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For anyone who has ever dealt with stupid customer service reps...

 
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Many of you might have seen this SlashDot link but I thought I'd pass it along. Essentially, its about a guy who calls Verizon and is told the internet usage rate is 0.002 cents/kilobyte multiple times but his bill reflects 0.002 dollars/kilobyte... and the best part is while trying to explain this he discovers not one rep knows that these are different numbers. In fact one manager says that the difference between 0.002 cents/kilobyte and 0.002 dollars/kilobyte is a "matter of opinion".

Summary Phone Call: http://verizonfails.ytmnd.com/

If you want to hear more:
Full Phone Call (20 mins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp0HyxQv97Q&e
Blog: http://verizonmath.blogspot.com

Its great for ANYONE that has ever had to deal with verizon or any other horrible phone service representative.
[ December 10, 2006: Message edited by: Scott Selikoff ]
 
Wanderer
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Wow.

It seems like the Verizon people's brains turn off as soon as the decimal point comes into play. I wonder if the results would've been different if he'd introduced a few more steps in the progression:
  • Do you agree that 2 dollars is not the same as 2 cents? - Yes
  • Do you agree that 2 dollars is not the same as 2 cents? - Yes
  • Do you agree that half a dollar is not the same as half a cent? - Yes
  • Do you agree that 0.5 dollars dollars is not the same as 0.5 cents? - ?
  • Do you agree that .1 dollars dollars is not the same as 0.1 cents? - ?
  • Do you agree that .01 dollars dollars is not the same as 0.01 cents? - ?
  • Do you agree that .002 dollars is not the same as .0022 cents? - No (them, not me obviously)
  • I'm trying to see where this breaks down for them. Does the problem occur as soon as you introduce a decimal point? Or is it as soon as the decimal has exactly 2 digits after it, the way we're used to seeing dollars and cents? If it were possible to have this conversation in written form it might be easier to get the Verizon folks to see where the problem is.

    I also wonder if any of the Verizon people might have possibly known better, but couldn't contradict official company policy. Perhaps, but they sure were pretty willing to restate the .002 cent / KB quote.

    Also, in the US, doesn't one need to notify the other person when recording them on the phone? (As many customer service lines notify the customer at the beginning: "this call may be recorded...".) He does seem to get permission from the last manager at the very end of the call, but it seems like he really should've mentioned it to each rep. Though it's also entirely possible the the laws are different for businesses - maybe it's legal to record businesses without notification, but not private citizens. (Ahem... skipping over some potential political commentary here...) I'm just guessing. I think he just got kind a bit lucky when the last manager said "that's fine" when he said he'd post the recording on his blog.

    Good thing Verizon didn't try to charge .002 dollars per byte.
    [ December 10, 2006: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
     
    Scott Selikoff
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    Well verizon does notify you that your call may be recorded on their end for business/training purposes, so the permission to record is given, but its highly likely they could sue him for selling this conversation or using it in court (but then really, who cares?)

    I really think they don't know the difference, although the last one did seem to be sticking to company policy more than the others. I think the best part is that they still claim is 0.002 cents, if even one of them had contradicted Verizon and agreed it was 0.002 dollars, the call would have ended sooner but it was interesting to see that none of them were willing to even try to think for themselves. Ultimately I think they didn't get it because they had a strong belief ahead of time the man was wrong and would not budge on it.

    Oh, and if you read some of the follow up verizon sent him an e-mail offering half off ($36) his original bill for "due to the miscommunication" but still asserted "that the customer service representative provided the correct pricing information"!
     
    Jim Yingst
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    [Scott]: Well verizon does notify you that your call may be recorded on their end for business/training purposes, so the permission to record is given,

    Mm, but is that permission automatically reciprocal? If A notifies B that A might be recording B, can B record A without similar notification? I mean, it would seem fair (mostly) for it to be reciprocal, but I don't see any reason to assume that the law actually treats it that way. Unless you know more about how this law works than I do, which is entirely possible.

    I found some good insight into the Verizon customer service mindset in this blog response from Colin (6th one down the screen), beginning with "A friend of mine worked for a Verizon call center". Most of the people talked to seem to be just trying to get the call over quickly at that point, they're not really thinking about it. Unfortunately for Verizon, the economic cost of this particular exchange could end up far higher than if they'd simply given in at some point. Now with the publicity, they could be looking at some sort of class-action lawsuit over this from many other customers. Admittedly most regular customers probably aren't in the same situation this guy was in, where he was just using the service for a limited time, and had no other basis for knowing what the cost would be. I imagine that customers using Verizon in Canada for more than a few months would have much less basis to complain, since they'd seen the previous bills, and not objected. Still they could well be entitled to something. And there are probably other short-term customers who could be entitled to a 99% refund on their bills. Could be expensive for Verizon. Math illiteracy sucks, doesn't it?

    Scary thing - if this did go to a trial, would they have to bring in "expert witnesses" like mathematics professors to convince the jury? It shouldn't be necessary, but it probably would be, for at least some of the jury. Though I think that most high school math teachers ought to qualify as experts for our purposes here. (Most elementary school math teachers, really, at least by, say, 4th grade or so.) I'd like to think that this sort of fundamental innumeracy might not be quite so widespread in the general populace as it seems to be in Verizon's customer service department. E.g. it could be that Verizon's corporate training or business software presents this info in a way that conditions all the customer service people to think this way. But still, I don't think that could happen unless they had a substantially undereducated labor pool to draw from. Or maybe those who know better just leave Verizon early on out of frustration? I dunno. Probably someone's going to go out and poll the general populace on whether they think .002 cents and .002 dollars mean the same thing. I shudder to imagine the results.

    In the long version of the call, at one point I was amused to hear one of the CSRs saying "We're.. we're in Canada..." as they thought it over. Yeah, that's going to affect the answer... right.
     
    Rancher
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    Not sure about companies, but I think it's perfectly legal in the USA to record your own phone conversations without notifying the other side.
     
    Jim Yingst
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    Ah - with a bit more research, it appears this depends on the state. At the federal level, one-party consent is sufficient, meaning that I can give myself consent to record my own conversations, and I don't have to notify or get consent from the other party to the conversation. However a third party may not legally record the conversation unless specific exceptions apply (primarily for law enforcement, and businesses may monitor their employee's conversations made from work phones). However 12 states require notification and consent from both sides of the conversation. Most businesses doing recording will automatically notify their customers if there's at least a chance that they might be from one of those 12 states - and there's always a chance, really. But anyway, chances are good this guy is fine as long as he doesn't live in one of th 12 states. Though I suppose it's also possible that the call center is located in one of the 12 - I don't know how the law would work there. Here is the most concise summary I found for the relevant laws.
     
    It is sorta covered in the JavaRanch Style Guide.
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