-like telco. This would be a story about Orbitel, the Colombian carrier. They had a policy. Any individual customer with residential service who they could identify as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) would be treated like a high value customer. Why? Because they knew, even 8 years ago, that this person was an influential person in the business environment they worked in. They would remember their treatment and hopefully, when it came to commercial service, act accordingly. If anyone from Verizon is reading this, I hope you get the hint. You sure didn't by eliminating a class of customers who are potentially influential in their enterprises or who run small businesses.
- Deny it all you want, but its obvious by the release of this new onerous international data program on the day that the iPhone went public, that you care more about your future iPhone sales than your existing customer base. A wiser move, even if you ignored all the above I've mentioned, would have been to grandfather in customers who had purchased international phones prior to January 16. Give them the option on the old plan as they need it - since I'm sure that one of the attractions of purchasing an international phone from Verizon was the international data plan. So let them continue with the old plan if they owned a global phone before January 16. Period.
I'm still thinking about how viral I want to get this discussion. I wonder if Verizon has the actual corporate intelligence and chops to realize that this is a serious mistake that damages their relationship with a significant class of customers - who's connections as you can probably guess span the globe and certainly can impact Verizon's business in the U.S. A genuinely customer-centric company would never have made this mistake. Verizon, much to my regret and chagrin, isn't a customer-centric company. They don't hold a candle to the smarts of an Orbitel, or to widen the net beyond their vertical, to the customer-centricity of a Zappos or Amazon. They are merely big, sluggish and distinctly wrong when it comes to how they treat their customers. To me, that's sad. Pathetic really. I guess 4G technology doesn't mean they can think at that speed.