There isn’t much about Jim Cramer that I agree with. He loved that catastrophe Groupon and before it went public I wrote Groupon is a Put On. He had Mel Karmazin on his show to discuss Sirius XM for almost half an hour and never once asked Mel why he was rushing to the door to sell his stock if business were really so great.
But he does distinguish between companies and their stocks. When it comes to Verizon he couldn’t be more correct. Analysts these days just love the stock and especially its big dividend. But just try being their customer. I moved three years ago to a building that had just been overwired for FiOS I decided to give it a try. The entire installation was fraught with problems and from start to finish took almost a week including multiple appointments for the installation to be successfully completed. I thought that was bad.
I recently moved from one apartment to another within the same building with a much superior view of the NY City skyline. My initial call to Verizon seemed pleasant enough. Tbe lady offered me a new all digital service that would cost me $72 a month less than my present bill. She was going to bundle in a complete movie package for only $5 a month. It all sounded good. When I told her about my previous problems with the initial FiOSinstallation she assured me that the problems were because I was an early adopter but that now, three years later, the installations were going very smoothly. I had nothing to worry about, she insisted. The installation appointment was scheduled for a couple of Mondays later.
The Friday prior to the appointment, I received a frantic call saying that my appointment was going to be cancelled by the computer if I didn’t call back within the hour. I didn’t get the message for three hours and then my horrible odyssey began in earnest. It seems that the services the lady sold me were not allowed to be sold to me. I could transfer the existing phone lines and other services but I was ineligible for the package to which I had agreed. After a total of about four hours on the phone that day, the installation was reset for the Monday appointment bettween 8 and 5. I was told that they knew it was a new FiOS location and they would surely come in the morning even though I was given an all day window for what was likely to be an 8 hour install.
The installer came at 2. He was angry because he had to run FiOS up from the basement and his shift ended at 4. He had been sitting around all morning with nothing to do and from almost the time he arrived was calling his supervisor to explain he wouldn’t stay one minute late. That was followed by his showing me the enormous Motorola service box that was to be installed in my apartment to handle the service (3x the size of what was in my previous apartment for the exact same service ) and his suggestion that it go on the living room wall! The unit is about 5 feet tall and extends out about 8″ from the wall. Isn’t that just what you would want in your living room?
Verizon sent over another installer who was lured under the guise that the installaton was almost complete. He had to pick up his son after school and also couldn’t stay. He said he would do as much as he could before he had to leave. Nobody came back for two more days. The next man had parked his truck on the street where the signs describe it as a tow away zone from 4-7. At 3:56 he ran for the door despite the fact that the installation was really not completed but for sure he didn’t want his truck towed.
Like most utilities today, Verizon schedules appointments from 8-5. They care little if they inconvenience their customers who must miss work to meet them. Every time you call the company, you must wait from 20-40 minutes to even have your call answered and often you have been shunted to the wrong department. Then you have to get back into the queue and wait again. I learned that you had best budget an hour for any call to Verizon, no matter what the topic.
Whoever answers your call is most apologetic. After a point I commented to the person on the phone that I wished they were as good at getting someone to make my service work as they were at apologizing for the incompetence of their staff. He replied that when they had their training: “They did emphasize EMPATHY in their classes.”
In summary, moving is a horribly stressful event for everyone. In my case, from the first call that they were cancelling my installation visit until the 6 days spent by VZ restoring my static IP address, I also spent two days with no phone service on two phone lines and two different days without service on the other two lines. I had to be coached through programming some of the equipment the guy worrying about his truck being towed was supposed to program and at least one hour per day on the phone with Verizon trying to get the service to work or to have men come to the apartment to perform one task or another.
In the end, it took two weeks and five truck rolls to get my service installed. One wonders what has happened to the Public Service Commissions across the country. Nobody seems to regulate these people. It probably doesn’t matter if you pick Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon, or any other large cable or telephone operator. They all have awful service. They all charge a lot and they all use call centers with people for whom the job is a paycheck. It’s like any large enterprise. Occasionally you get someone on the phone who would actually like to help you after they get through with the “empathy” part of the call. Those will actually call you back when they say they will or even issue a credit for all your aggravation.
It also makes one wonder if VZ is really a worthy investment. The dividend might be good but the management couldn’t be worse.
Joan E.Lappin CFA. Grramercy Capital Mgt. Corp.
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Mrs. Lappin, Gramercy Capital and it’s clients own shares in Sirius XM at this time.