Devoted readers of this blog — thank you John, Rob, and Bethann — know I have many quirks. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and the few people who get me appreciate that I like mine served piping hot and filled to the rim. This blog was intended as a celebration of my pursuit for perfection, but I keep getting sidetracked writing about healthcare dishonesty, media wrongdoing, and a host of other things that really piss me off.
I strive to be authentic, and in that spirit, I have something very personal I need to share. I suffer from a serious mental illness, one that isn’t yet listed in the Manual of Psychological Disorders but is very real, quite debilitating, and a drain on one’s finances.
It’s called Verizon PTSD.
Verizon PTSD sufferers are longtime wireless customers who develop such an innate hatred for the company they engage in practices that cause them serious inconvenience and potential harm if ever they need to reach someone in an emergency. A chronic symptom of the disease is a reluctance to pay one’s monthly bill, which results in an automatic $5 late charge and before you know it, the loss of one’s cellular service. Verizon has an uncanny ability to administer the latter punishment at the most inopportune times, such as moments before a critical conference call.
What makes Verizon PTSD sufferers certifiably insane is that we regularly do the same thing over and over hoping to achieve a different result. I’m fortunate that I can afford my monthly Verizon bill, but I despise Verizon so much I don’t want them to get a penny from me until minutes before my bill goes past due. Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to time a billing cycle with absolute precision, especially if you aren’t that diligent about paying bills to begin with.
Verizon CFO Matthew D. Ellis knows he can budget an additional $60 in annual late fees from yours truly. Yes, I know, I’m pretty screwed up paying Verizon $60 more when my intent is to deny them what I owe.
Though I never thought it possible, my hatred for Verizon reached a new plateau in recent weeks. It’s directed at a person named Hans Vestberg, who is a very bad man. A very, very, very, bad man. Hans is responsible for making one of the world’s most despicable companies even more despicable. He has made me leery of all things Swedish, which is why I’ve stopped shopping at Ikea, will never buy a Volvo, and have forever forsaken meatballs.
Who is Hans Vestberg, you ask?
Hans was named CEO of Verizon three years ago. In a tacit acknowledgement that he is a very bad man, Hans negotiated a clause in his contract that requires Verizon to pay him $40 million if they decide to fire him for doing bad things. I am not making this up.
Since he’s arrived, Hans has dutifully focused on achieving his vision: To transform Verizon into the first Fortune 500 company with only three employees: Hans, CFO Ellis, and Chief Technology Officer Kyle Malady.
Hans envisions a world where customers will never again talk to humans. Instead, they will interact only with machines, and ideally on a very limited basis. Hans would prefer that customers just set up automatic bill payment, where Verizon every month can help itself to your account and withdraw funds it says you owe. Whether you really owe those funds is another matter. My friend Bethann, who belongs to MENSA, says she can’t figure out her Verizon bill so how are those of us with limited intelligence supposed to understand ours?
I’m apparently alone in seeing the irony that a company whose business is enabling talk doesn’t want to talk to its customers.
I experienced Hans’ dystopian world the other day after Verizon pounded me with text messages telling me I had used up all my allotted data. I found this curious because every month I typically use a fraction of my allotted data. I had a simple question about my usage, and I was seeking a quick and simple answer.
It took nearly two hours to unsatisfactorily resolve the matter. The person I spoke with pretty much told me I could go-ahead and screw myself. Well not exactly those words, but that was the spirit of the conversation.
When you call Verizon they are admirably up front telling you to get lost. They will advise you of all the wonderful places you can go to get the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. Oh, and please “listen carefully” because some of their menu options have changed. If customers have memorized a company’s menu options, that’s a very bad sign. To avoid having customers memorize their prompts, Verizon should stop advising them to listen so carefully.
It took me about five minutes to get to the queue to talk to someone, but that was a tease. “Due to unusually heavy call volume,” I was advised there would be a 20-minute wait. I’m not nearly as smart as Bethann, but even I know the wait isn’t because of unusually heavy call volume. It’s because there is only one person to answer the phone.
I was given an option to leave my number with a promise that someone would call me back. I didn’t trust Verizon would, so I opted to wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
Then the call dropped – 30 minutes wasted waiting for help that never arrived.
So, I called back. This time I opted for a callback, and to my surprise, my phone rang some 12 minutes later. It was Verizon wanting to confirm my identity and instructing me to press “1” if I was indeed Eric Starkman.
I hit “1” and then the message repeated. I hit “1” again and then got a message essentially saying I obviously no longer needed help and to have a nice life.
So, I called again and left my number for a callback. Verizon called back, again instructing me to press “1” to confirm my identity. I did, then the message repeated.
“No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!,” I shouted so loudly my golden retriever bolted from the room.
Yep, I got the have a nice life message.
I left a number a third time, but when Verizon called I answered the call on my computer, and Verizon’s computer could hear my keyboard’s tones. Then a young woman named Christina came on the line.
I immediately could tell by Christina’s disinterested attitude the call wasn’t going to go well. If I had to guess Christina’s work history, I’d guess lengthy stints at motor vehicles, the post office, and a gig as a Starbucks barista.
Christina said the spike in data happened on June 22. That was the day I drove back to Los Angeles from San Diego, a trip I’ve made many times without bumping up against my data limits. I stream music when I drive.
“I listen to Pandora all the time and have never bumped up against my data limits,” I said.
“Well, you did last Sunday,” Christina said, with the indifference she’s honed over the years.
Thinking I could put the fear of God into Christina, I told her that I had reached my limits with Verizon and asked why I shouldn’t switch to T-Mobile, noting that it’s also rolling out its 5G network.
“T-Mobile’s 5G network is equivalent to Verizon’s 4G network,” she said.
I’m on Verizon’s 4G network, so if T-Mobile can offer me the same service and call it 5G, that seemed like a weak response. I decided not to press the issue.
“What about Spectrum? I know they use Verizon’s towers,” I said, naively thinking Christina would be intimidated by my expansive wireless industry knowledge.
“Verizon customers get favorable treatment if there is an issue with our towers,” Christina shot back.
“You know Christina, my sense is that Verizon doesn’t really care to keep my business. How about just sending me the code I need to transfer my cell number elsewhere?” (I was sure that would get a rise out of her.)
“I’m going to send you a link that will generate a code,” Christina said, clearly nonplussed at the thought us breaking up.
Christina ended the call with the proviso that if I was disappointed with T-Mobile, I could return to Verizon. That comment put the fear of God into me. Verizon clearly expects that once I experience T-Mobile, I will come back groveling for their service. I can only imagine the “administrative fees” that Verizon will start charging me then.
Between you and me, I can’t switch to T-Mobile. The T-Mobile store in my neighborhood has permanently banned me because I’ve gone in one time too many asking why should I switch from Verizon. I’m not sure I believe Christina that Verizon can relegate Spectrum customers to second class tower status, but I’m afraid to take chances.
What I haven’t mentioned is that several months ago I bought a chunk of Verizon stock on the assumption that there are millions of Americans like me who despise the company but are too frightened to cancel. That’s the wonder of American capitalism: One can invest and profit from one’s misery. A three-person company generating $31 billion in annual revenues is an awfully profitable business. Warren Buffet obviously thinks so, but for the record I bought my Verizon stock before he bought his.
So, Verizon customers, if one day you too need to get someone on the line to ask a simple question and end up in Hans’ Twilight Zone electronic hell, think of me in Los Angeles having a good laugh – all the way to the bank.