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$0.002 != $0.00002
December 9, 2006 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Math skills are not Verizon's strong point. A man tries to resolve a simple problem with Verizon for 22 minutes. Listen, and despair.
posted by Drunken_munky (174 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The absurdity of the situation really hits home around 15:45. How can managers and supervisors not have such simple conversion skills? How can anybody, in this day and age?
posted by Drunken_munky at 10:50 AM on December 9, 2006


link to his blog about it:
enjoy
posted by teishu at 10:54 AM on December 9, 2006


How can anybody, in this day and age

As I commented on his blog, it seems obvious to me that in a culture where Metric conversion techniques are not routinely taught to schoolchildren, then the casual manipulation of powers of ten and powers of a hundred must become (when compared to other cultures) significantly less easy, common and apparently mind-numbingly abstruse and esoteric for a significant proportion of adults.

The unusual resistance of the U.S. to Metrication is both a symptom of and a driver of adult innumeracy.
posted by meehawl at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2006


Holy shit, those people are stupid. I don't know how else to say it. What he's saying isn't hard to grasp. They're all quoting him .002 cents/kb repeatedly, but then magically changing the units from cents to dollars when it comes time to bill. That is the issue, and that five people cannot grasp that simple concept is just amazing to me.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:11 AM on December 9, 2006


This phone call somehow sums up the whole modern age.
posted by muppetboy at 11:12 AM on December 9, 2006 [2 favorites]


Listening to that made me bellow in rage no less then three times.
posted by CaptMcalister at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


America is doomed. It's only a matter of time until the Chinese take over.
posted by Dasein at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2006


That was just painful to listen to.
posted by greycap at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2006


Wow. Stunning.

And, sorry meehawl, but I don't see what this has to do with Metric.

And... I smell class action. They've been billing their customers 100 times the price they've been quoting them. Stunning.
posted by dobbs at 11:20 AM on December 9, 2006


The unusual resistance of the U.S. to Metrication is both a symptom of and a driver of adult innumeracy.

That's a really interesting observation. Being Canadian, that perspective is one I definitely hadn't considered. However, does it really apply in this case? I feel that people in higher positions of a company (like the floor manager he eventually talks to) should have (at least!) these basic math skills. As an engineering student, I have to know the conversion between 1 slug and 1 kilogram, as well as 1 pound and 1 newton. Shouldn't a seniorish type employee of a telecommunications company have similar skills?
posted by Drunken_munky at 11:21 AM on December 9, 2006


Are we sure these are Americans and not Canadians making this mistake, seeing that he's dealing with Canadian rates?

Either way, this is one of the funniest and most frustrating things I've listened to in a long time. It's almost hypnotising.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:21 AM on December 9, 2006


I don't know why this is a video, but damn. This is well into absurd territory as soon as the CSR tries to re-do the calculation four minutes in, and keeps mumbling, "so we're in Canada... and... uh... k... hmm..."

There is a possible explanation here, though: often prices under a dollar are quoted as $0.95 or whatever, but translate in the head to something like "ninety-five cents," not "ninety-five hundredths of a dollar." At some point it's not hard to imagine "0.95" and "ninety-five cents" as being equal. Hence "0.95 cents."

What's more surprising is how apparently no one else has discovered this problem before now. Surely someone's stumbled across this discrepancy before?
posted by chrominance at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2006


More proof all customer service operations should be outsourced.
posted by CaptMcalister at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2006


Very, very frustrating. The very worst part is when the last rep says: "It seems we're just having a difference of opinion...." Dollars and sense? That's just your opinion, man.... The reps have an economic incentive to be dense. They don't look at it as an potential mistake on their part, but rather as a $72 test of endurance: "How long can I put up with this mathematical mumbo jumbo.... I make eight dollars/hour... lessee, carry the one... I can stand this for ninety hours. " I feel the desire to call Verizon and explain the difference to the person who answers the phone, slowly, every day for the rest of my life, and to ask everyone I know to do the same.

This makes me happy that, every so often, a company loses millions of dollars because of a misplaced comma.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2006


Cellphone companies have done a fine job replacing the cable company as the most frustrating commodity that serially overcharges you. They really run with it.
posted by Busithoth at 11:26 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


I just looked at that guy's blog hits and he's over 14,000 today. I'm sure the damage to Verizon's reputation is far more than the $71 they should have immediately waived, and the major media haven't even picked this up yet (and they will, just like the AOL cancellation guy).
posted by MegoSteve at 11:29 AM on December 9, 2006


I have gotten five minutes into this clip and I'm already suicidal.
posted by brina at 11:29 AM on December 9, 2006


The good news is that this was on slashdot yesterday, and you can bet it's all over Verizon now. They may have some stupid fuckers on the phone but they're not all stupid by any means. The question is whether they'll respond to this formally (probably not unless a major news source picks it up), with a few internal memos at the management level (probably) or do nothing at all (unlikely).
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:31 AM on December 9, 2006


America is doomed. It's only a matter of time until the Chinese take over.

Unlikely, it is middle class worldwide that is doomed and lower classes are going to get even worse, if possible. Why ?

Because keeping people ignorant makes fooling them and commanding them a whole lot easier ; one doesn't even need a conspiracy to make masses "ignorant" and gullible, we already are...it is keeping them stupified like romans did that requires a coordinated effort.

Yet there is a saving grace : one can get people to notice they are not satisfied.
posted by elpapacito at 11:34 AM on December 9, 2006


This guy shows a supernatural amount of restraint.
posted by basicchannel at 11:35 AM on December 9, 2006


What I might have done is similar to what he did toward the end:

1. Establish that multiplying by 100 is equivalent to moving the "decimal" to the right two places.
2. Have the rep write down "0.01 cents" on paper.
3. Have the rep move the decimal to the right two places.
4. Have her read aloud the result as "One point zero zero cents".
5. Affirm the demonstrated concept that the units stay the same through multiplication.
6. Repeat steps with the appropriate figures.

If this didn't work I would direct them here.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 11:37 AM on December 9, 2006


The question is whether they'll respond to this formally (probably not unless a major news source picks it up), with a few internal memos at the management level (probably) or do nothing at all (unlikely).

According to the blog, Verizon is offering to pay half of the charges for him. Because, as the Simpsons has taught us.. it takes two to lie. One to lie, and one to listen.

I'm waiting until the mainstream media picks this up with all due enthusiasm.
posted by tittergrrl at 11:38 AM on December 9, 2006


Another thing I thought he could do is ask: "Have you seen Spinal Tap? Remember the whole Stonehenge song...?"
posted by tittergrrl at 11:39 AM on December 9, 2006


Here's what he should have said. In fact, he may still have to say it:

"If the charge was one cent per kilobyte, I would owe one dollar after one hundred kilobytes of usage.

If the charge was one-tenth of a cent per kilobyte, I would owe one dollar after one thousand kilobytes of usage.

If the charge was one-hundreth of a cent per kilobyte, I would owe one dollar after one ten thousand kilobytes of usage.

If the charge was one-thousandth of a cent per kilobyte, I would owe one dollar after one hundred thousand kilobytes of usage.

Since the charge was two-thousandths of a cent per kilobyte, I would owe one dollar after two hundred thousand kilobytes of usage.

Did I use 200,000,000 KB? No. Then why am I being charged more than a dollar?"

He got close to this sort of slow, lead-them-by-the-hand explanation a number of times, but the rep would interrupt him or he'd forget he was talking to an idiot each time, and just assume that everything else was QED. Poor guy. Remember... this was his THIRD CALL.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:43 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


My God, it's like a Sartre play.
posted by Optamystic at 11:45 AM on December 9, 2006 [3 favorites]


I don't know why I listened to that whole thing because now the only way I am going to be able to calm down is to destroy every piece of furniture in my house.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:47 AM on December 9, 2006 [11 favorites]


Here's what he should have said.

I've seen lots of comments to this effect in the last day or so, since this story started getting more airplay. The sentiment misses the point of what happened here:

The people to whom this man spoke were either unable or unwilling to understand what he was saying, said many times in a variety of ways. The call was at twenty-two minutes long, and not once did someone on Verizon's end understand the concept of unit conversion.

Honestly, there's nothing this man could've said to the people to whom he spoke that would have "clicked" and prevented this recording from hitting the Web. Perhaps eventually, he'll get to talk to someone who can understand what's going on.
posted by Mikey-San at 11:53 AM on December 9, 2006


I couldn't listen to this thing.... you see, i quit my job as a Verizon customer service rep yesterday. ( I was one of the good ones, i hope. ) But i can personally attest that Verizon's bizarre network of overlapping and conflicting billing programs is an absolute nightmare, which results in massive overcharges for any number of reasons. Every day i spoke with people who had gotten $600 phone bills because their Night/Weekend or Incalling minutes didn't bill properly, or because the data plan was removed from their Blackberry, so that each kilobyte was charged separately. I would always just hang my head in shame, having to assure each customer that what happened was a million-to-one glitch that couldn't possibly happen again...

...of course, the worst crimes are perpetrated by the salespeople at Verizon stores. They routinely start multiple unneeded phone lines in customer's names and cram them with unasked-for features (like Vcast), leaving the poor customers to call in to Customer Service to clean up the mess.

I am fully embracing my blissfull unemployment.
posted by ELF Radio at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Here's my "here's whay he should have said":

Hello! I am changing carriers. Please send my final billing, which I will not pay. Thank you, and have a nice afternoon.
posted by damehex at 11:58 AM on December 9, 2006 [3 favorites]


He has the patience of Job.
posted by found missing at 11:58 AM on December 9, 2006


This was probably obvious to everyone else but for some reason it didn't click with me. I'm writing this comment just in case anyone else is as knuckle-headed as I.

For some reason I initially thought that the REAL quote -- the one that the Verizon execs actually wanted -- was 0.002 cents/kB, and that the reps and computer were just doing incorrect math. But as I only just now realized, and as Chrominance already pointed out, the problem is actually that all the reps see "$0.002/kB" and since the number is in "cents territory", now map the number they see with the word "cents". So they're incorrectly telling him the rate.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 12:00 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


He goes through all of those examples (I'm ~10 mins in) and the guy goes right along with him, "yes, yes, I see, uh huh." And the rep is obviously doing his math right on the calculator, he keeps getting the right answer—and saying so!—there's just that very last step of recognition that seems to be at issue.

And I don't think that has anything to do with math. That has to do with being able to deal with a FUBAR situation. To admit defeat, to have the balls to go to your boss and say, "I think our company really fucked up. It's not yours or my fault, but we have to deal with it. "

That kind of stuff just doesn't happen in Service America.
posted by carsonb at 12:03 PM on December 9, 2006


Damehex,

"Please send me my final billing" = massive early termination fees + late fees = collection agency = your credit takes a huge hit.

It's bad, it's really bad.

Although, in defense of Verizon, they've just started a prorated early termination fee policy. A year or so from now, people will be able to cancel ther service and only pay $30-$45 instead of $175 per line.
posted by ELF Radio at 12:04 PM on December 9, 2006


This guy shows a supernatural amount of restraint.

No kidding. I bailed out after eleven minutes (which is the same as .11 minutes, right?) because I feared if I stuck with it any longer I'd do something that would frighten the cats, and then I remembered that this poor guy had already spent (I think he said) 45 minutes on the phone with Verizon trying to straighten it out—I'm a peaceable man, but I'd have been pondering the ramifications of the Second Amendment long before that.

Verizon is offering to pay half of the charges for him


Hahaha! "We said we'd give it to you for less than a dollar, so... how about you pay almost $40? Is that OK? We're doing you a favor!" Man, I hope Verizon suffers big time from this.
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2006


Its like some bizzaro world where red s green and up is down. How can you try to explain a problem if the other person doesn't understand the basic component of the decimal system.

The sigh at the hold point (as far as I have gotten) was just about enough for me. Poor guy.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2006


How does the caller not go completely apeshit?! I would have, I'm not normally a screamer.
posted by Joe Invisible at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2006


...having listened to the second half, that girl had no recognition problems. She's just math-dumb.
posted by carsonb at 12:09 PM on December 9, 2006


I feared if I stuck with it any longer I'd do something that would frighten the cats

ha! I totally made the kittens jump yelling in frustration. And the fact it just cuts off with no resolution makes me want to bellow, too.
posted by carsonb at 12:11 PM on December 9, 2006


Honestly, there's nothing this man could've said to the people to whom he spoke that would have "clicked"

I disagree that nothing would have clicked. Often a confused person is just missing one special linking concept that the "confuser" knows inherently; he or she doesn't even think to explain it. This is something I imagine (good) teachers constantly keep in mind. Once that link is made, the solution is embarrassingly obvious and simple to the student.

And I think the reason so many of us are writing the "shoulda said"s is that we desperately need a release from the tension this call gave us. Writing down the "better" script, allows us to imagine the rep breaking the tension with a satisfying, "OHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh!! I get it!" -- which the clip denied us. And I'd bet most everyone who heard this at some point thought, "No! Don't say it like that!" Maybe I was the only one.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2006 [3 favorites]


Honestly, there's nothing this man could've said to the people to whom he spoke that would have "clicked" and prevented this recording from hitting the Web.

I'm professionally obligated to believe that people are teachable, or, if very stupid, persuadable. I don't think it was his fault or responsibility to explain himself on this matter, but he might have done this and found success. Frankly, this is verizon's fault for choosing the it-looks-cheap-but-it's-not billing-as-advertising strategy. I think the process I outlined would accomplish a recognition in the listener, because it does not depend on the symbolic knowledge of units conversion, but rather -teaches- currency-related units conversion, the same way we would do if we were speaking to a child. I do leave open the possibility that the reps were being deliberately obtuse in order to make Verizon $72: it may be that they don't want to understand.

Where I come from, if you refuse to be persuaded by the better argument, "it gets the hose again."
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:13 PM on December 9, 2006


If this guy runs for president I am voting for him. He has the patience and determination to search for non violent resolutions to problems.
posted by notreally at 12:13 PM on December 9, 2006 [3 favorites]


The best part is after the hold.

- do you recoginize there's a difference between 1 cent and 1 dollar?

- yes.

- do you recoginize there's a difference between point five cents and point five dollars?

- yes.

- do you recognize there's a difference between point zero zero two dollars and point zero zero two cents?

- no. they're the same.

*blink*

Meanwhile, in the customer service department everyone who's spoken to him and passed him onto the higher up is saying, "You wouldn't believe the idiot I had on the phone!"
posted by dobbs at 12:14 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Or... what TimeTravelSpeed said. (Everything, right up to the needed release of tension... hmmm....)
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2006


Man, I hope Verizon suffers big time from this.

I think the question we should all be asking is this: "What can I, personally, do to ensure that Verizon suffers big time for this?" I'm not coming up with any legal (or even remotely moral) solutions, but I'd sure like to hear some.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:20 PM on December 9, 2006


Maybe we could all pay our Verizon bills in pennies from now on. Or better yet, in clipped coupons with a cash value of 1/100th of a cent! But of course, we send them in as if they had a value of $0.01. Hah! That'll show 'em...
posted by Joe Invisible at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2006


I seriously doubt there's anything we could do that would be as damaging as what they do to themselves. Verizon has established a poor reputation for customer service long before these types of clips surfaced. Every month or so I hear a new horror story from someone I know, and I have several myself.

That said, I'm sure it's nothing 100/10ths of a brick couldn't fix.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 12:32 PM on December 9, 2006


"I've been working here for 2 years, and I've been a supervisor for almost a year and a half."

Assuming his promotion wasn't a new record for outstanding customer service, does this mean that all of Verizon's non-supervisor customer service reps have been working there for six months or less?

ELF Radio, can you confirm this?
posted by Partial Law at 12:42 PM on December 9, 2006


When people talk about whether or not someone would have "got it" eventually or not they're assuming that the people on the other end of the line are ignorant. To me it seems safer to assume that they've just been trained to not give out $70 credits on data plans.

I'm surprised this fellow talked to as many people for as long as he did and over the number of calls he did. To me the appropriate strategy would have been to demand a supervisor whenever someone failed to understand/failed to act regarding the misquote, once the chain of command had been exhausted explain that they're practices are clearly fraudulent (in one last hope of getting someone to do something) then follow up with a detailed letter sent registered mail and a civil suit after that.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2006


Also, does anyone else think this guy sounds just like Bradley Whitford?
posted by Partial Law at 12:51 PM on December 9, 2006


I'm also trying to work out other ways I would have tried to explain this, but the guy really does do a remarkable job of being clear and concise. All the more impressive considering he was probably on the verge of having a stroke while on the phone.
posted by Adam_S at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2006


Oh my God. I never thought I'd sit through the full 22 minutes but that was Kafkaesque.

Do you accept A?
Yes.
Do you accept B?
Yes.
Do you accept that A + B = C?
[PAUSE] Yes.
Do you accept that A = D?
Yes.
Then do you accept that B + D = C?
No.
AAARRGGGGGHHHH!!!
posted by RokkitNite at 12:55 PM on December 9, 2006


I know this is overkill, and by now irritating, but I'm going to offer one last "shoulda":

Customer, saying the name of each symbol: Write "$2.00". What amount is that?
Rep: Two dollars
C: Okay, now write "$0.20". What amount is that?
R: Twenty cents
C: Now, you could also say it's Point-two dollars, right?
R: Uh... No... Oh wait, Yes. Yes.
C: Okay, now write "$0.002".
R: Point-zero-zero two dollars
C: ...
R: OH!

I'm done now.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 1:01 PM on December 9, 2006


I wonder if it would have become obvious if he had been more clear on the need for unit conversion.
posted by futureproof at 1:01 PM on December 9, 2006


To me the appropriate strategy would have been to demand a supervisor whenever someone failed to understand/failed to act regarding the misquote, once the chain of command had been exhausted explain that they're practices are clearly fraudulent (in one last hope of getting someone to do something) then follow up with a detailed letter sent registered mail and a civil suit after that.

Yes, but where would the fun be in that? I wouldn't sit through 22 minutes of YouTube on it, that's for damn sure.
posted by edverb at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2006


Back when I had my DSL service with Verizon, I had numerous phone calls with their provisioning sales staff that were very much like that. Practically any time I had to deal with them, it would take about 3 weeks of daily calls to get something as simple as some additional static IP addresses.

At the end of each call, after I had escalated to a manager, or manager's manager, they would very nicely assure me that it would be taken care of that day. And I'd call back the next day and get to go through it all again.
posted by Xoc at 1:09 PM on December 9, 2006


Assuming his promotion wasn't a new record for outstanding customer service, does this mean that all of Verizon's non-supervisor customer service reps have been working there for six months or less?

Oh honey; if you can make it to six months, they have to promote you. Going by my experience at Sprint's cellphone division, anyway. Turnover is incredible at those places. Which makes sense if you think about having to listen to people complain about problems you probably can't fix/didn't cause all day long. You can't even talk to people normally, because deviating from the script will get you in trouble, so if you have customer service skills, you won't get to use them.

The people who last are generally the most obtuse/stupid, because they don't see how bad it is and/or don't care.
posted by emjaybee at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2006


"Yes, but where would the fun be in that?"

Well ya, but it cuts down on personal aggravation and is more likely to get a result.

Makes me think of this article The Art of Complaining.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:31 PM on December 9, 2006


"point zero zero two apples times 35,000 is how many apples?"

"point zero zero two dollars times 35,000 is how many dollars?"

"point zero zero two kittens times 35,000 is how many kittens?"

"point zero zero two cents times 35,000 is how many cents?"


I couldn't resist.
posted by Legerdemain at 1:34 PM on December 9, 2006



Oh. My. God.

I read all the comments, and the blog, so you would think that the effect of listening to the recording would be a little blunted.

Nope. At first, this was hilarious. Near the end I wanted to throttle the Verizon rep.

The folks at Verizon are either incredibly stupid or all being willfully obtuse.

Who can I write a letter to? This is insane.
posted by bumpkin at 1:36 PM on December 9, 2006


O.M.G. This is most painful example of idiocy I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. How did that man not go crazy, go to the Verizon call centre and kill all of them? Honest to God...
posted by LunaticFringe at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2006


Ok.

In case anyone wants to join an email campaign targetted at the higher levels of Verizon.

Executive leadership

VP - South Area Customer Service is a fellow named Charlie Falco. Email him at

falcoch@se.verizonwireless.com

(Not sure how legitimate that address is, I copied this from the comments on the blog, hopefully having his Blackberry seized up may move things along).
posted by bumpkin at 1:50 PM on December 9, 2006


Here's the problem: The guy was charged the correct amount if you check the "terms and conditions" you agree to when you sign up. The reps were just so math incompetent that they don't understand that $.002 isn't "point zero zero two cents". So everything the reps wrote down in his file likely says $.002 even though on the phone they were saying "point zero zero two cents".

Of course, he could fight in court that they were telling him "point zero zero two cents" and he had no reason to disbelieve him, but it would cost a lot more than the $36 or whatever they want to charge him now.
posted by Justinian at 2:02 PM on December 9, 2006


Verizon, can you hear me now?
posted by dhammond at 2:15 PM on December 9, 2006


*headdesk* *headdesk* *HEADDESK*
posted by katillathehun at 2:27 PM on December 9, 2006 [2 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me why I'll never do business with these companies. Tracfone may be ghetto, but I alway known exactly what I'm paying and don't have to deal with this sort of crap.
posted by zek at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2006


always know
posted by zek at 2:30 PM on December 9, 2006


to all the "he shoulda" folks, I think this guy was remarkably clear, consistent, and calm.

C: Now, you could also say it's Point-two dollars, right?
R: Uh... No... Oh wait, Yes. Yes.


your mistake is assuming the "oh wait, yes, yes" part - there are sooo many points during this call when the rep SHOULD have said "oh wait, yes, yes" but they somehow never do.
posted by mdn at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2006


That man has a lot more patience than I'll ever have. I wanted to throttle those sales reps when they kept interrupting him and reciting their bad math again and again. Are they really that unwilling to admit that they made a mistake?
posted by kindle at 2:45 PM on December 9, 2006


There are many (way too many) innumerate people in "customer service".

True story.

At my local supermarket (King Soopers, part of Kroger) the scales for weighing meat read in decimal pounds to the nearest 1/100th of a pound.

I walked up to meat clerk and asked for "six tenths of a pound of hamburger".
The reply was: "How much is that?"
Me: "six tenths of a pound"
Clerk calls over other clerk and I repeat my request.
2nd clerk: "We don't know how much that is".
Me: "point six zero".
Clerk: "OK"

I did have a very strong desire to rattle someone's brain at that point as I walked with my "6/10ths" of a pound.

Someday I am going to ask for 5/7ths of a pound and make them get the store manager.
posted by davebarnes at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2006


Crying, out loud. For humanity.
posted by parki at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2006


Are they really that unwilling to admit that they made a mistake?

Robots are never programmed to recognize their own errors.

Why would anyone bother with these "customer service" automatons after 3 or 4 minutes? You will not win.
posted by wfc123 at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2006


My God, it's like a Sartre play.
I was thinking of Waiting For Godot, personally, but I won't argue the point.
posted by uosuaq at 2:58 PM on December 9, 2006


The problem seemed to be that in Verizon-employee World, when you're dealing with money (as opposed to non-financial maths) a decimal point only appears in one place, that place is fixed, and it means that to the left of the decimal point the value is a dollar value.

When they use the caluculator, they use multiples of fractions of a cent, but because the numbers to the left of the decimal point always equal a dollar value in their little shit-for-brains world, they always convert the cent multiple into a dollar value.

Is it that America is so retail-consumer-brainwashed, that the only place these employees see a decimal point, day in and day out, is on a price sticker, where the decimal point differentiates between dollars and cents?

I remember watching the American version of The Weakest Link, and I being amazed, and faintly unsettled, by the amount of questions that were about consumer goods and brand name products, as if that was America's knowledge currency.

The guy doing the phoning deserves a medal or something for his even-tempered handling of these ignoramuses.
posted by Blue Stone at 2:59 PM on December 9, 2006


I once had a job where we sold stamps at a 10% upcharge over face value. I had a co-worker who used a calculator to figure out what that upcharge should be. Every. Single. Time. To her credit, she knew how to calculate it correctly, but I still goggled in amazement.

And, since I can't resist, here's what I might have done on the call (assuming my head didn't explode).

C: "Ok, if the charge really is .002¢, suppose I used 1 Kb. How much should I be charged?"
R: "Uh, .002¢"
C: "And if I'd used 10 Kb, then how much?"
etc, through each power of 10. At some point, they'll get confused and jump over one or two powers of ten, and at that point, I say "now, doesn't that seem like a big jump to you?"

I know, probably wouldn't work.
posted by adamrice at 3:12 PM on December 9, 2006


Is it that America is so retail-consumer-brainwashed, that the only place these employees see a decimal point, day in and day out, is on a price sticker, where the decimal point differentiates between dollars and cents?

Weren't the VZ reps Canadians?
posted by Kwantsar at 3:15 PM on December 9, 2006


Canadians/Americans. Dollars/Cents.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Kwantsar: probably not, Verizon doesn't exist in Canada, only the USA, so I'm guessing it was his roaming rate while out of the USA, but on his USA account with a USA company.
posted by furtive at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2006


You could tell they almost had it—particularly the second "supervisor", when she said something like, "Now, we're talking CENTS. No one has mentioned dollars..."

The problem is that as soon as point-zero-zero-whatever gets multiplied by a big number and creates another number with two digits after the decimal place, the natural instinct of the mathematically-disinclined is to say, That looks like dollars and cents. Therefore it is dollar and cents.

After going through (actually, still going through) two weeks of Verizon's crap just to hook up my goddamned telephone line (still not hooked up, by the way), I am thinking that I should probably just go VOIP and ditch the whole phone-company-thing. How can you staff your company with such incompetents and expect to stay in business?

What I'd really like to know is just how many other people are using this plan? Because each and every one of them is due for a two-orders-of-magnitude refund.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2006


Also, there was a lack of references to the words "toony" "loonie", "eh" and "point zero zero two double doubles."
posted by furtive at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2006


And in Canada it's "zedro" and not "zeero"
posted by furtive at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2006


Was the Verizon rep this guy by any chance?
posted by drstein at 3:41 PM on December 9, 2006


to all the "he shoulda" folks, I think this guy was remarkably clear, consistent, and calm.

For the record, I agree entirely. He explained the math in many, many different ways, clearly and politely nearly each time.

However, since the foundation of the problem seems to come from a brain trick, then the 20/20-hindsight solution would be to first show the rep that the number he or she is reading from the price chart ($0.002) is read as "dollars", not "cents". This can be explained without any math whatsoever. From there he could just say "So you accidentally said cents instead of dollars. Apparently someone else made the same mistake and misquoted me." Again, I know this is all hindsight and that I would have used the same strategy in his situation.

your mistake is assuming the "oh wait, yes, yes" part

Yeah, I'm sure the conversation wouldn't go anywhere near as smoothly as I wrote it. However, since the supervisor in the clip knew that point-five dollars was fifty cents, that step isn't so unbelievable.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2006


more brain trick comments
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 3:48 PM on December 9, 2006


"It is very difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it." --Upton Sinclair (I think)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:55 PM on December 9, 2006


I just visited Verizon via a Google Ad. I wonder if Google will use Verizon style math when they charge them? If so, how would Verizon feel...
posted by juiceCake at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2006


Sick. Just sick. Good thing the guy taped it, I need to start thinking about that whenever I call CS at any company. Is the best way to do that Skype?

I hope this guy gets his plan free for a year...
posted by jckll at 4:10 PM on December 9, 2006


THIRD BASE!
posted by tittergrrl at 4:13 PM on December 9, 2006


side-issue: what's the legality of taping such a conversation and posting it online? The guy told the rep he was going to post it, and she didn't seem to have a problem with it.

I have so many frustrating conversations like this. Can I legally tape them and post them online?
posted by grumblebee at 4:14 PM on December 9, 2006


I feel kind of silly bringing this up again, but if you look at Minds of Our Own, you will see many examples of this kind of thinking process. The subject of this post is a brilliant demonstration of exactly the same psychology.
posted by Chuckles at 4:17 PM on December 9, 2006


Only for quality assurance purposes.
posted by stet at 4:27 PM on December 9, 2006


Crap. That was in response to grumblebee.
posted by stet at 4:27 PM on December 9, 2006


"I just visited Verizon via a Google Ad. I wonder if Google will use Verizon style math when they charge them? If so, how would Verizon feel..."

Although it's technically a person in terms of legal rights, Verizon can't feel anything and neither can Google. That's somehow part of what's sick about the relationships we all have with these companies. They don't feel anything. And they're so big that even the individuals that make them up really don't have the personal incentive or pride to bother having a relationship. It's all dehumanized.

Contrast big company customer service with those of small companies and there's a huge difference. I'm one of the founders of TrafficGauge and proud of it. Even as a founder, I've worked in customer service. We all have. As a result of our size and our focus on customer relationships, we have truly great customer service and our customers mention that frequently (you can find quotes with google). What's gratifying and sad is that they seem surprised half the time - as if they shouldn't expect it. I think it would be nice if every company treated their customers the way we all want to be treated as individuals. Clearly with a company the size of Verizon, you're just another number.
posted by muppetboy at 4:30 PM on December 9, 2006


what's the legality of taping such a conversation and posting it online?

grumblebee: it varies from state to state. Here's one guide that I found useful.
posted by squink at 4:43 PM on December 9, 2006


I see products in stores advertised for a fraction of a cent all the time, e.g. .59¢
It's been going on a long time, but I've noticed a worsening in the trend, even to the point that large corporations are making the mistake.
For many years, I couldn't resist pointing out the error by giving them a penny and asking for my change, but even after I explained it, they didn't get it. Took the fun right out of it.
posted by king walnut at 4:46 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


GRRRR I couldn't listen to this. I had to stand up an look for something to kick.
posted by shanevsevil at 4:54 PM on December 9, 2006


And in Canada it's "zedro" and not "zeero"

Not zed-ro, but not zi-ro either.. I don't have the tools to describe the difference any better..
posted by Chuckles at 5:27 PM on December 9, 2006


While not denying in the slightest that the Verizon reps here are idiots, I worked in a customer service call center for a cell phone company as well, and it was pretty easy for me to turn this conversation around in my head because of the many, Many, MANY times I had to explain simple billing math to our customers (prorating calls were always particularly dreaded.) It often ended with me crediting the disputed amount because I just fucking gave up. There were times when I faxed sheets of the actual, hand-written arithmetic to them (which is probably what I would have tried had I been in this guy's shoes.)

Also, when I worked there we had a pool of six reps that were more experienced than the high-turnover crowd, and authorized to say there were supervisors if a call needed to escalate. They weren't. If someone didn't like what the "supervisor" was telling them, it went to another rep in the group of six. In the two years I worked there (a frickin' eternity by call center standards) only one person ever escalated out of that group. Just thought I'd share that for the "ask for a supervisor right away!" crowd.

(And in the interest of full-disclosure: Yes, I was a part of that six for a while. I can count on one hand the calls that escalated past me. I would have credited this guy his money in a heartbeat. But then again, I would have understood what he was talking about.)
posted by Cyrano at 5:59 PM on December 9, 2006


I like how he drops "I am going to post this on my blog" like it's some sort of super-burner fatality move.
posted by sharksandwich at 6:17 PM on December 9, 2006


Well, it was, wasn't it?
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 7:26 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


This call may be monitored for quality control purposes.
posted by bigbigdog at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2006


Arizona recently approved a cigarette tax for .80 cents per pack. The night before the election someone realized the mistake- the proponents of the tax increase had meant to raise the tax by 80 cents per pack- but by then it was too late to fix the ballot.
posted by JamesToast at 7:57 PM on December 9, 2006


Would a Verizon rep trust Google more than the guy on the phone?

i.e. phone guy says "go to Google and type 0.002 dollars to cents and press enter"

This prompts the all knowing Goog to emit:

0.002 U.S. dollars = 0.2 U.S. cents

It's not bulletproof, but it might help to make the point. Google knows everything, right?

(Ahah - I remembered you can enter calculatorish queries too - if you ask google "0.002 cents x 35000" it tells you plainly and simply, 0.7 dollars.)
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 8:46 PM on December 9, 2006


How I might have done it:

How much is the rate?

0.002 cents per kilobyte

So for 0.002 cents you get one kilobyte

Correct

Write those next to each other, 0.002c = 1 kb

Now multiply both by 10, so 0.02c = 10 kb right?

[long pause]

Now multiply by ten again, so 0.2c = 100 kb

okaaaay

[slowly] Now multiply by 5, so 1c = 500 kb, ok?

I guess

So if 1 cent gives me 500kb, how much should I get for a dollar?

[muttering, cursing, slight wimpering]

50,000 kb, right. 50 thousand kilobytes for 1 dollar.

I....

And I used less than 50,000kb, so my bill should be under 1 dollar...

sound of head hitting desk

Are there any people from IT or accounting around right now?
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:12 PM on December 9, 2006 [2 favorites]


But I thought Kirk could outtalk the computer!
posted by ed at 9:21 PM on December 9, 2006


How I would have done it:

Q: So you could write twenty cents as $0.20, right?
A: Riiiiight...
Q: And two cents is $0.02, correct?
A: Yeah, I think so...
Q: So $0.002 is how many cents?
A: The rate is point-zero-zero-two cents per kilobyte
Q: Have you accepted Jesus?
A: What?
Q: Would you let me share the Good News with you?
A: ...
posted by logicpunk at 9:33 PM on December 9, 2006


Although it's technically a person in terms of legal rights, Verizon can't feel anything and neither can Google.

They can "feel" a loss of revenue.
posted by Leonard of Vince at 9:34 PM on December 9, 2006


I don't see what this has to do with Metric.

We're just having a difference of opinion.

Metric instills a basic intuition about powers of ten and orders of magnitude. Or at least, it will tend to, relative to indifferently scaled arbitrary measurements. Once you build this mental framework, it can be easily integrated into novel experiential learning.

I am unfortunately old enough to have begun primary school in a country using Imperial measurements that then switched to Metric. I can still recall being taught arithmetic as a young child, and being shown how to convert between ounces and pounds, and pounds and stone. That sucked, and made no sense.

Being indoctrinated into Metric within a few years reduced my cognitive load apppreciably, while enlarging my ability to estimate weights and measures. By exposing children to tanglible object weights such as 1g, 10g, 100g, 500g, 1kg, 5 kg and so on, one forms a consistent appreciation of mass. The same is true of learning distance.

I had to re-take basic physics and chemistry in a US university recently. I was quite shocked at how a significant proportion of the students had little conception of how much 1 ml was, or 10g, or 1m. It makes them even less able to relate the scientific measurements they read about and note down in lab to their own experience. Seriously, it's a problem. Many of them had less cognitive ability to deal with weights and measures than a typical 10-year-old European child.

Powers of ten make life easier. I now saying that being taught Metric would have avoided this Verizon arithmetic abortion, but I think it might have increased the probability of fidning a rep who got it.
posted by meehawl at 10:23 PM on December 9, 2006


I wokred in a call center for 3 years and I can agree that me escalating to my supervisor was actually me leaning over to the guy next to me,
"Mike, can you talk to this joker for me? Come on man, you owe me."

Or I would just hang up on them.

I worked really hard to keep my talk time under 5 minutes in a tech support environment. Granted, I completely understand what this guy is saying, but i would have said it was a billing issue and transfered to CS Instantly.

I know, not quite the same, because he was already IN CS, but I would have gotten him off the phone within 3 minutes tops
posted by subaruwrx at 10:33 PM on December 9, 2006


Partial Law,

Yes, that does seem unusual. At my Verizon center, one had to go through six weeks of training, three months of "transition," and then nine months of normal customer service in order to be promoted to being a senior rep or "supervisor support."

The supervisor supports often claim to be supervisors, however, because so many customers demand to speak to a sup, and they are sometimes the only ones close at hand.

In short, it does take at least 2-3 years to become a real supervisor.

To tell the truth, Verizon is not that bad. It's messy and uncoordinated, but the essential thing is that reps are trained to help the customers, and never instucted to do anything shady. Every day, we gave huge courtesy credits to customers who went over their minutes because of family emergencies, or to parents whose kids discovered text messaging and ran up $200 of text charges. Most of the badness at Verizon comes from lazy/surly reps who would rather have someone get angry and hang up than help them.

Now Dell on the other hand -- Dell is evil. At Dell, you either have to turn to the Dark Side or perish....
posted by ELF Radio at 11:49 PM on December 9, 2006


Expanding on what Bishops said, Google's calculator can make it even plainer than that.
posted by emelenjr at 12:29 AM on December 10, 2006


Regarding the recording issue, if their call-center message states: "this call may be recorded for quality control purposes", doesn't that mean they've just given you explicit permission to record the call?
posted by Aquaman at 1:41 AM on December 10, 2006


meehawl:
I had to re-take basic physics and chemistry in a US university recently. I was quite shocked at how a significant proportion of the students had little conception of how much 1 ml was, or 10g, or 1m.

Anyone who dabbled in smoking weed should know exactly how much one gram is. Sounds like you got the square physics students........
posted by jckll at 2:37 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


2 = the number 2
.2 = the .decimal point modify's the number 2
2¢= the "Cent" symbol modify's the number 2
The confusion comes from using TWO modifiers for the number = .2¢
Does this seem logical?
posted by GreyFoxVT at 4:06 AM on December 10, 2006


And going one better than emelenjr, here's the same answer in cents. Standing on the shoulders of giants, I am.
posted by imperium at 5:08 AM on December 10, 2006


I've noticed the whole ".02 cents" conceit is a very common practice in corporations anymore. I think it has something to do with decimalization of numerals being thought of as more accurate-appearing and "official", coupled with (as has been mentioned before) the general ignorance of people these days in these matters.

It's sort of a twisted victory of style over substance. Kind of like when numb-nuts use an apostrophe to indicate a plural.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:48 AM on December 10, 2006


I have a feeling that he didn't emphasize the grounds of his complaint clearly enough. I didn't hear him say "Look, this means you're charging me $71, when I expected on the basis of your quote to be paying one hundredth of that, 71c." If the reps really were as stupid as they sounded and weren't just being willfully ignorant, they might not have realized the practical implications of his objections to their arithmetic, and concluded that he was just being pedantic.
posted by Coventry at 5:55 AM on December 10, 2006


Metric instills a basic intuition about powers of ten and orders of magnitude. Or at least, it will tend to

I really don't think that's the problem - most of these people probably rarely measure things in any units other than money, and the issue with money is not that they can't convert decimally, but that they don't properly grasp that "cents" and "dollars" are different units, rather than just different names for the same unit in different percentages. I mean, they are making the assumption that you just call it "cents" when it's past the decimal point - they don't think there is such a thing as "point zero two dollars" because that would be "cents". The guy is spot-on that it's a problem of terminology.

Obviously they know that cents and dollars are different, and there are many times in the conversations where you expect to hear "...OOoh, I get it...", but instead they just go back to "sir, the rate is..." or "look, we have a difference of opinion."

as dobbs quoted above:
- do you recoginize there's a difference between 1 cent and 1 dollar?
- yes.
- do you recoginize there's a difference between point five cents and point five dollars?
- yes.
- do you recognize there's a difference between point zero zero two dollars and point zero zero two cents?
- no. they're the same.


it's like the famous passage in wittgenstein's Investigations where the student starts adding 4 instead of 2 after 1000, but says "isn't that right?" - that there seems to be no way to reliably cause the 'eureka' moment. Whether it clicks for the student, or if it "clicks" in the wrong way, is sort of out of your hands...
posted by mdn at 6:12 AM on December 10, 2006


And in Canada it's "zedro" and not "zeero"

Not zed-ro


Dude, I'm pretty sure that was a joke.
posted by languagehat at 6:27 AM on December 10, 2006


they don't think there is such a thing as "point zero two dollars" because that would be "cents"

The last lady in the call actually says this! "There is no such thing as .002 dollars. Nobody is talking about dollars."
posted by odinsdream at 7:05 AM on December 10, 2006


they don't properly grasp that "cents" and "dollars" are different units

Actually I think the problem is that they are incapable of seeing that the two are in fact the same thing, currency, but that the $ sign is a 100x multiplier of the cent unit. Or that the cent sign is a 100 divider of the $ unit.

Back to metric... as a pedagogy it is based on the idea of as few fundamental units as possible, and everything else being created through powers of ten. It simplifies peoples' cognitive grasp of the physical basis of their commoditised world, of how things are sliced and diced. I feel that is why, in the Verizon conversation, when the caller attempts to extend through analogy dollars and cents to metres and centimetres, it seems as if he may as well have been talking Etruscan to the representative.

As a measurement system, Metric helps people intuitively grasp that a centimetre is 100th of a metre. That a millimetre is 1000th of a metre. That a mL is 1000th of a litre. That 1 cube of water, 1mL each side, is 1 gram. That a half-litre (a common unit of beer) is 500 mLs. Volume, length, and mass become inter-related linearly. A cent of something becomes immediately understandable as a 100th fraction of that something. Children are not taught to perform the same arithmetic with Imperial, so they do not gain early cognitive maps of powers of ten, and linear/log scaling.

This kind of linearity is how people experience matter in their daily lives: acceleration, momentum/inertia, impulse, etc. When experienced daily, Metric becomes not just an isolated abstraction as it is in the US (a slightly exotic measurement system used in specialised disciplines and for large soda containers), but instead woven into the fabric of experience through body and hand knowledge. It builds a communicative bridge between people in similar and even distant cultures.

Try interconverting between ounces and pounds, through a volume measurement, into lengths. Most people have very little idea. I know I couldn't do it without a calculator. My wife, an American, even seems to have trouble occasionally identifying how many ounces are in a pound. 14 or 16? It all gets a little hazy even between people speaking "Imperial".

In terms of communication, as well as being forced to learn a new language, USians now increasingly have to learn to speak different measurement languages abroad. Even in former English-speaking Imperial holdouts such as Ireland and the UK, with all road signs being replaced as km, and all measurements (except, for now, the sacred pint) replaced as litres, communication has become slightly more complex. I was reading a National Geographic with my little nephew (8) and he had to stop me to ask what the "strange numbers" were (F and lb).

As a side note, upon reading the message on reddit, I immediately called the supervisor. The number was "not in service".
posted by meehawl at 8:12 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


For people without 25-odd minutes to spare, there is now a transcript available.
posted by meehawl at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2006


meehawl: That a mL is 1000th of a litre. That 1 cube of water, 1mL each side, is 1 gram.

Um, 1 cube of water, 1 cm each side, is 1 gram or 1 ml. 1 ml of water weighs one gram because the density of water is set to be 1 gram per cubic centimetre (or 1000 kg per cubic metre).

Thus, conversions are especially easy for water. For example: One litre (=1000 ml) of water, which weighs 1 kilogram (=1000 g), fits inside a cube with 10 cm length (= 1000 1cm cubes).

</derail>
posted by amf at 8:52 AM on December 10, 2006


You got me, I need to start working for Verizon :)

1g of water = 1mL = 1 Joule to raise 1 Celsius. Right?
posted by meehawl at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2006


This didn't surprise me at all.

I had to spend 3 calls over the course of two days for Verizon to send me a new DSL modem.

No one I talked to in customer service could grasp that the current modem I had was four years old and not the latest model.

Turns out the real problem is Verizon throttles my internet connection on weekends between the hours of 1:00AM — 5:00AM. To bad they're the only high speed internet provider in my area.
posted by Colloquial Collision at 9:34 AM on December 10, 2006


Calorie! Not joule. I am off for caffeine - it's a lazy Sunday.
posted by meehawl at 9:54 AM on December 10, 2006


Actually I think the problem is that they are incapable of seeing that the two are in fact the same thing, currency, but that the $ sign is a 100x multiplier of the cent unit.

I knew that was going to be the response from someone - I was going to try rephrasing to avoid the misconception, but I'm sure you get my point ( :) ) - they don't think these names refer to those different percentages as their own units, but simply to those different percentages - so to say 2¢ and .02¢ is the same, just "a matter of opinion" as one of them put it - just a stylistic choice, because past the decimal point just is "cents". They're missing the fact that "cent" refers to its relation to the primary unit (as 1/100 thereof) but still signifies itself as a distinct unit.

My wife, an American, even seems to have trouble occasionally identifying how many ounces are in a pound. 14 or 16? It all gets a little hazy even between people speaking "Imperial".

well, all of these systems are arbitrary groupings. We use decimal grouping for our written numerals because we have ten fingers, and it's easy to count on them, so there's an argument it would make sense to base everything around groups of ten, but in truth measurements are commonly binary based or duodecimal for a reason - it's easier to divide by half. Your wife should remember that it's 16 because that's 2^4 - you can divide the pound in half down to a unit, which you can't do with base-10 systems.
posted by mdn at 12:19 PM on December 10, 2006


Reminds me of when I bought some Halloween stuff three weeks after Halloween. At that point everything was past the 90% off markdown and should have been sent off somewhere, but I managed to find it by chance. At any rate, the register prompted for a price because it simply rang up as $0.00. The person running the register looked at the sticker, which said $1.99 and then promptly asked me what 90% off of that was.

I have no idea if I managed to hide my smirk while giving him the answer, but I was nice with the words at least!
posted by Talanvor at 12:27 PM on December 10, 2006


Thanks for the link to the transcript. I was no way going to listen to the audio. My doctor wants me to avoid stress.

I was going to say "unbelievable" but it's sadly believable.

I once ordered some food at a fast food place, and the total was something like $4.12. I gave the counter-kid a 5. He put a bunch of change in his hand, held it out, and told me to take the correct change from the pile of various coins in his hand. And yes, the register told him the correct amount, so no subtracting was needed. He just couldn't do the simple math needed to count out change.
posted by The Deej at 1:20 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


you can divide the pound in half down to a unit, which you can't do with base-10 systems.

Au contraire, half a litre is a pint! More or less, in the US and UK respectively.
posted by meehawl at 2:13 PM on December 10, 2006


Apparently Verizon caved in and credited the guy the full amount. Yay, internets!
posted by Justinian at 3:07 PM on December 10, 2006


"Apparently Verizon caved in and credited the guy the full amount. Yay, internets!"

Proving what for Verizon? That to get what you deserve in the first place out of Verizon, all you have to do is hang in there for 22 minutes (not to mention multiple phone calls!) while you debate basic math with idiots, then post it on the internet and cross your fingers? In my opinion, to really do the right thing they ought to compensate him for this ordeal (free data services for a couple years, maybe?) and send him a written apology signed by their CEO. "Yeah, our bad" really does not cut it.
posted by muppetboy at 3:19 PM on December 10, 2006


No it doesn't cut it. On the other hand, it's better to waste 22 minutes talking to idiots and then not have to pay $72 than to waste 22 minutes talking to idiots and still have to pay $72 or have your credit trashed.
posted by Justinian at 3:30 PM on December 10, 2006


muppetboy: "Yeah, our bad" really does not cut it.

He didn't even get that:
Dear George Vaccaro,

Thank you for your reply. Again, I apologize for the miscommunications regarding this issue and for your frustration and inconvenience as a result.

In review of your account a previous representative has credited for the data charges in question for $71.79. You may take this amount off of your current amount due. In the future please keep in mind that it is .002 dollars per KB while in Canada.

It has been a pleasure assisting you today, and we appreciate your business. Have a wonderful week!

Sincerely,

Michelle
Verizon Wireless
Customer Service

"We never stop working for you!"[sic]
No apology, no admission of wrongdoing on their part. I hope they get hit with a class-action suit, and hard.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:56 PM on December 10, 2006


Au contraire, half a litre is a pint! More or less, in the US and UK respectively.

well, that's switching systems, though. The point is, half ten is five, but then half five is 2.5, half that is 1.25, and half that is .625. You never get a simple unit, and you're dealing with percentages in step two. But half 16 is 8, half 8 is 4, half 4 is 2, and half 2 is 1. You have clean units the whole way down.

I am just pointing out that it was not completely arbitrary that many systems of measurement use 8 or 16 as a base. Doubling and halving are the simplest functions when dealing with amounts. Sorry it's a bit of a derail - I find these underlying fundamentals of math interesting. But it's true, if the average person can't even get straight the relation of cent and dollar, it's a bit silly to imagine that using a binary foundation in measurements is a benefit in general... and these days we don't have to measure on scales against the other half, so with modern technology whether there are percentages or not is not all that important.
posted by mdn at 5:39 PM on December 10, 2006


No apology, no admission of wrongdoing on their part.

Arg! Seriously. "In the future please keep in mind..."? Could that be any more condescending?
posted by Land Stander at 6:39 PM on December 10, 2006


Definitely not a Canadian rep. They all have American accents, including the caller.
posted by loiseau at 7:43 PM on December 10, 2006


it's better to waste 22 minutes talking to idiots

It's never a good idea to spend any more than a few minutes on the phone for something like this. If you're getting nowhere, get a name and just hang up. Anything extra is basically as useful as talking to angry cats. I find that five minutes spent finding and then writing a letter straight to the office of the president of the board, or equivalent, usually does the trick. These phone systems are not designed to solve problems, they are designed to perform simple transactions that cannot yet be completely automated by an AI. I am amazed that there seems to be a small band people whose job it is to answer direct, writtenmail, and they are usually empowered to offer generous and helpful solutions above and beyond what is possible to telephone operators.
posted by meehawl at 7:44 PM on December 10, 2006


Not exactly surprising, considering in this country we shun science and logical reasoning and try to ban it from our schools. Not to mention that it seems a good portion of the population not only has an anti-intellectual attitude, but celebrates and glorifies stupidity.

LEARNIN'S FOR ELITISTS

EVERYBODY HANG STREAMERS FROM OUR DONGS AND DO A KEG-STAND FOR THE TROOPS

HURRY, ON THE COUNT OF THREE, GET SPECTACULARLY STUPID SO WE CAN BE CONSIDERED ACCEPTABLE TO EACH OTHER AND FEEL JUSTIFIED IN OUR INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS

AH-MAY-REE-KAH
posted by EtJabberwock at 9:54 PM on December 10, 2006


...
posted by Land Stander at 10:04 PM on December 10, 2006


GIT-R-DONE
posted by kafziel at 11:53 PM on December 10, 2006


"I see products in stores advertised for a fraction of a cent all the time, e.g. .59¢"

In Michigan, those are awesome, because they'll then ring up for $.59. And in Michigan, when the scanner and the advertised price are different, the store has to give you $5 or 10 times the difference in price (whichever is greater, I believe).
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 AM on December 11, 2006


Having read the transcript, I'm pretty certain the recording would cause me to burst veins in my neck.

Part of me wants to say, "Look at these poor idiots, never been taught to distinguish between the notation and the notated."

Part of me wants to say, "Listen up, goober, the main function of phone monkeys is to be irresponsible on behalf of their supers so the supers don't have to be irresponsible in person; so you're wasting your time until you get to the certified mail and the legal threats."

Part of me wants to say, "Write it out in dimensional analysis, spelling each unit out, scan it, and email it to them. Speech is not a good medium for this."

And most of me wants to say:

Blessed

Saint

Leibniz,

Please let Verizon have
the next chunk of brimstone you find handy,
from cloud level, at 9.80 meters
per second
per second.

I'm pretty sure the integral would implode their skulls before the meteorite did ...
posted by eritain at 12:48 AM on December 11, 2006


Oh, and using apostrophes to indicate plurals is pretty awful, but what burns me worse is people who don't know a plural from a third person singular and try to be pedantic anyway. Not that anyone here would try it.
posted by eritain at 1:18 AM on December 11, 2006


In Michigan, those are awesome, because they'll then ring up for $.59. And in Michigan, when the scanner and the advertised price are different, the store has to give you $5 or 10 times the difference in price (whichever is greater, I believe).

It seems like some jurisdictions actually have legislation, but even where there isn't any, I expect most large retailers participate in something similar to The Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code.
posted by Chuckles at 2:34 AM on December 11, 2006


I'd like to point out the .002 cents seems unreasonalbly low for cellular bandwidth. I believe the caller knew this. There could be another phenomenon where the verizon folks simple could not conceive that someone could possibly think they would get the service for 1/100th of the going rate.
posted by mouthnoize at 12:05 PM on December 11, 2006


mouthnoize:

totally. it's not like you'd expect people working billing to know the difference between dollars and cents, or to understand the decimal system. i mean, it's not like they are mathematicians or whatever.
posted by mano at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2006


mouthnoize: Did you click on any of the links? The guy has unlimited free service in the US, so he had no idea what the "going rate" was. He did think it seemed low, which is why he double-checked when he initially called to ask. Yes, they said, it's definitely .002 cents. Not dollars, cents. It was not his fault, no matter how fond you may be of Verizon.
posted by languagehat at 1:48 PM on December 11, 2006


Tracfone may be ghetto, but I alway known exactly what I'm paying and don't have to deal with this sort of crap.

It's true that with TracFone you don't have to put up with idiot customer service reps most of the time you call customer service. However, that's because most of the time when you call TracFone customer service, you can't get through to anyone at all.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:39 PM on December 11, 2006


I disagree. Two things are happening here.

1) It is conceivable that people are correct to think that .002 cents = .002 dollars. Stay with me here.....

So if I go to the news stand and buy some gum labeled .75¢ the clerk is going to charge me 75 cents. And if I argue that it's suppose to be 3/4 of a cent they aren't going to accept that. I *will* have to pay 75 cents or leave without the gum. So .75¢ = 75 cents. That is the context here. Verizon people aren't thinking about this as math, but rather as prices. And the language of prices can have some wiggle room.

Certainly, if you look at this from the math perspective, the caller is right. But if you look at it from the billing perspective .002 cents does indeed equal .002 dollars. Same as .75¢ equals 75 cents.

From what I see we have an apples and oranges situation here. And the Verizon folks are very bad at explaining that.

2) The Verizon folks know what the bill is suppose to be. The math doesn't matter. If the caller has math that makes the charge 71 cents, his math is wrong. I suspect they just weren't willing to back off on a charge they knew to be correct.

*Of course* whoever wrote the copy for the billing rate is an idiot who should be fired. But in this case it seems like the Verizon folks have a legitimate claim to being right.

Irregardless, Verizon should have admitted a mistake in the text of the billing quote and settled for 71 cents. The grief they are going to get from this by customers going over their bills now is probably very nasty.
posted by Bael'Gar at 2:40 PM on December 11, 2006


That is awesome logic Bael'Gar. Irregardless, have you considered a job at Verizon?
posted by found missing at 2:50 PM on December 11, 2006


I love the descriptivist argument regarding ¢, combined with "irregardless."
posted by klangklangston at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2006


Regarding the recording issue, if their call-center message states: "this call may be recorded for quality control purposes", doesn't that mean they've just given you explicit permission to record the call?


You know, I actually never thought of it that way.... I assumed the 'may' was indicating probability (as in, some QA function determines whether the call is recorded). But I like reading it as granting the listener permission to record (since I'm in Calif, which requires both parties to consent to recording).
posted by MikeKD at 4:21 PM on December 11, 2006


Bael'Gar, you're misunderstanding the situation. Let me clarify for you.

This man called Verizon, and was quoted a certain rate. He confirms this by having a customer service rep record this rate in his file. Now, he didn't read that rate in print, and ostensibly, he has no context for an abstract commodity like data. Therefore, he is inclined to believe the information given. Later, upon getting his bill, he finds out that the true rate is much higher than he was told. When he calls to rectify the situation, he runs into trouble, because the company refuses to acknowledge the error.

So, the key point here is that Verizon lied to him. It's not really an issue with "the math", so much as a problem with precision of language. A business (especially a large business) shouldn't quote a price and then not honour it. The topic of math is only discussed because the fact that the reps are so obtuse compounds the aggravation of the phone call, and hinders any sort of resolution. The Verizon reps are unable to discuss the problem, because they too fucking stupid to understand it.

So, that's why people are upset, and why your analysis isn't appropriate.

Actually, though, I really only commented because I had the intense, burning desire to point out, again, that irregardless is not a real word.
posted by Drunken_munky at 4:58 PM on December 11, 2006


"Bael'Gar, you're misunderstanding the situation"

I don't know why you would say that. I don't think I am. I've read the whole thread. I've listened to the call. My analysis is pretty much exactly as you describe.

"because the company refuses to acknowledge the error."

I don't think you understand what my point is. My argument is that the CSRs have a legitimate reason to stick to their assertion, which is: .02¢ equals two cents. They aren't in error if that is indeed the company intent. As far as they are concerned, .02¢ equals two cents. They are using the same logic as the clerk refusing to sell me gum for 3/4 of a cent. You may not like that, but I would lobby you that popular approval doesn't matter here.

Let's say this another way.

It's perfectly understandable that the customer could misunderstand and not realize that .002¢ (in print or spoken) means 1/5th of a cent. But the CSRs explained how it worked to him very patiently. And he was too dense to understand what they were getting at.

Let's say it another (less disingenuous) way.

The Verizon rate here is misleading. But that's their right. In fact, it's rather expected. Does anyone here really think Verizon goes the extra mile to make sure customers never think they're getting a better deal than they really are? Or do people here expect that Verizon will make rates unfathomable, and if caught in a "gotcha" will obfuscate and not back down?

Here's the meat of my disagreement - Perhaps these CSRs aren't morons. It could very well be that the company policy is, in this context, .02¢ equals two cents. If we assume that then they do a very skillful job of handling this without saying, "We tricked you dumbass. So pay up."

Seriously, have you read the fine print on your cellular agreements and bills? Appealing to formal rules of math and language in this case is rather obtuse.

As I said, I think Verizon should pay up. They are being dicks here. But that's sort of what we already knew isn't it?
posted by Bael'Gar at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2006


Bael'Gar.

Great point. Im going to pay my bills in cents. Or maybe pesos. When the customer service people call me about it, I will respond: "Appealing to formal rules of math and language in this case is rather obtuse."

Irregardless!
posted by mano at 6:16 PM on December 11, 2006


Bael'Gar: a bunch of nonsense about how .02¢ equals two cents

Look. As it happens, the contract demands payment in $, which is reasonable, and the company's representatives engaged in either fraud or renegotiation when they belied the contract. In either case, the only legally-applicable rate was .002¢ But the rest of this is just baloney. It's nonsense of the highest magnitude; you're reenacting Orwell's 1984, only, stupidly, you forgot to enlist the Inner Circle to your cause. You simply cannot be a mathematical descriptivist. 2 + 2 != 5 no matter who says so, no matter how many people agree to it, so long as we all agree beforehand that 2 = two and a half. A corporation certainly can't make unilateral changes in the way signifiers operate. For the sake of argument, if the contract said "The ¢ sign will indicate $ for the length of this contract," you might be able to make the case. But you can't change the operation of decimal points without rewriting a lot of math. Beyond this, you will never, ever be able to multiply something in ¢ and then magically demand payment in $, just as you cannot take payment in ¥ or £ or the Yapian Fé without subjecting the payment to a conversion.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:21 PM on December 11, 2006


I'm not defending it. I think Verizon is trying to screw the guy.

But I find it very hard to believe that a bunch of CSRs who answer questions about billing every single day would be so dumb they couldn't understand a billing issue that every single one of us picked up on the first time it was even hinted at.

Doesn't it seem a bit suspicious that absolutely no one was able to understand what the caller was getting at? Doesn't that seem a bit hard to believe?

And doesn't this whole thing make more sense if you assume that CSRs got a lecture about how the company policy was that .002¢ means 1/5th of a cent. and that a) they weren't allowed to tell anyone that, and b) customers wouldn't be getting a break.

"Bael'Gar: a bunch of nonsense about how .02¢ equals two cents"

So if you see something in a shop marked .75¢ you expect the owner to give it to you for less than a penny? That's naive. And just as naive to expect stores to do weird crap to make you think something is cheaper than it is.

Straight up - Which is more plausible?

1) *All* CSRs at Verizon are so dumb they think 2 = 200?
or
2) The CSRs were told to play dumb and claim .002¢ means 1/5th of a cent?
posted by Bael'Gar at 7:07 PM on December 11, 2006


Straight up - Which is more plausible?

3) You are a troll.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:10 PM on December 11, 2006


1. Some temp worker transcribing CSR instructions for verizon put a ¢ instead of a $. And then these idiots couldn't find the section of the manual that deals with what to do when there is a typo in the manual.

Of course, you might prefer to believe that some community service reps engineered a big conspiracy involving about ten different people, just to save a multi-billion dollar corporation $71. Thats about as stupid as a Verizon CSR.
posted by mano at 8:42 PM on December 11, 2006


"So if you see something in a shop marked .75¢ you expect the owner to give it to you for less than a penny? That's naive. And just as naive to expect stores to do weird crap to make you think something is cheaper than it is."

Uh, around here, that's the law. You have to sell the product at the price marked, absent any tampering by the consumer. That's why a misplaced decimal point got me a sixpack of beer for 70¢. Your bizarro-world justification for shady business practices would make me sad if I didn't think you were trolling.
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 PM on December 11, 2006


Bael'Gar: So .002 of $100 is equal to .002 of $1?

.002 cents is equal to .00002 dollars. .002 of $100 would be 20 cents. Is .002 of $1 20 cents? Of course not. So why would .002 of $1 be equal to .002 of a cent? Mind you, they were using the actual words "cent" and "dollar", via oral communication. Especially in that particular context, .002 dollars is not the same as .002 cents.

I rarely see price tags for .75¢. I worked in retail several years ago and know how to work a price tag gun. If a retailer can't figure it out, they deserve to get screwed by their mistake. It'll make them smarter in the future. No point in lowering ourselves to a mediocre mentality level to accomodate people who can't learn the extremely simple math involved with currency.
posted by EtJabberwock at 12:41 AM on December 12, 2006


"Your bizarro-world justification"

I'm not justifying anything. As I've said several times, Verizon is screwing the guy, and they should pay up.

The premise of this entire thread is that the caller spent 45 minutes on the phone with several people, and none of them were unable to understand something every other person who has ever heard the call spotted instantly. Thus, they are all unbelievably stupid.

Read back through the comments. Isn't the overwhelming impression that these CSRs are unbelievably dumb? That's my point - I don't believe it. I think somewhere, someone at Verizon decided that they were going to obfuscate on these sorts of issues and not pay up. I gave one example of how they might rationalize it.

The bizarro-world is one were *everyone* handling billing issues at Verizon is unable to do billing math. And *everyone* who reads this story is smart. Look, we have former customer service folk in this thread. Right? Are they stupid? Are they unable to understand simple concepts about money? No. Everyone who listens to that call understands what the caller is getting at. Everyone.

If my explanation for how Verizon might legitimize such math as policy doesn't make sense then so be it. But the smug idea that we're all so smart, and Verison CSRs are all so dumb, is elitist and naive.
posted by Bael'Gar at 6:52 AM on December 12, 2006


"Mind you, they were using the actual words "cent" and "dollar", via oral communication. Especially in that particular context, .002 dollars is not the same as .002 cents."

Exactly. And no one with enough intelligence to find their way to work in the morning could fail to understand that. Yet the Verison folks are literally claiming .002 dollars is the same as .002 cents. Right?

We can all pat ourselves on the back over how we're so smart, and "they" are so dumb. Or we can get over our high-five festival and notice something is fishy here.

Let's look at another option.........

One of my job duties happens to be writing and supporting my company's trouble ticket software. One feature of the ticket application is the ability to add debugging notes that endusers don't ever see. The idea is that Bob in billing doesn't need know how the firewall rules were tweaked to get his problem solved, but it's vital the IT folks know it if the issue comes up again.

I suspect the Verizon software is the same way - Notes can be added to a call ticket that get the CSR up to speed quickly on a particular call. For example, every one of the CSRs could see the following message -

"Don't give this smug asshole the satisfaction. Just because I'm in this deadend job for another month doesn't mean I don't know simple math. I have a freakin' college degree. I'd be happy to give the guy the $70 dollars if he'd just stop treating me like a moron. We all know the correct charge should be $71, and I explained that to him. Rather than just ask for a refund he keeps lecturing me on 2+2=4. Please please please don't give him the money."
posted by Bael'Gar at 7:18 AM on December 12, 2006


As someone who has dealt with the phone centers of cell phone companies, most onerously Cingular, I can say that it's far more likely that they're morons. Your paranoid fantasy about the noble call centers revenging themselves on condescension is lovely, but far less likely than them simply being stupid.
(Cingular charged us for phone calls made while the replacement phone they were shipping us was still in the mail, calls they said were made internationally. Without us, you know, having the phone. And refused to back down, to the point of calling my mother a liar. She ended up putting a poster in her car's window about how Cingular sucked, and was featured on local radio for it).
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2006


bael:

yeah, so now its not a conspiracy to save money for verizon, now its a conspiracy to salvage the honor of some CSR schmo at verizons call center.

keep stretching. you know, if your crackpot theory is actually the case, the verizon call center is also full of some of the best acting talent ive seen in a long time.
posted by mano at 10:17 AM on December 12, 2006


Bael'Gar, I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by found missing at 10:27 AM on December 12, 2006


I rest my completely failed case then. It just seems suspicious to me that a person could participate in those conversations and not understand what the customer was explaining.
posted by Bael'Gar at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2006


Bael'Gar, you clearly have not spent enough time interacting with morons. I envy you.
posted by languagehat at 10:48 AM on December 12, 2006


"Bael'Gar, you clearly have not spent enough time interacting with morons."

A long time ago I worked for years as a manager and area supervisor for a national pizza delivery chain. One of the stores I managed was Helena, Montana.

Hopefully someone who has worked in fast food in Helena will back me up on this. The minimum wage folk there are dumb in a way which could only be described as "clinical". I also do tech support calls for all the computer applications I write. I also play MMOs, which requires that I communicate with belligerent 12-year olds who I suspect are failing all their classes. I probably have more experience explaining things to morons than most here.

Still, the conversations on the call seem willful rather than oblivious to me. That many people just can't be that perniciously dumb. It's not believable.

But I've conceded the debate. You win. I am alone in this opinion. So be it.
posted by Bael'Gar at 12:21 PM on December 12, 2006


"I probably have more experience explaining things to morons than most here."

Maybe you've gone native.

Sorry, that was inordinately dickish. But I'm not seeing the distinction between ignorant stupidity and willful stupidity as excusing stupidity.
posted by klangklangston at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2006


I said the words "Verizon is screwing the guy, and they should pay up". So I'm not excusing anything. In fact if, as I believe, they are pretending to not understand the basic concept of monetary conversion, that basically makes them liars. Which makes the behavior less excusable rather than more.

Go back to my original post. All I'm trying to do is explain how the CSRs might feel justified in klinging to the notion that .002¢ equals .002$. I'm not excusing anything, just offering an alternate interpretation. Rather than all of them being too dumb to use numbers, perhaps they're just being contemptful corporate drones.

But I now understand I'm incorrect. As stated by everyone else in this thread, the correct conclusion is that no one in Verizon's call center can convert between cents and dollars. They are all completely incapable of functionally differentiating .002¢ and .002$. I get it.
posted by Bael'Gar at 2:47 PM on December 12, 2006


Look, either you've rested your case and conceded the debate, or you haven't.
posted by found missing at 3:01 PM on December 12, 2006


Bael'Gar; the key for me was the line in the call where the last girl actually says "There's no such thing as point-zero-zero-two dollars."

Unless, as said earlier, every CSR is also a fantastic improv actor, there's no way to come up with that line unless you actually don't understand what's going on.

For the girl who said this, there is no such thing as fractional dollars. This is also the fundamental reason behind each of them using a calculator, typing in 0.002 * kilobytes used, and then reading the number as Dollars. They fundamentally don't understand the power of ten jump.
posted by odinsdream at 3:36 PM on December 12, 2006


From the guy's blog, this snippet of an e-mail he received from another CSR really really shows how confused they are. This completely ruins the theory that they've all been briefed on deliberately misleading people into thinking that 0.002 cents = 0.002 dollars.

Upon further review of your account, I found that even though our explanation may have been confusing, you were provided correct information regarding the charge for kilobyte usage. We bill the usage at $0.015 per kilobyte. This means $0.015 of a dollar, not $0.015 of a cent.

It's so very clear that she has no idea what she's talking about. She's using a dollar sign with each decimal number, and then follows one with the word dollar, the other with cent.

Exactly what is "Point zero one five dollars of a dollar" or "Point zero one five dollars of a cent" ?
posted by odinsdream at 3:51 PM on December 12, 2006


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