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Verizon: incompetent training or corporate indifference?


Did Verizon actually decide to hold a man's life ransom for $20?


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 05/26/2009


The news story sounded awful. A Verizon operator had refused to help police find a subscriber who was missing and likely in need of medical assistance because he was behind on his bill. One of many headlines said it all: "Verizon willing to let 62-year-old man die unless cops pay $20 of his overdue bill." I have no idea what actually happened, but what interests me is that it is entirely believable that someone working for Verizon would do something like this.


It has to be hard to be a PR person for a phone company because phone companies are awfully hard to like in the best of times. The 1967 movie "President's Analyst"  portrayed The Phone Company as the common enemy of all mankind. It was not much of a stretch to accept that AT&T (The Phone Company at the time in the United States) was after world domination. To many of us concerned with the future of the Internet, the picture today is not all that much different than it was in 1967.


Almost all large service companies have bad reputations when it comes to dealing with individual customers. This is in part because a few aberrant cases got blown out of proportion by press coverage, but all too often the bad reputation is very well deserved. Clearly, if anything like what has been reported in the Verizon case did happen it indicates a woeful lack of proper training on the company's part. Any reasonable training would include telling employees that health or safety concerns must take precedence over normal business practices. In this case the police asked Verizon to enable a cell phone for a few minutes, just long enough to get some location information. One would think that common sense would have been enough for the Verizon operator to do so, but where common sense is not common enough, proper training should have been.


Some companies or organizations seem to revel in having a bad reputation.


American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) is a good example. Any organization that threatens to sue the Girl Scouts for singing songs around a campfire must be doing so for the shock value and not to extort a few dollars from young marshmallow roasters. Others seem oblivious to the image they are projecting. Duracell, for example, is using the fear of child molestation to sell batteries in TV ads. Such a tactic should be counterproductive because it should cause revulsion, but Duracell does not seem to care.


The big carriers, both phone and cable TV, constantly try to see how much they can get away with when it comes to treating the customer like money-producing chattel. Because of this, it is totally believable that Verizon's corporate position would be to not help save a potentially dying man until someone coughed up $20. That is a very sad commentary on the perceived state of corporate responsibility in this industry.


The credit card companies just learned that there is a threshold beyond which even politicians who need money to get reelected will be forced to act. Now the card companies will be forced to be a little bit more honest and fair with their customers. The carriers may be nearing a similar threshold.


Disclaimer: Honesty and fairness is a good thing, even at a place like Harvard. But I know of no university opinion on their presence in the business models of carriers, so the above review is mine alone.


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