Cut me some slack on FiOS problems

Consuming Interests

January 30, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Columnist

Let's get one thing straight: I am a gi-normous fan of competition. It stimulates innovation, encourages efficiency and, best of all, drives down prices.

So all you FiOS fanatics out there: Settle down, please!

Last week, I shared the story of John Holmes, who patiently waited more than a month for Verizon's new fiber-optic video, voice and data service to function properly. After more than half a dozen visits from technicians, 15-plus hours spent on customer service lines and five days taken off from work, the 33-year-old real estate agent from Crofton still had spotty television service.

I dinged Verizon for sloppy service, noting that such careless work risks bad word of mouth as it tries to lure people away from Comcast.

I wasn't bagging on FiOS. I was not questioning whether Verizon gives you better service than Comcast or whether FiOS is better than Comcast's Triple Play offering. And finally, I was definitely not recommending that everyone should stick with the virtual monopoly that is Comcast (nor am I telling you to dump them).

I also said FiOS received high marks from reviewers and I praised the company for being quick to respond to Holmes whenever a new problem popped up. And I included Verizon's defense that such a debacle was a rare occurrence (although it is now conceding that it has inflicted some of its own problems.)

For taking the middle ground, I got grief from both ends.

Kristina Krzyzaniak of Arnold was livid after she was stood up four times by Verizon technicians. Michael Lord of Annapolis said his Dec. 20 appointment for FiOS installation was canceled with little notice.

Vance Morris wasn't thrilled to find that an initial installation in August left him with video on demand that didn't work, remotes that didn't work, and sometimes channels that just disappeared.

While some like Holmes and Morris got immediate response to their problems, others like Krzyzaniak found indifference.

"No one seemed to be sympathetic to the fact that other than their employees, that customers have lives to live, too," Krzyzaniak wrote in her e-mail to me. When she called to cancel her order, "no one seemed to care why. I took my business elsewhere."

Less than stellar

Several others who wrote or called said they also experienced technical problems that prevented their FiOS service from working properly. But mostly, they just found less than stellar customer service.

All this was distressing for Mary Jane Johnston, vice president of regional operations for Verizon.

"Anytime I see complaints like that, it's unacceptable," Johnston said. "It's not the way we run our business.

I said this last week, but it bears repeating: People should expect some glitches in a new product as complex as FiOS.

Once Verizon lays fiber-optic cable through your neighborhood, it has to run a drop wire from the street to the home, which is the line often seen running from a pole to the house. Outside, it must install a termination box for the wiring and then mount a battery backup box inside the house (in case you lose power, which means you lose telephone service after the battery goes, too, some customers reported).

Technicians then install a router and coaxial lines, or special data wiring, from the box to the computers and televisions inside the house. Sometimes, existing coax lines may be used.

Sound complicated? It can be, which means installations can take up to eight hours - a reason why customers who had service appointment no-shows can go apoplectic after taking a day off from work to wait.

Johnston says that as more installations are done and the technology improves, Verizon has streamlined the process and trimmed work times.

"With every new technology, there are changes that need to be made to both systems, the technology and the processes we have, as well as the human element," Johnston said. "In all of those, we've made significant improvements. It helps us when we find instances of communication breakdowns and we've made changes as a result of the feedback we get."

Johnston conceded that Verizon has overbooked installations, even with hundreds of technicians performing hundreds of jobs per day.

"This is selling faster than we have anticipated," she added. "As a result, there are times where we have overbooked the number of appointments and that's unacceptable. We're making sure now that we avoid doing that."

So for those having trouble, help may be on the way.

And do keep in mind, while the squeaky wheel always gets the most attention, several people who wrote or called said they had a swell experience.

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