Why do phone companies have to stink?

There must be an unwritten rule somewhere that if you're a phone company, one or more aspects of your company must be lousy. Some companies go for pricing, others for service, a couple for reliability, and yet a few go for the grand slam of all three at once. This is the story of fighting with Vonage.

I didn't really have a lot of complaints with Vonage for a long while. In fact, I switched not because I didn't like the service that Sprint was providing, but because it was way overpriced for what it was. I was shelling out about $35 for a basic line plus whatever I put on long distance. So way back about 2 years ago, I made the switch. I've always been pretty pleased with the quality of the phone calls and the great feature set. Top that off with $25 a month for unlimited long distance and I was so there. I'm never without a cable modem, so it was a no-brainer for me to add it on. I even got to quickly and easily add a new virtual number for Salt Lake City when I moved even before I had started packing, a great bonus.

Then, after the move, I had a strange problem. Vonage will send you an e-mail whenever you get a new voice mail, a feature I found really handy. After moving, I changed the e-mail I wanted the notifications to be sent to. And it went to the old e-mail address. Huh. Weird, but maybe it just didn't stick. I go to the website, yep, it's been changed, change it back to the old address, back to the new address… same thing. Now it's time to make my first support call to Vonage.

I had to hold about 20 minutes, though that isn't so bad in my book. The dude had me run a bunch of tests and then sent me a new adapter. I couldn't figure out how that would cause my issue, but okay, I'll follow along. As a computer tech, I knew that sometimes my troubleshooting steps didn't make sense to other people either. I hook up the new adapter and… same problem. I call back, same hold time, same tests, I'm told they'll escalate it and I'll hear back. A week later, there's nothing, so I call again.

Now this cycle repeats itself for about two months, during which time I'm becoming increasingly frustrated at something as simple as updating a freakin' e-mail address. Trust me, it's not very hard to go and update a database. It finally got to the point where I stayed on the phone for about 2 hours to finally get it all sorted out before it started working properly. After that, I cut my plan back to the $15 per month limited plan since I'm not using the line much and I'm a bit peeved at how much effort such a small thing has taken.

Fast forward a few months. During this whole time, I've kept my 702 number while I've been in transition. A small part of it is because there are some folks who still didn't have the 801 number, a larger part of it being that there's no self-service way to swap your primary and virtual numbers. It had finally gotten to the point where my old 702 number was getting nothing but solicitations for carpet cleaning and bill collectors looking for Esther. (No, I'm really not making that up.) So I'm thinking "hey, why pay $5 a month for the extra number when I don't get anything useful on it?" I call 'em up, wait about 15 minutes, explain what I want to do… and the poor dude from India was very, very confused. He said he'd create a ticket and it would be done within a week.

The charge for the extra number still appeared on the next month's statement. I call them up, explain what I had requested, and get summarily told that they can't find a previous ticket for me. I'm calling bunk at this point because I know darn well that while it can be hard to find a really stale ticket, it can be found. Working in multiple call centers taught me that. He says he's creating a new ticket for the issue and that it'll be done within a week.

What do you think appears on the next month's statement? If you guessed a $4.99 charge for a second phone number, you get a copy of the home game. I'm pretty cheesed at this point, but I can't for the life of me find the ticket number I had written down just a month ago. I suppose that jotting it on a sticky note wasn't the best of plans. By this point, I'm already pretty busy and don't have time to waste on it, so it drifts to the back of my mind as I tackle getting sealed, Shauna being sick for a while, tearing off the roof, etc.

Then the last straw hit. I'm lying in bed Sunday morning, my bones aching from the 25 hours of manual labor I had completed in the last two days, enjoying not having to move much and make my already angry body stage a revolt. The phone rings. It's a carpet cleaning solicitation from some shady company in Vegas that cares more about spoiling my peaceful morning than the $10,000 fine the FTC will slap them with for violating the Do Not Call registry. I just about blew a gasket.

I immediately shot off an e-mail to Vonage demanding that they not only do what I'd been trying to do for months and months to get done but also to refund me for the months of service I'd been trying so hard to cancel. You know what I got back? A nice little "oh, we can't do something like that" excuse. No good. I blast them back another one, shortly after which a "Tom" does the equivalent of "whoa, dude, we'll take care of it, just say the word." Within 24 hours, the 702 number is gone and we're down to a nice local 801 number.

Of course, that's not the end of it. In the process, they wiped out the mailbox (which I expected and isn't a big loss to me)… but they didn't recreate it for the new primary number. So here I sit, stewing, while "Tom" sets up my mailbox again.

I'd still recommend Vonage to a lot of people. They offer a really good product for a REALLY competitive price. They even throw in free long distance to a lot of Western Europe now. But when it comes to customer service, they are the pits. At least it beats using Qwest. Barf. 

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