Saturday, April 07, 2007

Verizon DSL

Let's say that you own a building that has many apartments. You open the building offering everyone the same basic rate. However, tenants that choose to rent a parking space in the garage get a slight discount on their apartment rate. Fair deal and everyone's happy. Rent stays at around the same price for everyone.

After a few years the competition has heated up a bit and you're finding it more difficult to attract new renters. You decide on a new marketing campaign for your vacant units: if new renters decide to sign a year long lease, then they get a slight discount over current month to month renters. If new renters decide on a 2 year lease, then they get a significant discount over current month to month renters. New renters could still opt for the month to month option at the same prices as the original renters.

You decide not to tell the original renters of the new leasing option. Oh, you may mention it vaguely, but you don't go out of your way to market it. Why? Because you enjoy collecting their premiums over the discounts you're offering the other renters. After a time, though, you find that you enjoy the security offered by the longer term lease programs. You decide that you want to get more people to opt for those programs. How do you go about that?

Oh, you could opt to do more aggressive advertising to the current renters, pointing out the major discounts that they could receive by moving to the long term lease. You could even sweeten the pot a tiny bit more for the people who've shown loyalty by staying with you and have been good tenants. After all, you want to keep those good folks, right? Maybe even offer to switch those who've been there the longest to the lower monthly rate without the lease? Yea, you might do that, but not if you're Verizon Broadband.

Over a year ago Verizon offered a year long subscription program for their DSL service. I saw a notice at the time, looked at the offer and for whatever reason decided that it wasn't for me. There was no major discount that they were offering and I didn't want to deal with it right away. At least, that's my recall of the events. Maybe the literature on it wasn't clear. Also, as I recall, I didn't get a mail (snail or otherwise) or a phone call about the subscription. I heard about it through another website and took a quick look at Verizon's page. Again, nothing that would cause me to switch jumped out to me.

Yesterday, however, I got a notice from Verizon that they were raising my monthly rate by a little over 10%. They pointed out that all monthly customers were to get this pay hike. For the record, I've been a monthly customer for 4 years. If, however, I wanted to save some money, the email informed me, I should go to their website and sign up for a subscription program. The subscription was for 1 year of service. At this point I was annoyed because I was being railroaded into their plan, but I wasn't terribly miffed. It was when I got through their site and saw my options that I was ticked off.

Once on the Verizon site I found out that my current broadband service, a low end one, was offered to subscription folks at a nearly 30% discount over what I had been paying! If I had been offered this before, when they began the program, I'd have switched. Translated to year long usage that discount would have resulted in a savings of over $100. Certainly that was incentive enough to make the jump. But rather than be aggressive in marketing to me and telling me that I was overpaying, or switching me over to the new rate as I was a long term customer, they decided that raising the rate on my current service would be the best way to get me to subscribe. Who was the idiot in marketing that thought that I'd be happy finding out that I've been ripped off for a year or two? What sort of definition does Verizon have for "customer service" particularly when applied to long term, loyal customers?

The really sad part of this is that I was offered not 1, but 2 year long subscription options. The first one would have kept my service, as is, for the considerable discount. The second option would cost me less than 10% more than my current price (and, note, still less than the "new rate" that they were going to bump me to in a couple of months) but would also considerably improve my service by increasing my upload and download speeds by more than 3 times my current rate! Surely someone in marketing could have figured out that I'd be happy to increase my speed for a mere $2 more per month. Surely, someone could have sent me such a pitch in email or snail mail, let alone, you know, call me. I'd wager that a number of people in my position would jump at that chance.

I have spent the past year or so cruising Verizon's site off and on looking for opportunities to improve my connection speed. Each time I was curious about first, getting into FIOS (fiber optics which is being rolled out gradually across the country), and secondly, barring FIOS, getting a faster speed with a reasonable cost increase. I've looked at their site maybe 10 times in the last year for such a program and was never offered the deal I was offered yesterday. That tells me that their website marketing leaves a LOT to be desired, let along the mail and phone marketing. And that's what's so sad about yesterday's offer: I wanted the service and would have been happy to pay the extra costs and Verizon could have made that money had they been better at selling their product.

Instead, they ended up getting me ticked at them for feeling ripped off by paying more for their product than it was worth. That's how they treat existing customers? New customers were pitched the better deals because Verizon wanted to attract them so badly. Those of us who have been their customers were screwed. That's not a good method for maintaining long term loyalty. This is an example of how complacent telecommunication companies become about their existing customer base. Unless the customer complains to switch, they are ignored. And for many customers the ordeal it takes to switch is more than we want to deal with, so there's no competitive function that requires the company we're dealing with to make corrections and pay attention to us. Heck, in many areas of the country and depending upon the service you're talking about (cell phone, internet, long distance, local phone, etc.) there may only be one provider that a customer has access to and therefore that customer is caught hung over a barrel.
And that's how I feel today about Verizon. There are other broadband providers, but those providers still must use Verizon's lines to get to my house. Though I may be better service from those providers, I'd still be paying rent through a third party to Verizon and often times at a greater cost to me.

After a few hours of considering it, I decided to opt into the subscription plan for the faster service. To Verizon's credit, they got the faster connection up and running within an hour of my signing up. I'm sure it was just a combination of switches in their programming both at their offices/hubs and in my modem. I was without Internet connectivity for no more than an hour while the upgrade was put into place (I don't know how long it really was...I lost connection, went away for an hour or so, then came back and noticed the increase in speed). Verizon's technical crew, then, seems to have it together when it comes to customer service. It's just a damn shame that their marketing group doesn't perform at the same level. Put together - marketing and technical support - I come away with a mediocre feeling for the company.

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