Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This is simply remarkable

This is Joseph, the rare co-blogger.  I wanted to pass this on (h/t: Mike).  I don't think anybody will be surprised to see this type of customer service occurring:
Today one of our employees on the business side of TPM got a bill from Verizon for $3,019.95. Now, TPM's phone bill is bigger than your home phone bill because we two offices and about two dozen employees. But it's not three thousand dollars a month. But there's a bigger problem. We're not a Verizon customer.

Right, we use a different company entirely.

. . .

So after a little internal due diligence, someone on staff contacted Verizon basically to ask WTF was going on. Only they couldn't tell us because for security reasons we need to confirm our identity with a number on a recent phone bill? But we can't do that because ... right we're not a Verizon customer.

But can't they infer that we're us because we're getting billing emails to a TPM email address? No comment.

Can Verizon at least tell us whether this service was a service for a company called TPM Media LLC, incorporated in New York State? No, security reasons.

After another hour or so of a TPM staffer being on hold, Verizon comes up with seeming proof. The service was contracted by a person named "Gregory E." (I've left out the last name because Gregory E. may actually exist and he does deserve some privacy.) Only problem: no one named "Gregory E." has ever worked for TPM.

This apparently happened in early 2012. And like most utilities and service providers they totally let you not pay for a service for over two years without cutting it off.
Part of the problem here is one of "efficiency".  By creating distant call centers, you save on costs but you make issues like this one difficult to resolve.  You see the same problem with auto-dialing debt collection calls -- a robot calls a long stale phone number at minimal cost.  You might get some real leads that way that enable debts to be collected.  On the other hand, you annoy a large number of people who are completely unrelated to the debt (as telephone numbers often get reassigned to new people moving into an area).  It also makes issues like "billing the wrong customer" fantastically annoying for the person being billed. 

But it is also a question of competition and asymmetry of power/resources.  Without a regulatory framework to handle these issues, there is no cost to pushing frustration and time loss on to the "customer".  It's not like the company would be billed for the time to access customer service if the bill were proven to be incorrect. 

The standard solution to this is regulation.  This matters even for parts of the market that function well.  The need to regulate food production and sales dates back to the middle ages and remains with us today via functions like health inspectors.  Ironically, despite the potential for regulation to strangle companies with red tape, it can also be a precondition for an effective market.  It's also possible for it to be too lax in one area and too extensive in another (possibility affecting the same transaction).

So I am becoming indifferent to scale as I age, and think that all of the action should be in the efficiency of government and/or corporations.  But this conversation seem to be rarely heard these days. 

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