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Run-amok Verizon robo-caller torments 1,400 customers (most notably, my wife)

By Paul McNamara on Mon, 09/15/08 - 10:45am.

Nine robo-calls in 24 hours, all from Verizon: Nothing could make them stop; not my wife's increasingly urgent pleas (I was away); not the hapless customer service reps who promised relief; not the "in-charge supervisor" who wasn't in charge; and, not even the ever-so-helpful individual who said the barrage was "a national problem" before adding, "We're suggesting that people just unplug their phones."

Unplug our phones? How about you unplug your bloody robo-caller first?

Verizon BotAnd here's the most amusing part: Verizon's rogue motor-mouth was calling -- nine times -- to inquire as to the McNamara family's satisfaction level with recent Verizon customer service. (If only the options had included, "Press 4 for piss-poor.")

About 1,400 FiOS and DSL customers -- all in New England --- endured a similar fate early last week, Verizon says. We'll get to the company's explanation right after the gory details.

The first call came at 1:49 p.m. Tuesday. Recognizing it as a robo and being busy, Julie just hung up. Fly swatted. Kids will be home from school soon.

Second call, 3:34 p.m. Answered, hung up; life's too short. Third at 5:22.

By the 6:28 call it had become clear the onslaught wasn't going to stop of its own accord, so Julie set about probing the mechanical monster's outer defenses in search of a controlling earthling. This meant wading through a labyrinth of prompts -- there was no up-front option to speak to a Verizon representative -- followed by the obligatory 20-minute wait on hold.

Reward: Plenty of sympathy; no help.

The 9:09 got her back on the line with yet another kind but useless Verizon employee (after more prompts and more waiting). "He apologized -- everyone I spoke with always apologized," she would tell me later. "And they all said the calls would stop."

The 10:23 call served as punishment for her having had the audacity to fall asleep.

The 11:40 earned her the attention of that supervisor in the Dallas Fiber Solution Center, which, as Julie pointed out later, is "ill-named," at least in terms of offering a solution to this problem.

That would be it for this night. She unplugged the phone.

Next day? First call, 10:12 a.m.; second -- and final of the nine -- at 12:59. Julie answered neither. Who would?

"I hate Verizon," she'd write in an e-mail to me. Who wouldn't? (And it's not as though this is our first spot of trouble with FiOS.)

Back in the office on Thursday, I contacted Verizon to find out why they made my wife's life so miserable. According to company spokesman Bill Kula, who also apologized, "a hardware glitch" resulted in a stream of faulty customer info being sent to a third-party vendor that makes the robo-calls. The 1,400 victims who received the calls, including my wife, were lucky winners because they had logged Verizon service calls the day before the glitch (our Verizon-issued router had died -- again; we're on router No. 3 in two-plus years of FiOS). The follow-up calls are standard operating procedure designed to gauge the effectiveness of Verizon customer service. The "glitch" resulted in multiple requests per customer for such calls, each with a different time attached to it, which the robo-caller, being a robo-caller, faithfully executed.

As for the rep who suggested just yanking our phone off the wall?

"That wasn't the best advice," Kula says.

I asked him why the problem took so long to fix and why they didn't take more drastic action sooner.

"We did take drastic action," he says. "We contacted the vendor and had the system disconnected so additional calls did not take place."

In other words, they did unplug the bloody robo-caller. Just took their sweet time.

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