Stephanie Fierman Loves Verizon

November 14th, 2007

OK, I don’t actually know anyone who loves their phone service… but I figured this headline wouldn’t draw Verizon’s ire and, well, I’m afraid of Verizon.

I recently found a blog called, where the writer describes the experiment he did as a follow up to is where you can find the story of George Vacarro, guy who called Verizon and recorded 6 different managers
quoting different and wrong rates for the same plan – sometimes 100 times less than Verizon actually charged – and then not being able to understand the mistake when it was explained to them.

But this Eyelesswriter is a fellow after my own heart: only 6 calls? Puh-leeze. Eyelesswriter called Verizon 56
TIMES over two days with two questions:

(1) What is the data overage rate for the basic 10MB data package for $29.99?
(2) If you get the Core Choice 450 minutes package with unlimited data, what is the data roaming rate in Canada?

As the blog explains, the first question was intended to be relevant to a general audience, given that nearly every phone can now receive data – plus the question referred to the most basic plan available. The second question was similar to the one described by VerizonMath.

Of the 56 reps to whom Eyelesswriter spoke, only 1 answered both questions correctly. 52% (29) did not answer either question correctly and 7.5% of the incorrect responses under-quoted Verizon’s actual rate by 100 times or more. (There appears to be a bit of confusion between cents per kilobyte and dollars per kilobyte…).

The recording made me wince.

In the last couple days, as it happens, a couple of my blog/newsletter friends have also posted significant rants about terrible customer service experiences. What’s interesting and most important to me as a marketer is that the prevailing emotion usually projected by write-ups like these is not anger or hatred, but… disappointment.

It’s disappointment, because consumers want to have a good experience and they want to believe us marketers when we advertise, skywrite, promote, print, stunt, twitter, blog, facebook (as a verb), etc. and promise on-time arrivals and correct billing. That our XYZ is better. That we are the brand to trust. Consumers want this to be true!

And then, too often, it’s not. Marketers are imperfect animals, to be sure, but my circle of colleagues frequently discuss how much marketing can actually impact performance in some companies – and whether all the new Web 2.0 tools make folks believe that a little social media and behavioral targeting will make everything ok. I firmly represent the point of view that an entire value chain in a company has got to be ready to deliver or David Ogilvy himself couldn’t make a new marketing initiative work. At my last job at JPMorgan Chase, I sat on the same floor as the Client Relationship Managers and, among other things, was responsible for both marketing and training. So my team could launch the newest whiz-bang product, and that’s great, but we were also able to and fully accountable for ensuring that “the line” was well equipped to help sell and service the product for clients.

If marketing is all about creating valuable relationships with customers, we’ve got to continue to work across our companies to ensure that the rest of the enterprise is executing well. We’re the ones that need to keep articulating the brand promise for the entire company, ensuring that everyone embraces their part in it and working with every division to make sure that delivery expectations are understood, met and exceeded.

This is, actually, the joint mission of every CMO, COO, CFO, CTO, CIO and CEO team.

Verizon spent $1.9B in advertising last year. How much of that is undone by a rep who cannot distinguish between cents and dollars per kilobyte?


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