Mea Culpa: Verizon Retrains Staff Following Billing Complaints

Verizon Communications Inc. is retraining sales staff in its Florida market after complaints surfaced from consumers who were miffed when the bills for their $99.99 triple-play bundles arrived with price points higher than that advertised cost.

“We do feel we need to do a better job in the customer experience area,” said Sharon Shaffer, Verizon media relations manager. Workers are being retrained to emphasize that $99.99 is a base price, she said.

The complaints, some of which were detailed in a March 26 article in the Tampa Tribune, include disputes over billing, the unavailability of equipment—such as high-definition set-top boxes—and long waits on hold to customer service.

The consumers quoted in the article were angry that door-to-door salesmen did not explain that there would be extra fees for multiple set-top converters. Also unclear was that that phone service, commonly billed at the end of the month for time used during the preceding month, would now be “billed forward.” This policy meant that customers had to pay in advance for the coming month, leading to a big initial bill.

Shaffer said Verizon had contacted each of the four consumers complaining in the paper and had determined that they had been charged correctly. That’s why customer service agents are being retrained to fully explain fees, taxes and other charges that will increase the bill beyond the advertised price point.

Though those problems have been addressed, according to Verizon, some consumers have been angry enough to plead for help from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

Since franchising was moved from local jurisdictions to the state in 2005, the state agency has been the designated arbiter of cable complaints.

According to information from that agency obtained by Multichannel News, consumers asked for state help obtaining $3,111.65 in refunds from Verizon since July 2007. The state has collected $2,814.74, including $1,055 for one Tampa resident for a complaint of “poor quality service.”

Most of the FiOS complaints logged by the department are tagged for poor service or for billing disputes. The report indicated only three open complaints at this time.

In addition to these complaints, there has been considerable consumer grousing in multiple markets over the slow delivery of free televisions, a reward offered to new customers who sign up for at least two FiOS connections.

Shaffer noted that the majority of consumers love FiOS services but added, “We take these complaints seriously.”

Both in-house and contract door-to-door salespeople are being retrained, and Verizon is experimenting with forming sales teams who live in the area where they will be touting FiOS services, she said. The company goal is for each consumer “touch point” to be positive, she said.