Dear Verizon,

I have a simple, helpful suggestion for you:

Put your technician assignments online for customers to see so we can judge when we need to be home and so we don’t get mad at you for having to stay home all day.

Our internet went out after the storms in New Jersey. We were lucky: We lost big trees but they only scraped our house and didn’t take out lines. We lost power and heat but I managed to get the last hotel rooms in the area so we had warm beds. Our power was restored after about 36 hours (many around us in the state still don’t have it) and with power we also got our phone and TV back. But our internet didn’t return. Not so bad. Troubleshooting over the phone with my wife for an hour yielded nothing, so we were told we had to have a visit. But the storm damage was widespread and Verizon was going to take two weeks to come. Internet being lifeblood to me — imagine me Twitterless — I appealed for help to @verizonsupport and they quickly and nicely gave us an appointment after only a few days. That came yesterday.

We were told we were to be the first appointment of the day. So my wife didn’t go out to restock the refrigerator, which was high priority. She waited. She waited 10 hours for the technician to come.

When he came, he said that we weren’t first on his schedule; he had an install, and we know from the effort that went into ours that that takes time. Then his dispatcher inserted another appointment before us. That’s fine, of course. Things are crazy in New Jersey right now. We don’t mind waiting. We just want to know how long to wait.

So here’s my suggestion, Verizon: Go to the Apple store and see the screen that tells customers where they are in line. When you see you’re No. 6, you know you have time to duck out to Starbucks. Apple doesn’t guarantee an exact time — and I know you hate doing that. But Apple gives us enough information so we can know what’s going on and make our own judgments.

Now go to Continental Airlines, look up flight status, and see that they give fliers the complete stand-by list for seats and upgrades. You can see how many seats are open and how many people are ahead of you so you can judge your odds. Again, they give us information. There’s no reason not to. I wrote about this in Public Parts as a simple example of a company being more open. It improves our experience. It saves gate agents from getting the same anxious questions over and over. (I hope this nice practice isn’t lost in Continental’s merger with United.)

So, Verizon, why not open up and simply let customers see a list of how many appointments a technician has and even where they are so we can judge how long it would take to arrive. Give more information when it’s helpful — e.g., that installs take a few hours. When things change, send an update, just as airlines now send SMS or email updates on flight status. You’re a communications company; I’ll bet you can do that well. If we’d had that yesterday, my wife could have spent the morning outside the house (and I wouldn’t feel so guilty for being in New York all day).

When the technician arrived, he was very good and spent time solving our problems with the internet and TVs. He replaced our router.

That leads to another suggestion: Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to send us a router? We’d have had it before the technician came, which means you could have saved the expense of our visit at a really crushed time. Worst case: It wouldn’t have fixed the problem and the appointment would have stood; the only loss would be the shipping cost.

These might seem like minor irritations to customers. But so was Bank of America’s $5 debit card fee. And look what happened to them. In this post, I attributed the bank’s retreat to a young woman’s online petition. But others perhaps rightly credited #occupywallstreet with stirring up productive anger at the banks and winning this small but symbolic and gratifying victory against them at a time of low trust and high contempt for banks in this country.

Friendly advice: You and the other telephone and cable companies could be in a similar boat. No surprise to you that there’s pent-up anger about you. In Public Parts, I tell this story about Frank Eliason, who started Comcast’s @comcastcares — a model for the very helpful @verizonsupport (he later came to New York to work for a bank):

“He was candid about Comcast’s problems, with a rare sense of corporate humor. I watched him at a Salesforce.com event when he came onstage and said, “Customer service . . . . We’re well-known for service, aren’t we . . . . C’mon.” Pause for laugh. “We’re actually working very hard to improve the customers’ service.”

Now see Susan Crawford’s excellent piece for the Harvard Law and Policy Review, out this week, arguing that we are faced with a cable/phone duopoly over our internet access. It is a call to action for regulation of you. It is also, possibly, a focal point for anger about how we customers are imprisoned with our one or two choices.

So beware the seemingly small things — $5 debit cards, 10 hours of thumb-twiddling — can become rallying points for anger and organization against you. We, the community of customers, now have the tools to organize and be heard.

I’m grateful I got my appointment yesterday; thank you @verizonsupport. I’m grateful I got good service from your technician; thank you, Michael. I’m grateful to be using my internet connection at home right now to write this. I’ve also mellowed since Dell Hell. So I want to be helpful.

My helpful suggestion is: open up. If you know information that could be helpful to customers, share it — because now we have the tools that enable you to do that.

P.S. Yesterday was perhaps not the best day to notify us that our rates are going up.

  • Mark

    You mean Verizon actually showed up for an appointment, even late? How novel. I dumped them a few years ago after they made and failed to show up for five appointments in a week’s time. Ridiculous. If I’d taken work off to wait for them (I work at home), I’d have been ballistic. When I complained, they offered me a one-month service rebate–30 bucks–for my trouble. Epic fail.

  • Mark (not the same Mark)

    Competition is supposed to solve problems like this, but it does no good when (1) you don’t have a choice among providers or (2) you do have a choice, but all of the competitors suck.

    In my case, I’m stuck with a cable company because of my HOA (part of my monthly fee covers cable and there’s a long term contract). Both my cable and my internet sucked, so I tried to switch my internet to the phone company. They sucked, too.

  • Roger

    Jeff, really brilliant post. This is exactly the sort of thing which technology can handle easily, which make us all less crazy, and should be pretty easy to implement. There are a bunch of appointment managing cloud apps already available, so there isn’t anything very complicated that would need to happen. Just a commitment to providing customers with service and clear expectations.

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  • Jim Hollohan

    Jeff, in part due to your commitment to openness we know that you can definitely afford to absorb a slightly higher Verizon bill. Remember, you are part of the 1%, after all.

  • http://gtr-skyline.com/ Martin

    Very good idea.

    I suspect ‘not’ doing that leaves some slack around accountability, but that is a severe pain, especially if you miss them, but also when the window that they are supposed to arrive is roughly somewhere within twelve hours or so.

  • Paul

    Jeff, excellent points but you forget that a) Verizon is a phone company and not really interested in customer service beyond what they are required to provide by the public service commissions (PSCs) where they operate. And b) the PSCs generally have no interest in serving the public as they are stacked with industry insiders who are looking for their next job.

  • http://www.janseurinck.com/ Jan Seurinck

    There is an app for that: http://qminderapp.com. Online queueing FTW.

  • David Furphy

    There’s all sorts of businesses that could use this idea. My family doctor is great but ALWAYS late – sometimes by a couple of hours. The receptionist ends up spending quite a bit of time fielding calls and face to face queries about “how much longer”. They’re mostly happy to suggest “there’s 4 people in front of you, it could be another 3/4 hour”.

    Like you, most people don’t mind waiting if the end product is good, they just want be kept informed. Its about respect for the customer.

  • http://kionrightnow.com Paul Dughi

    Jeff, this is so obvious it’s nuts that it hasn’t happened already. It would open up the communication between service businesses and customers and make it all transparent.

    Not only does it work better for the customer, but it would avoid some many headaches and angry calls for the business.

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  • Bryce Samuelson

    Jeff,
    I haven’t had the same problems with Verizon as you have because I live out in the country which means I have to use Verizon 3G, Satellite or Dial-up all of which have rather steep limitations for those of your readers who live where I do. As far as I know, Verizon’s 3G only has a plan of 10GB of data usage per month maximum, but with speeds at 54Mbps. Satellite is in the mid-range with its 256 to 512k of outside the home internet speed and Dial-up, as expected, is the lowest at a maximum of 56k and that’s an entirely too rare incident when that happens. I wish companies like Verizon offered better data plans like Sprint’s alleged Unlimited data plan. I also wish white spaces WiFi was widely available so people like me and my family didn’t have to pay overage fees and the insanely high prices Verizon and other telecom high rollers force on the user/customer.