By Parker Whitley
By all accounts, Verizon Communications should be sitting pretty. With social media the dreary buzzword for everything and anything, and “what’s your platform” the sort of rchaic catch-phrase for how you get your information, one would think that a company as big and as powerful as Verizon would not have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to lure new customers and sell services to those it has.
But scrape that barrel it has. And, it’s not just Verizon. Believe it or not, it’s now possible to think of Verizon as an old media company. Just like some newspapers and magazines, and, it seems, Time Warner Cable. Well, at least according to a recent announcement of TWC's which is trapped and being choked by expensive and lousy programming on increasingly lousy cable channels.
Cable television is now primarily a source of watching re-runs of bad broadcast network television shows you didn’t watch in the first place.
Time Warner Cable is losing so many customers to streaming and other means of delivery that it has stated that it wants to lose more customers so that it can charge the ones remaining even more money. I know exactly what you’re thinking. Has the topsy-turvy world of “Alice In Wonderland” come to fruition in a rapidly changing communications landscape? Or perhaps you’re ahead of the curve and are already sarcastically asking: “Television? What’s that?”
Meanwhile, Verizon is so desperate for business that it uses telemarketers to harass current customers. Lowell C. McAdam, the lethargic, limo-loving chairman and CEO of Verizon, personally pockets upwards of $3-million a year for running a company that has come up with a plan to have its telemarketers call its loyal customers day and night in an effort to either wear them down so that they will buy more Verizon products, or to have them go crazy and spend more money to buy more wireless air time so they can talk to the four walls, call their pharmacist, and possibly yell at the folks running the local loony bin. McAdam needs to refund some of his paycheck.
First, let’s look at Time-Warner. As unbelievable as it may seem, its chief operating officer, an upside-down, greed is better mouthpiece named Rob Marcus, has said that he isn’t worried about losing subscribers as long as Time-Warner can milk its remaining customers for more profit. In other words: let the malcontents quit TWC. It’ll just raise the rates on the suckers who stick around. This sounds like the worst business strategy in the world. In fact, it sounds like corporate lunacy.
As quoted by Alex Sherman in a recent article on Bloomberg.com, Marcus blithely states this: “It’s a shift. For so long, people that follow our business have been focused on subscriber gains. That’s not the right thing to focus on, at least not exclusively, and it actually causes behavior that’s not in the long-term health of the business.” I’m not sure if Marcus’s gobbledygook makes sense, but he seems to be saying that there’s money to be made from subscriber loses.
Marcus is also a tad ungrammatical, but we expect nothing less from a Bachelor of Arts graduate from Brown University, that bean bag chair of Ivy League schools. He should have said: “For too long,” instead of “For so long.” Dumb is dumb, whether it’s on the streets or in the board room. It’s possible Marcus also says “different than” and “myriad of.” Of course, the correct usage is “different from,” and because myriad implies “of,” using the word “of” after myriad is redundant and therefore unnecessary.
According to Sherman’s story, “Time Warner Cable will continue to offer packages with low initial prices, but now they’ll come with slower Internet speeds and ‘fewer channels and features,’ Marcus said. If customers want more bandwidth, a digital video recorder or more premium channels, they’ll have to spend more money.”
Is anyone at Time Warner Cable smelling burnt toast? This ridiculous plan is not going to find new users racing to embrace Time Warner. And it’s definitely going to compel even more consumers to seek other options. Cable operators blame the rise of cable rates due to high licensing fees for sports programming. How much sports can you watch at one time? In fact, with the downfall of RCA’s delightful Picture In Picture, your television, iPad, iPhone, laptop, or PC is mono-imagist. One channel at a time.
If you have cable, how many channels do you actually watch? How many white people have ever watched BET? How many straight men have watched Bravo? How many liberals watch Fox News and how many conservatives watch MSNBC?
The salvation of cable television is a la carte pricing. It used to be an option. It must go back to being one. You pay a small flat fee for local broadcast channels and a few cable add-ons, and then you pick and pay only for the cable channels you want to watch, in, let’s say, groups of a dozen channels in various tiers. And it needs to first ask consumers what their favorite channels are.
Time Warner Cable’s failure to accept the a la carte reality sends a signal. It’s on the ropes.
On the other hand, Verizon wants more and more and more customers, and it wants to sell more and more and more services to those very same customers. It’s bad enough when the company’s red shirt-wearing sales storm troopers make repeated visits to your house at all hours trying to get you to buy FiOS because your neighbor has signed on. Now, under McAdam’s mean-spirited leadership, telemarketers call your phone day and night, with complete disregard for your request to stop the calls.
Valued Verizon customers are being bombarded with telephone calls from this telemarketing number, 410-910-0621, which is a Verizon business landline in Columbia, Maryland. That call center is responsible for harassing tens of thousands of normally calm and happy Americans. It may also be ignoring the Do Not Call Registry, which means that non-Verizon customers are also being bombarded with calls.
According to the law, if you are a Verizon customer, they have a right to call you, UNLESS you ask them to stop. And this is where it gets criminal.
For this column, I spoke to a loyal Verizon customer of forty years. FORTY YEARS. They had never once received a telemarketing call from Verizon. About a month ago, the family made a phone call to Verizon to ask about an upgrade in their landline service. The fact that the customer still uses a Verizon landline should have the company kissing their collective butts. But that’s not how the unscrupulous Verizon operates these days.
Since that phone call, Verizon has been acting like a predator shark in the water that smells potential blood, or as Verizon sees it, potential blood money. CEO McAdam likes obnoxious outreach. He’s a sucker for rudeness and a relentless whining on the part of salespeople pitching unwanted or unnecessary services. Under his failing leadership, Verizon is pandering to the lowest common denominator: the world of the criminally-libel telemarketer.
It’s obvious that McAdam doesn’t pay attention to the news. Some aggressive telemarketers are in jail. And the Verizon customer to whom I spoke was clear that he was prepared to go to a police station and file criminal charges against McAdam for aiding and abetting the harassment on the part of his avaricious and cruel telemarketing army. Legal? Who knows? But, it’d be a hell of a test case.
McAdam holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cornell and an MBA from, get this, the University Of San Diego. The Cornell degree seems to make him smarter than TWC’s Marcus, but an MBA from San Diego University? Seriously? Apparently he didn’t learn much about customer service while staring at the Pacific Ocean.
The Verizon customer in question said that his home phone receives three or four calls a day from the company. Early-on, after he answered only a few, he requested that the calls be stopped, but the call center creep lied and said it could take between 4 to 6 weeks to halt the calls. Really? In this era of instant communication and incredibly high-tech computer servicing? 4 to 6 weeks? Tsk tsk, Mr. McAdam, such pathetic games.
After a few days of telephone bedlam, thanks to caller ID, the customer stopped answering the calls, but they are still a disruption. A person, unlike the cruel and crude machine that is McAdam and his pirates, does have to stop what he or she is doing and check the phone. They may even have to get up and walk across a room.
The customer said that he “went off” on a moronic call center character named Roy, who seemed to be American, but whose English was so appalling that he thought he was talking to a cluster of dying brain cells. That call came on Monday, April 29 at around 3:00 in the afternoon.
Then the customer decided to turn the tables. And believe me, Verizon corporate headquarters in Manhattan wasn’t pleased. The customer, under complete and total telephone telemarketing harassment from Verizon, and slowly losing his mind over the chaos, decided to call Verizon. The corporate phone number is 212-395-1000.
At first he asked for the executive offices, but that went nowhere. Then he asked for a responsible vice-president. At that, the confused and heavily-accented operator hung up. The customer thought she may not have understood the word “responsible.” Then, after doing some research, he asked for Lowell McAdam. This surprised the operator, one of a handful whose day was being disrupted, just as the customer has had his life disrupted for a month. She came back with a nonsensical email address, which is not the same as routing a call to a responsible executive. The email address was for the reception department, or a receptionist, or perhaps even a reception hall. The customer was unsure. The operator, who was eating, kept repeating it. It was something very weird and possibly similar to: "Baskingridgerreceptionist" at a specific suffix. The email bounced back. You know, Mailer-Daemon style.
At one point, the customer got through to a Miss Sanchez, who kept confusing the Federal government’s Do Not Call Registry with Verizon’s own Do Not Call list, which doesn’t seem to go into effect anyway until a couple of months have passed, and even then there’s no guarantee you won’t keep getting calls. Miss Sanchez kept muddying the waters and eventually hung-up when the customer asked how she liked having her day interrupted.
After one more call to corporate, in order to equal the total of 4 from Verizon on a single Monday morning and afternoon, the customer stopped, although, in all honesty, he could have called 120 times, which still wouldn’t have covered Verizon’s abuse of his human rights and the invasion of his privacy.
What gives cutthroat corporations the right to think they can merrily call anyone they want at any time, especially after the recipient of the annoying calls has requested they be stopped? What arrogance exists in the corporate mind that allows this criminally negligible transgression to continue on and on and on?
Verizon stock closed down on Monday. And it will close down again. It’s obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense that if a major American corporation is reduced to making ceaseless telemarketing calls to members of its customer base, that company is in trouble.
Time Warner Cable, with its truly bizarre and risky rush to shed customers and charge more for those who remain, may collapse first.
But because of its inhumane and manic and desperate telemarketing onslaught, Verizon’s standing is now also under the microscope. It’s future is also suspect. If I personally owned Verizon stock, I’d believe that now would be the time to sell it. I’m glad I don’t.