OK, there’s no film, but there is an audio. More on that in a sec.
The Verizon customer argues that he was quoted a rate of .015 cents per KB for wireless Internet access. He was billed at the rate of 1.5 cents per KB. So, this is one pissed-off dude who believes he was charged 100-times the quoted rate. No small squabble.
The story didn’t resonate with me until I got an email from a student asking for my take on it. It’s goes against my grain to pass up a teachable moment, so here’s the essence of my response, edited to make it more clear.
I did see that story, Eric. In fact, that “conversation” with Verizon is now tearing up YouTube. Don’t waste your time with it. I did.
PR bloggers like Jim Horton are rightly using the Verizon case to illustrate the importance of the customer interface in any relationship, and how that interface often is our most vulnerable point in the relationship — you know, the snippy receptionist, the slovenly waiter, the rude cop on the beat who can wreck all the good work PR folks do.
But there is another angle on the story. While the Verizon people come off sounding like math morons in this tape, the customer’s complaint doesn’t add up either. I’m not sure the “consumer advocates” who are criticizing Verizon listened carefully, or maybe they just didn’t do the math themselves.
Supposedly the guy was told by a service rep that he could purchase wireless Internet access for.015 cents per KB. If so, the Verizon rep erred. What he should have told the customer was “one and a half cents” per KB, which is really .015 dollars, not cents. It’s a error, but I can see how it happened.
Anyway, the disgruntled customer uses 5,000+ KB in his first month and gets a bill for $76. Unreasonable? Doesn’t seem so. But the customer claims he’s being charged at 100 times the rate he was quoted. He’s furious that the Verizon reps can’t or won’t do the math with him.
So let’s DO the math here, shall we? If the man truly believes his rate should be .015 cent per KB, then he must also believe his bill for 5,000 KB should be just 76 cents, or one one-hundredth of the total he was billed.
I hate to insult people I’ve never met, but this guy is clueless. But its the Verizon reps who came off that way. Now the world gets to beat up on Verizon. It ain’t fair, but that’s the way it is.
I told you there was a PR lesson or three in this. Here they are:
One, some consumer advocates habitually take sides against business with or without evidence. They’ll spew spew their cyber-venom without regard to accuracy or consequence. But that’s just the way it is, and we gotta be ready for it.
Two, big business remains the whipping boy in citizen journalism, just as it is in mainstream journalism. But in the citizen version, you don’t have to check facts or do math. You just post that sucker and watch the feeding frenzy. Sadly, the mainstream media are sometimes among the first sharks to arrive. Let’s hope not in this case!
Three, correcting misrepresentation that spreads online is almost impossible. I’m doing my part with this post, which on a good day might get 4-500 readers. But as I write it, YouTube’s “Verizon Still Can’t Count” has seen 350,000 views, most of them in the last 48 hours. The battle was lost before Verizon could even got their lawyers on the phone.
Before I shut up, let me come back to the lesson that Jim Horton makes so well in his post. He reminds us that our hard work as PR people is only as effective as our weakest link, which too often is the customer-service interface. Pay attention to it.