Vinnie the IT pro vs. Verizon customer service

Because my own troubles with Verizon aren't enough?

Having grown weary of writing about my own never-ending problems with Verizon, I've decided to hand the soapbox over today to Vinnie DeAngelis, IS manager at HSA Engineers & Scientists.

(OK, quick rundown on my latest soul-crushing episode, my family's sixth major outage in nine months: 4-5 days without 'Net access; two fruitless go-arounds with Verizon, which insisted to my wife that the problem had to be in our PC; not true, it's a bum router; a Network World IT department hero finally rescued us with a work-around; and, I'm not at all looking forward to trying to beat a new router out of them.)

(2010's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

OK, on to Vinnie, who has one of those horror stories that keeps going and going and ... you swear the next anecdote has to be the end ... but it isn't ... and you're shaking your head ... and it keeps going. Well, take over Vin:

Greetings! After reading your articles regarding your experiences with Verizon FiOS, I wanted to share my recent experience with you.

First off, let me say that I think FiOS is a great product. I, too, have the "triple play" - phone, Internet, and television programming. When I was getting pre-order information from them, they were more than helpful. The installation went great, and the techs were knowledgeable and helpful. Aside from their new channel guide interface, which my wife and I hate, we have been happy with the product.

OK, here's the setup: In my living room I have an HDTV, with Verizon's HD DVR Media Manager box. My bedroom had a standard-def TV, with the standard-def box from Verizon.

I bought an HDTV for the bedroom. Naturally, I wanted to swap out the box in the bedroom for an HD box. So I went to the FiOS Web site to find information on what would be involved in that. No luck, couldn't find a thing. So I placed a call. This was on a Friday afternoon, around 5:45 p.m.

I followed the voice prompts, and finally the phone was ringing for an agent - and then I was disconnected. Sigh. So, I call back, and navigate my way in again. I finally speak to an agent. I was told that to swap out the box would cost me $20, because a Verizon tech would have to come to my house to perform the service. I asked that the fee be waived, since I am more than capable of plugging in a cable box myself. I was told that only a local office would be able to determine that. OK, how do I contact my local office? "You can find that information on our Web site," the agent confidently replied. Hee-hee, this should be good! I asked him to walk me through finding that information. After 20 minutes of floundering around the Web site and not finding it, he asked if he could put me on hold. Several minutes later, he came back on after speaking to his manager. They couldn't find it on the Web site, but they did have a phone number for me. Oh, and the office is only open 8-6 on weekdays - too late to call until Monday. Great.

Monday morning, I call the local office from work. Navigated the menus, finally got a human being. Explained the situation. "No problem, I can waive that fee for you. What is your account number?" You know, I really should have had that with me. The alternate phone numbers she had on hand didn't match anything I had, so we were unable to proceed. I had to end the call. I asked if I could reach her again, since she seemed helpful, but she said they had no extension numbers and I just had to take whoever was next in the queue. I called my wife at home, got the account number, and called back in. Navigated the menus. Again. Got another agent. Explained the story again, and he assured me he could waive the fee. He asked for my account number, which I gave him. He then told me he would need the serial number off both boxes to proceed. Seriously. Out of exasperation, I hung up.

That evening, I called in yet again, with my account number and serial numbers in hand. Navigated the voice menus again. (Interesting side note - while sitting on hold, you can hear commercials bragging about their great customer service!) I finally spoke to an agent, who told me she could NOT waive the fee. I asked to speak to her manager.

The manager explained that since Verizon contracted third-party vendors to install the product, they had to charge the $20 fee to swap out the box. I countered with 1) Their lack of infrastructure is not MY problem; 2) to be forced to pay someone to do a job I can easily do myself smacks of extortion; and 3) when I was a Brighthouse customer, I could pick up and drop off boxes at no charge, and I would be very happy to return to being a Brighthouse customer.

She then said that this one time, as a courtesy, she could have the charge refunded. They would still charge me, but would refund the charge on the next bill. (We'll see.) She then completed the order with me, including scheduling the 4-hour window for the tech to arrive to drop the boxes off. She assured me that she personally would see that the fee was refunded. In all fairness, she was very helpful and did all that I could ask. By the way, I never needed to supply serial numbers. That must have been that previous tech's way of getting out of a call? I'll never know.

Since their HD box does not communicate with the Media Manager box, we also requested to downgrade the Media Manager box to the HD DRV box, and save a few dollars a month there. No problem.

Two days later, the tech arrived. My wife stayed home to meet him. However, he only had one box. More calls. It turns out that the HD DVR box and the Media Manager box are one and the same; they just disable the Media Manager feature. Crisis averted.

The tech wanted to hook up the boxes while he was there, even though he didn't have to. In the bedroom, he could only get a poor picture with a 4:3 ratio to come up. He told my wife it was because that TV did not really support HD, despite what it said on the box. He said she should believe him - he had been doing this for 16 years. Why, just the other day, he talked a woman out of using an HDMI cable she didn't really need, and saved her a lot of money. Etc, etc.

When I got home, I checked to see what the problem was. Mr. 16 Years Experience connected the box to the TV using a coax cable, instead of component cables or an HDMI cable. Once I swapped that out, it was fine. And I was supposed to pay $20 for this? I checked the other box. At least he plugged it into the dangling HDMI cable that I had left behind. Interestingly, even though there was a Monster power filter and a huge UPS sitting there, he plugged the box directly into the wall outlet. Well, 16 years of experience will do that for you.

So there we are. I'll have to wait two months to see if the fee is really refunded. What have I gotten out of all of this? Verizon has a good product, and terrible customer service. When people ask me my opinion of FiOS and whether I recommend it, I tell them NOT to order the product because of the poor service. I've steered three people away so far, and counting. If I can keep them from repeating what I've gone through, they should give me a medal. Or at least buy me lunch.

I feel your pain, Vinnie; man, do I feel your pain.

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