As I Was Saying…

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OK, Maybe Now It’s Time to Change Carriers

May 23, 2009

Just when I think it’s safe to stop hating cellphone carriers, a story like this one comes along.

Seems a guy in Ohio had a sort of breakdown, perhaps including attempted suicide, and took off after swallowing a whole lot of pills. Responding to an emergency call, the local sheriff figured he could use the GPS feature of the guy’s cellphone to locate him.

But no. Verizon’s customer service rep said no dice because the guy was behind in his cellphone payments! The sheriff had to agree to pay $20 of the back balance to get Verizon to cooperate! By this time, the guy was almost dead. Fortunately for him, he was located in time by other searchers.

Now, in fairness to all concerned, there is probably more than this to the story. But here’s the statement from Verizon Wireless:

Verizon Wireless apologizes for our mistake. This particular issue has now been resolved. We will work to ensure our exemplary service to our nations first responders is on track, and we remind law enforcement to use our 24-7 hotline for public safety needs.

I’ve written enough press releases in my life to offer this rough translation of the above:

We did absolutely nothing wrong, but if a meaninglessly generalized apology will keep us from getting sued, then we’re willing to say we’re sorry.

 

“This particular issue” means cases involving guys in Carroll County, Ohio who have the exact plan this guy had and who need rescuing because they are nut cases.

 

“We will work to ensure” means that the next time we’re caught in a sh*t storm like this one, we really don’t want to hear about it from anyone. We’re on this, OK?

 

We say we offer “exemplary service” whether you think so or not. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it. This episode gives us the chance to make that claim, and we aren’t about to pass it up.

 

Here’s the take-home: if the cop had called the right department, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened. Why isn’t the cop’s ass on fire here instead of ours?

Part of the problem is that there really aren’t enough standards in the cellphone industry. Every cellphone is its own universe. Imagine having to learn to drive all over again every time you bought a new car! In addition, every carrier offers a smorgasbord of plans carefully designed so as to be impossible to compare with plans offered by other carriers. The plans also bundle features you want with those you don’t want.

Our Verizon Wireless plan, for example, gives me 250 text messages per month (I use maybe 6). We have to pay for the 250 in order to get the family plan that will include my mother-in-law, who lives with us.

But maybe I’ve talked myself out of changing carriers here. I used to be an AT&T customer. I got over that when we were caught in a power blackout in NYC a few summers ago. The AT&T cell network went down. Verizon Wireless customers kept talking.

Anyway, here’s my suggestion for their next advertising campaign: “Verizon Wireless. Probably less inadequate than the competition.”

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