Thursday, January 3, 2008

Every Breath You Take (Tracking Megacorporate Failures, and Why They Should Be Fixed)

(This post concludes with the words "my wife is right." Yes, I'm trying to score brownie points.)

Big companies have always made mistakes. It's just that in the past, these mistakes weren't all that visible.

Imagine that it's 100 years ago, and the telegraphs are buzzing with this type of conversation.

THEODORE do not buy the new plow #3 from the 1908 montgomery ward catalog

WILLIAM i was looking at that plow does it have a problem

THEODORE the blade fell off two days after i received it

GEORGE that happened to my cousin also but it got worse

THEODORE how did it get worse

GEORGE my cousin contacted customer service for a refund and still hadn't heard from them six months later

HERBERT that's strange montgomery ward processed a refund for my defective washing board in only three months

WILLIAM herbert your case is unusual.

GEORGE i'm tired of montgomery ward. i'm switching to sears roebuck.

JULIA w00t


Needless to say, individual purchasers did not have that type of empowerment in 1908. Then again, most people, including workers, didn't have that type of empowerment in 1908. While word of mouth among close friends certainly played a large role in purchasing decisions (as it continues to do today), consumers in Theodore Roosevelt's day did not have access to a wealth of information from strangers regarding various products and services offered in the marketplace.

This struck me yesterday as I was writing a series of tweets about our experience with Verizon FIOS TV, and more specifically with two Verizon billing issues that we encountered during our experience. (If you read the tweets, the referenced October blog post is here.)

After posting that entire series of tweets, I got to wondering - who else has had problems with Verizon billing? It was easy enough to find three examples of problems, from sites such as ("Knowledge is power!"):

I had numerous billing mistakes and was billed almost $500.00 more than I should have been. When I called customer service I had to sit on the phone for about 2 hours dealing with it. Then they had the nerve to ask me to pay for the mistake and they would credit me.

Here's a much more recent example from

About two years ago they over billed me $90.00 and kept disputing it until I just gave up. About two months later they credited my account with the $90.00.

And here's the third example, taken from a comment to a GigaOM post:

Plus they screwed up the billing and overcharged my credit card to the tune of $250.00.

So anyone willing to spend a few minutes of search time can get a feel for a corporation's procedures - be it Verizon billing, Facebook terms of disservice (see Robert Scoble's first post on that topic), or whatever. This information can be helpful to consumers, or perhaps people who want to sell service improvement to Verizon, or perhaps people who want dissatisfied customers to switch from Verizon. Imagine T-Mobile (give me another heh) mounting the following ad campaign:

We believe you should be billed the correct amount for the services we provide. It appears that Verizon does not share our philosophy.

Initially I thought that this was merely an IT issue, and that these problems were evidence that Verizon had faulty computer systems or software. But then it struck me that the problems go far beyond software and hardware, and have to do with the corporation's procedures themselves.

Let me cite a specific example. When my wife returned our Verizon FIOS TV boxes to a Verizon store on October 23, the Verizon worker gave us a receipt that specifically stated what was returned. However, this receipt didn't have a receipt number. So yesterday, what did the Verizon phone rep ask for? You guessed it, the receipt number. Several minutes of fruitless conversation ensued because of a foulup in Verizon's return procedures.

I can appreciate that there is a challenge in re-engineering an entire corporation so that something such as an equipment return process works smoothly, and that the procedures for our specific return would be very complex. Here are a few of the procedures or design steps that would have applied to our return:

  1. Design receipt for FIOS TV equipment return at Verizon store

  2. Receive returned equipment at Verizon store

  3. Track returned equipment through Verizon systems

  4. Ship returned equipment to receiving location

  5. Place returned equipment in inventory

  6. Update billing system to record return of equipment
Despite the fact that it's hard, it needs to be done. My wife's perspective on the matter was refreshing: "Verizon is a big company. They SHOULD know how to do this." And, despite what we know about the cluelessness of bureaucratic wife is right.

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