Verizon’s cellphone insurance scam
It’s been some time since I’ve whined about Verizon.
The fun new phone I got this time is a Samsung Galaxy S4
Most of the time Verizon is a decent-enough company, reliable enough that I don’t give them much thought, which for a utility is about what you’d want.
What prompted me to write this post was that I got a new phone. That by itself wouldn’t be a reason to complain about Verizon. I did have occasion in 2007 (LG VX-8100 to Motorola RAZR Maxx Ve) and in 2009 (original Motorola Droid) to write about some hassles related to phone upgrades, but I didn’t have any problem in 2011 and thus didn’t write about upgrading from an original Droid to a Droid 3.
Getting my new Samsung Galaxy S4 was uneventful and wouldn’t have warranted a blog post. The process didn’t take long, maybe fifteen minutes, and a joy of Android is that once you set up your existing Google account on your new phone, everything transfers automatically.
Two things I might have blogged about had they been surprises were losing my unlimited data by upgrading to a 4G phone and having to pay a $30 “upgrade fee,” but I already knew about these and thus was resigned to them.
Something else that wasn’t a surprise and to which I am also resigned is the $5/month charge for 250 text messages. Text messages cost cell phone companies almost nothing and so even $0.02 per message is a lot, but it’s not as much as $0.20 per text, and thus, unfortunately, the stupid $5 is worth it to me.
Losing unlimited data doesn’t affect me. I keep track of my data usage and since December 2009 my average monthly usage has been 1.08 GB. I’ve gone over 2 GB only once, in January of last year when I was traveling. Now that I do have a cap, I’ll just keep an eye on my usage if I travel, and really if I do go over once in a while, I can afford it.
Being able to afford it is also why Verizon’s “upgrade fee” doesn’t really matter. Verizon says that they sell Galaxy S4s for $250 (with a 2-year contract), but actually they sell them for $280. Why Verizon has to be all airline-ish about their pricing, I don’t know. Do they think that people won’t buy new phones if Verizon is honest that the price has gone up by $30? Do they think people don’t notice the “upgrade fee”?
Something Verizon does seem to hope its customers won’t notice is the $6.99/monthly charge for “Total Equipment Coverage” they sneakily add back onto your account when you upgrade to a new phone. I didn’t have this coverage on my old phone, and if I’d been asked the other day when I got my Galaxy S4, I’d have declined the insurance again. However, I wasn’t asked, at least not verbally. The salesperson did specifically point out to me that by upgrading to 4G that I would lose my unlimited data, but he didn’t say, “
Would you like fries with that?, err, Would you like an extended warranty?”
Now technically Verizon could say that they did ask me because the $6.99 charge was on my new contract, but instead of giving us paper receipts, Verizon now has its salespeople using tablet computers, which are positioned towards the customers for us to review and then to sign with a finger on the screen. Smart people would scroll up and review every line, but most of us, including me, don’t do that.
I do have to give Verizon a tiny bit of credit for emailing me today to let me know that an “account change notification” was available for me in MyVerizon. I retrieved it and saw a mysterious charge of $6.99/month for “Tec Asurion.” What’s that? I wondered,
I knew about the text messaging
and the data package
but not the insurance
and Google was my friend, leading me to a bunch of articles, including one by BusinessWeek, “Is Asurion Cell Phone Insurance Worth It?”
As you might suspect, I didn’t need BusinessWeek to tell me the insurance wasn’t worth it. Two years of monthly $6.99 charges equals $167.76, but there’s also a $99 deductible. Sure, there’s a chance I’ll lose my brand new phone tomorrow and then the $105.99 I’d pay would be better than $650 I’d shell out for a non-upgrade priced Galaxy S4, but I’ve yet to lose a phone, and if I found myself in a position to balk about buying a new S4, I could get a used S3 for a couple hundred bucks. If I would lose my S4 next year, after some other phone is the new latest and greatest toy, I could get a used S4. Insurance just doesn’t make sense.
I don’t have a problem with Verizon trying to convince me I need insurance, as they just did when I called to cancel the insurance I didn’t want. I do have a problem with their trying to sneak it back on my contract, hoping that I’m a senior citizen who won’t notice some strange relatively minor charge on my phone bill.
You might remember that last month I bought a new Motorola Droid from Verizon Wireless, ran into a few problems during its setup and ended up, after complaining, getting a small credit of $15 as compensation.
This month, however, Verizon Wireless tried to get back their $15 credit and then some, and they would have gotten away with it too, if I hadn’t paid attention to my bill and been persistent with their customer service people.
Old calling plan:
$39.99 per month
450 minutes per month
New calling plan:
$39.99 per month
450 minutes per month
When is 450 minutes not 450 minutes?
The deal is that on my old phone I had the America’s Choice 450 calling plan, giving me 450 minutes each billing period while on my new phone I now have the Nationwide Basic 450 calling plan, which instead of 450 minutes a month gives me only 450 minutes. No, wait, that should be still gives me 450 minutes a month. More than which I never use.
Except that I got a new phone on 11/6 and so I really only got 218 minutes from 10/22–11/5 and another 232 minutes from 11/6–11/21, and instead of having had the foresight to plan my peak calling to match how my minutes would be prorated, I used 278 minutes during that first period, 60 minutes more than I was allowed on the America’s Choice plan that got prorated, costing me $0.45 per minute or $27.
Nice try, but no.
Why, if I paid $39.95 for 450 minutes, do I not get to use 450 minutes?
“That’s just the way it works.”
So I call *611 and get a Verizon Wireless customer support person named Crystal. I ask why, when I pay for 450 minutes per month, I should have an arbitrary split of those 450 minutes the month I get a new phone. That’s just the way it works. Nice try, but no. No one told me of these arbitrary rules that benefit Verizon Wireless and fuck the customer (do they even want their customers to be loyal?).
Well, Crystal can offer me a credit of $7.65. Why $7.65? Because I got a credit of $20.64 on my November bill for the portion of the America’s Choice calling plan I didn’t use, and $39.99 - $20.64 is $19.35 and $27 - $19.35 is $7.65. Ugh, but it’s better than nothing.
Despite the credit and addition of $20.64, I also paid $39.99 in November for 450 minutes
I paid $39.99 in October for 450 minutes
But wait a minute.
I may have gotten a credit in November of $20.64 for the portion of the America’s Choice calling plan that I didn’t use, but I also paid in November $20.64 for a partial month of Nationwide Basic to replace the time I could no longer use America’s Choice, and, looking back at my October bill, I see that I already paid a full $39.99 for America’s Choice for 10/22–11/21.
Of course I was already off the phone with Crystal by the time I was able to reason all this out, so I had to call *611 again, this time getting another customer service person, named Constance, who tried to explain the $20.64 credit to me again. I let Constance go through her spiel and then said, but what about my October bill? It’s not as if I just started as a Verizon customer in November!
Oh, you’re right, Constance says, and issues me a further credit of $19.35.
Jesus fucking Christ. Why is it that when I deal with Verizon I’m made to feel as if I’m the one trying to do the Paper Moon change scam?
Today a Verizon Wireless store manager accused me of blackmail.
Here’s a scenario that I could agree would be blackmail. Let’s say I walk into a Verizon Wireless store, ask to speak to a manager, and tell him I want to buy a Droid and I want $15 off, and if he doesn’t give me $15 off, I’ll write about his refusal to do so on my blog. That would clearly be blackmail.
However, that is not what happened today.
The fun new phone I got today
runs Google Android 2.0
What happened today is that I went to Verizon Wireless in Beavercreek to buy one of the cool new Motorola Droid phones. I waited patiently for a sales rep — they weren’t particularly busy so the wait was only a few minutes, played with a Droid for a minute or two, told him I wanted one, waited while he did the necessary paperwork, signed where he told me, waited while he transferred my contacts for me, got handed the phone and a bag of goodies and left, a low maintenance happy customer with a new toy.
I headed to Caribou Coffee, bought an iced chai and sat down to play with my Droid, and … discovered that I couldn’t make calls on it. “Your mobile phone has not been activated. Please contact a Verizon Wireless sales center.”
“Oh shit,” I thought to myself. I’ve made the stupid mistake of walking out of the Verizon Wireless store without double-checking that the phone I just bought actually works. Shouldn’t have to do that, of course — checking that the phone works before the customer walks out the door is the salesperson’s job, isn’t it — but mistakes happen. I got back in my car and drove back to Verizon Wireless in Beavercreek.
When I get there I ask to speak to a manager, and I get a nice woman right away. I explain my problem, she takes my phone, pushes some buttons on it and apologizes — the guy who sold me my phone hadn’t finished activating it. I accept the apology and ask for a $10 or $15 credit for my inconvenience. She tells me she’ll have to talk to her boss. Fine. I wait a few minutes and she comes back and says she can’t offer me a credit but that I can have 50% off on any accessories I might want to purchase. I don’t want to purchase any accessories. That rewards them for their mistake by turning the “compensation” they’re offering into additional sales for them. Can I talk to her boss? Sure.
Her boss, the manager of the store, a guy named Nick, comes to talk to me, and says they don’t do credits. That’s just unheard of, he says. Companies don’t do that. I ask Nick if he’d rather I write about this incident on my blog, and that’s when he says I’m trying to blackmail him.
Here’s the thing, Nick. Companies do in fact do this kind of thing. Mistakes do in fact happen, and I can understand not offering credits when many customers will be happy with just a heartfelt apology, but, as I told Nick, I know from personal experience that, some companies do in fact offer credits as a token way to compensate for mistakes on the part of their employees. For example, last year when I spent hours on the phone with Time Warner resolving a Road Runner issue that turned out to be their fault and not mine, I asked for and got a $10 credit. $10 didn’t cover the cost of a month’s RoadRunner or even the cost of my time spent convincing tech support droids that the problem I was experiencing wasn’t my fault, but it made me feel better.
It’s not like I was asking to get someone fired. I just spent $200 on a phone and am going to be spending $30 more each month on service — $15 is nothing to the corporate behemoth of Verizon Wireless. Which is more important? Saving $15 while pissing off a customer by calling him a blackmailer and getting bad P/R on the Internet? Or spending $15 — 7.5% of the retail cost of a Droid and less than 1% of a 2-year service contact — and making a customer feel that his wasted time was somewhat compensated for?
I don’t know if I’m getting a credit or not. Nick agreed to put my request in his system and send it up the corporate food chain. At this point, I don’t particularly care about the credit. What I’m getting instead is the satisfaction of teaching Nick a lesson about customer service.
Update 11/21/2009: Got my credit. Nick now knows that giving a customer a small credit as a token of a company’s regret for poor service is in fact not unheard of, even at Verizon.
Dealing with the airline cellphone industry
So a week or so ago Verizon Wireless sent me a postcard to tell me that if I renewed my contract with them, they'd give me a month's free service. I was already aware that my VZW contract was up, and with all the iPhone hype
, I'd already been feeling a little nerdish technoenvy and looking at new phones for a possible upgrade.
My old phone
—not so cool
I wasn't contemplating shelling out $600 for an iPhone and certainly not contemplating switching to AT&T, but my old LG VX-8100
, which seemed so fancy in 2005, was feeling thick and old (plus I'd lost the back cover), so when I read the magic phrase "This will not affect your eligibility to upgrade phones" on the renewal postcard, I thought, sweet! let's go get a new phone.
Verizon takes a customer they already had in the bag (me, someone who was going to upgrade phones anyway) and makes him even happier (by giving me a month free). Good deal, right?
So I take myself out to Verizon's Beavercreek store
. When I get there, I'm greeted by a friendly associate who asks me to register on one of their fancy kiosks. This system is supposedly an improvement on their old system, where there were separate lines for sales, customer service and technical support. With the new system, tech support associates, off on one end of the store, can help sales customers if there aren't any people waiting for tech support. Nonetheless, with it being the day after a holiday, there were tons of people in the store, and I had to wait, almost 30 minutes.
Still, not the end of the world, as it gives me a chance to take a look at the various phones that are available. I was already pretty sure which phone I wanted, but I did take another look at various Windows Mobile phones (my friend Jim has a Palm Treo
) to confirm that they're much bigger (too wide) than I want to carry around. The LG VX-8500
's are cute, especially in white or cherry chocolate, but I really prefer a flip phone to a slider, and I had my eye on a newer phone that has a 2-megapixel camera with autofocus, namely the MOTORAZR maxx Ve
My new phone
and more powerful
Now I'm either a tech sales person's dream customer or nightmare. Perhaps I'm a nightmare because I know what I want and thus he has little chance of selling me a bunch of extras. But I like to think I'm a dream because I know what I want and thus am an easy sale. Last year when I came to this same store to buy a Kyocera KPC650
broadband wireless card, I was in and out of the store in less than 20 minutes. So this time when my name is finally called, I figured, cool, this won't take long now.
I walk up to the counter, and an associate named Jon greets me and asks how he can help me. I tell him I want to renew my contract and upgrade to a new phone, and I hand him the promotional postcard VZW sent me. He looks at it for a minute and then tells me, sorry, I can't do both in the same billing cycle. If I upgrade my phone now and renew my contract now, I won't get the free month. I can renew my contract and come back next month to upgrade phones.
Not good! Why on earth should I have to drive out to Beavercreek and wait in line two times? I pointed out to Jon the phrasing on the card that said that renewing my contract would not affect my ability to upgrade phones and asked him where it said I couldn't do both at the same time. He admitted that it didn't say that but said that's how it was. I said if the card had said that I would have simply called to renew my contract and then come in the next month to upgrade, but it didn't say that and I was already there. Poor Jon acted utterly helpless as if there was not a thing he could do to help me, so I asked to see his manager.
Of course this entailed waiting for another 10-15 minutes, which gave me plenty of time to notice a big poster on the wall behind Jon's counter. That poster lists all the reasons why Verizon Wireless is better than its competition, and one of the reasons is that "If you ever have a problem, it becomes our problem the first time you call."
"If you ever have a problem, it becomes our problem the first time you call."
Jon apparently has never seen that poster. I had a problem, and Jon didn't make it his problem. If he'd has his way, it would still have been my problem. Fuck you very much, Jon, but it is in fact your problem, and if you don't want it to be your problem, get a job in another field.
Jon finally did come back and was pleased to report that his supervisor thought that I could in fact renew my contract, getting the month's free service, and at the same time upgrade to a new phone. Jon explained that if, for some reason, I did not receive the credit, I could call his supervisor next month, and he'd fix it. Jon worked on his computer for a while, trying to achieve the impossible, and after another 5 minutes or so had to excuse himself to confer with his superior again. After yet another 10-15 minutes, Jon came back and was able to work the miracle. He gave me my new phone, thanked me for my business and was ready to send me on my merry way. Not so fast, Jon! What's your supervisor's name and number? Oh, yeah, he said as he wrote the info down to hand to me.
Perhaps poor Jon realized I'd be writing a letter to corporate about my experience (which I did) or even posting about this on my blog. I don't doubt that Jon's a decent person and normally does a good job, and this really isn't about him so much as it is about Verizon overall. Don't tell me I'm the only person who got that postcard who wanted both to upgrade phones and to get a free month for renewing. They knew there'd be people like that because they took the time to assure us that renewing wouldn't impact our ability to upgrade. What they didn't do was to fix their systems or train their associates to handle that. In other words they took an opportunity to make their customers happier and more loyal and turned into one to make their customers unhappy and less loyal, leaving them worse off than if they'd done nothing. Great job, Verizon!
One last whine before I close. Verizon and its colleagues in the cellphone industry remind me of another industry, the airlines. The cellphone companies and the airlines give a lot of lip service to wanting to make customers happy, but really they want to make life difficult for us. Here, have some frequent flier miles you can't ever use. Here, have a sweet new phone that does Mobile Web 2.0, but its features are crippled and you've got to pay an extra fee for web and for every application you want to use. Both cellphone companies and airlines know they've got captive audiences. If you want to use a cellphone, you've got your choice of corporate behemoths that don't care about your needs, and if you want to travel by air, you've got your choice of corporate behemoths that don't care about your needs. Yay, capitalism!
I did get a follow-up call from Jon's manager who apologized for the screw-up and said that they'd do better. He explained that normally the stores get a bit of notice about these promotions so they can prepare on how to deal with them but that this time Marketing sent out the promotion without any warning. Well I can understand that this wasn't Jon's manager's fault, but it certainly wasn't my fault either. I hope Jon's manager has some luck in dealing with his corporation's bureaucracy.
Okay, today I'll take a break from Microsoft bashing but stick with the topic of new technology I'm slightly behind the curve on, in this case EVDO, Kyocera and D-Link.
Actually EVDO I wasn't behind the curve on but was a fairly early adopter. EVDO, if you don't know, is (fairly) high speed wireless broadband offered by cellphone companies like Verizon and Sprint. The idea of having Internet access wherever you go (and not just where there's WiFi) excites geeks. Back when I was rich and worked in corporate America (and before there was WiFi even) I paid a high monthly fee ($75/month, if I remember) to a company called OmniSky for CDPD service on my iPaq Pocket PC. That service was only 19.2Kbps and unreliable, not really worth the money, but my EVDO is about 412Kbps down/128Kbps up (EVDO Rev. A promises to be even faster), fairly reliable, and a money saver: $60/month (less than OmniSky), and I don't pay for DSL or a cable modem, nor do I have to pay for WiFi when I travel (a double bonus because many hotels that do charge for WiFi nevertheless don't have good access in all their rooms).
The card I use for EVDO is Kyocera's KPC650 card on Verizon's network. If you're a later adopter than I am, a tip for you is not to use Verizon's crappy VZAccess Manager software; just set up a dial-up networking connection — the user name is your EVDO card's phone firstname.lastname@example.org (e.g. email@example.com), your password is vzw, and the phone number to dial is #777.
As I said, it's been fairly reliable, but my connection sometimes drops, sometimes after 30 minutes or so, sometimes after an hour, sometimes less, but also (rarely) sometimes not until a few hours have passed. A tip I read to keep the connection going is to do a "ping -t" (or better yet run a batch file with a loop with sleeps between some pings) in a DOS window in the background. At any rate, my wireless broadband experience has been positive for the most part.
However, I did notice that I've had to reboot my notebook more often when I use EVDO. In the office plugged into the net via an Ethernet cable I never have to reboot my computer. With the KPC650 card in, though, after the 2nd or 3rd or 4th disconnect, I find that Network Connections shows me as still connected but I have no signal. Sometimes pulling up Safely Remove Hardware (another tip: type "C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\RUNDLL32.EXE SHELL32.DLL Control_RunDLL hotplug.dll" in Start->Run to bring this up quickly), stopping the card and then reinserting it does the trick. More often than not I have to reboot.
Besides their EVDO PC Card, Kyocera also makes a WiFi router, the KR1, which lets you use an EVDO PC Card to provide Internet access to a small group of people. At home I mainly use only one computer at a time, so paying $300 for a KR1 didn't make sense.
But the thought crossed my mind more than once that by having an EVDO WiFi router, I could avoid having to reboot my computer due to EVDO disconnects. Worst case, power cycle the router. So I did some checking and Kyocera's retail price for KR1s has dropped to $229, and they seem to be going for about $150 on eBay. And since the KR1 first came out, D-Link came out with an EVDO WiFi router too, the DIR-450, which goes for about $120 on eBay. So I did some bidding and got myself one for $100 plus shipping.
I'm very pleased with the DIR-450. It was fairly easy to set up (tip: don't use the same user name for both admin and user profiles; the DIR-450 will think you're a user and not admin). Since I've had it, I no longer have to reboot my computer because of problems with the KPC650. I do still get disconnected sometimes (although it seems to be less frequent). When that happens, I have to log into the DIR-450, tell it to disconnect the KPC650 and then tell it to reconnect. Or I can just power cycle the DIR-450. The former is probably better for the DIR-450 but the latter's less hassle.