Bad service kills amazing products

verizon-logo-470x310.jpgHave you ever offered cold drinks to people laying telecom lines outside your house? Have you ever pulled over to talk to telecom contractors to find out when their work in your neighborhood will be completed? Have you ever counted the days until you can have Verizon FiOS service activated?

I have.

I was literally cheering on the Verizon workers laying the fiber optic cable outside my house that would allow the FiOS service to be activated, giving me wonderful HD television, phone, and smokin’ fast, insanely reliable internet access. I convinced neighbors that they too should sign up. When I moved to Seattle, I chose a house to move to in some part based on the availability of FiOS. I check the Verizon site weekly to see if my place in Austin stands any chance of getting it any time soon. I’ve blogged, commented, and tweeted about how amazing the service is. I’ve literally convinced at least 10 people, probably more to sign up.

I’m what we in the business call a “Customer Evangelist”. I’ve been working my tail off for years to help Verizon expand their FiOS customer base because it’s an incredible product.

Despite my unwavering love for the product, I’m done.

You see, twice I’ve had to cancel their service as I moved cross-country. The first time I had to cancel my Verizon Texas account and open a Verizon Washington account. The second, I was moving to an area without Verizon FiOS service.

Twice, Verizon’s third party equipment return house lost my equipment. Twice they received the cable boxes fine, but not the modems. Twice I used the prescribed return method of self-addressed envelopes dropped off at the UPS store.

This time around, I continued to get healthy sized bills, despite having been told by Verizon agents that we wrapped up. I called in and was transferred seven times to four different departments (yes, some of them more than once) simply trying to figure out what the number was I actually owed. After two hours on the phone, they gave me a number, I paid it, then got another bill. During this time, I also received two call from the third-party return house asking if I’d sent my equipment back. Twice I gave them UPS tracking numbers. Twice they said they would clear it from their records and that I’d be done getting calls.

So you can imagine my surprise when I received another bill for $134.86 rather than the $0.00 I’d been promised by the last Verizon employee I’d talked to. After another hour phone call, it was discovered that only two of the three returned pieces of equipment had been logged into by the third party house. Which means Verizon thinks I need to buy my missing equipment.

Here’s the thing – I finally threw out my UPS tracking numbers, so I literally have no recourse here. Verizon is literally demanding I pay for equipment that I’ve returned, but was lost in a system that clearly sucks or I’ll end up in collections.

When I explained the situation to the agent who saw notes on my account that things had been insane after 3+ hours of phone calls, he had sympathy but told me my only option was to provide tracking numbers or pay my bill. He all but said that we were in a game of “he said, she said”, and they’d never believe me.

The lesson in this is really quite simple: If your service sucks, it doesn’t really matter how great your product is. In my case, there’s no chance I’ll continue to be a FiOS customer evangelist. I don’t want my friends to curse me for getting them into a situation like I’m caught in, no matter how cool the product is.

And the inverse is true as well: If your product sucks, it doesn’t matter how great your service is. This isn’t a new observation; it’s been made time and again. Marketing includes service. Your customer service is a marketing function, not a separate department. Marketers all too often steer clear of the call centers, and that’s unfortunate. Imagine if the FiOS brand manager had been on the phone with the agent and me throughout these 3 hours of madness. Do you think they’d be focused only on launching new features as a way to acquire and retain new customers?