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I Refuse to Allow a Multi-Million-Dollar Corporation to Steal $156.46 from Me

People who talk about things over and over in the same ways aren’t getting any better.


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Melinda Blau

2 years ago | 5 min read

I can’t believe I’m writing about this. I’ve already explained the problem to a dozen different Verizon customer-service reps. And each time I retell the story, I “re-infect” myself with negativity.

Then again, writing about one’s worries, woes, even “the most upsetting experience in your life,” as psychologist James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal, puts it, may be as important as talking — and sometimes better:

People who talk about things over and over in the same ways aren’t getting any better. There has to be growth or change in the way they view their experiences.

Of course, when difficult situations present themselves — abuse, an accident, sudden or life-threatening illness — each of deals differently. My partner, for example, would have simply paid Verizon the $156.46. Problem gone.

I can’t. I keep calling back, driven by a combination of activism and a desire to be heard. This is no way to treat people, especially under the guise of customer service!

I’m not comparing my Verizon problem to chemotherapy or being robbed at gunpoint. But frustration and anger aren’t good for one’s mind or body, no matter how minor the upset. So here goes…

I buy a new Fitbit over the phone from Verizon. Disappointed in the new version, I return it in the original box and use the label Verizon provides. UPS picks it up on December 8.

Three weeks later, I begin a series of calls to inquire — twice, three times a week, sometimes two or three times in a single day: “Why isn’t there a credit on my bill?”

I have a photo of the mailing label, an email from my concierge confirming the UPS pickup, and a receipt from showing that the Fitbit was, in fact, delivered and signed for on December 11. One rep after another, same story, same refusal to “transfer me to a supervisor.” I send an email to customer support. No one responds.

The agents ask me to “be patient.” Some provide misinformation, like the rep who assures me that Fed Ex does all Verizon’s shipping. I read her the UPS tracking number from the label Verizon provided.

Although one rep promises me she’ll call UPS, she never gets back to me. I contact UPS. Their delivery receipt shows that an investigation into my “lost” package was requested, probably by the agent who never called back. Apparently, no one else at Verizon knows about it.

I let a few weeks go by. This is me being patient.

By now, I am familiar with and have gotten better at side-stepping the obstacles I face each time I call the 800 number, hoping to speak to someone.

An automated voice asks for the number I’m calling about and then, Select the reason for your call from the following choices. The first few times, I’m truthful and hit 1 for “billing.” This choice activates an excruciatingly detailed recording about how and why my bill has “changed.”

And if I still have questions, a “free text message” is sent to my cell phone, with a link connecting me to a “digital assistant.” Here’s the catch: As soon as I connect online, the phone call is “discontinued.” I learn to ignore the link and keep holding on.

Another option for my convenience: You can make an appointment using the Verizon app and we will call you back. I fall for that one only once. The first availability is three days later, at 4 pm.

To better the odds of actually being connected to an agent, call first thing in the morning. Be willing to hold on. Due to heavy call volume, wait time is more than 23 minutes. Wash dishes or pay bills in the meantime.

If it’s exceptionally busy, the call is disconnected without explanation. If not and if I hang on long enough: All right, let me get you someone who can help. I swear, there is a sigh of exasperation in her voice. Can a bot be annoyed?

Last week, my patience exhausted, I begin to call again. I decide not to say that I am calling about my bill, ignore the other prerecorded choices, and instead speak my own reason for calling: “merchandise return.”

I an immediately connected to the sales department. The woman who answers is upbeat and eager to help — no doubt because she expects to take my money. But once she realizes my deception, she politely asks, “Can I put you on a brief hold?”

I am disconnected (hung up on?) twice more. Or maybe three times. As always, no supervisor is available. But, given the gravity of my situation, each agent at least promises — before putting me on a brief hold — to consult one on my behalf.

I start to write this piece while on hold. Ironically, when I say, “I don’t mind waiting,” I mean it.

Each rep follows the same script. “Thank you for your patience. It will be just a few more minutes.”

I ask for names, jot down some. Barbara, Everett, Lisa, Noelle, and now Anderson. The timer on my phone reads 01:06:05 — I have been on this particular call for one hour, six minutes and five seconds. Maybe this is it.

When Anderson reports back, “My supervisor says you have to wait another billing cycle,” I am livid.

“I have to wait? Another month? You’ve gotta be kidding me! Verizon received the Fitbit six weeks ago. I have proof. Please,” I plead, “let me explain this to your supervisor.”

He puts me on hold. For a moment, I believe that he will connect me.

CLICK! Cut off again.

I redial. I wait. Now Allison is “reading the notes.” She understands my frustration. Nevertheless, she, too, lacks “the authority” to issue a credit of $156.46.

“I know this is not your fault, Allison,” I say, through clenched teeth. Pause. Exhale loudly as if I’m on stage, “But I can’t give another minute of my time to Verizon. So would you please make a note on my record that I will be deducting $156.46 from my January bill. And I’d like your ID number as well for my records.” (It is not lost on me that Verizon tapes calls like this one “for customer training.”)

“Don’t worry. I’m generating a reference number right now in case you have to call back.” All I have to do, says Allison, is wait while she puts me on a brief hold.

CLICK! Dead air. She’s gone, too.

Part of me wants to call back. It’s hard to turn your back on the drama of the dysfunctional. Negativity is compelling. Verizon is not making a fortune in interest on the $156.46 they owe me. But mine probably isn’t the only money they’re withholding until the next billing cycle. It’s unfair, infuriating, and not illegal.

But my wiser self urges me to step away from the phone. Let it go.

I pay the bill through online banking — less $156.46.

This saga ends one of two ways: A refund will appear on my next bill or — my partner’s fear, which will intensify after this article is published — our cell phones will be turned off for non-payment. Luckily, fears are not facts.

Either way, I have no illusions: I don’t hold any cards in this game.

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Originally published here.

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