Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cavalier Telephone follow-up

Last night my home phone rang. It was Cavalier Telephone, calling to ask if my phonse service was working.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cavalier Telephone

I actually like my phone company. It's a CLEC that gives me full-featured home telephone service and DSL for less than $50 / month (before taxes and fees, of course).

BUT, when I got home last night I discovered I had no dial tone and no DSL. Having been through this before, I knew to take one of my trusty AT&T Model 500500 sets outside and plug it directly into the gray box on the side of the house. Nothing.

So I dug up an old phone bill and found the number to call for repairs. A speech-enabled voice response system asked for my phone number. For some reason, I don't like to speak to speech-reco systems (yeah, I know that makes quite odd, given my day job), so I punched in my number. Then the most lame and/or laughable thing happened - they played back a sound-effect of somebody typing on a computer keyboard (or maybe it was somebody shaking up a bag of Scrabble tiles). I don't even remember what the next question was, but it too was followed by the sound-effect. Are they really fooling people with that? Bizarre.

Then it was time to tell Mr. Typie what the problem was. I clearly spoke "no dial tone." No problem in understanding that, so kudos to them for getting that bit of programming correct. Then I was whisked off to the hold queue, where things got really ugly.

First, I was given a list of four things to do to check my DSL connection. That's nice, but was completely unrelated to my particular problem and therefore pissed me off a little bit. Somewhat reminiscent of Verizon's apparent "dump 'em all in one queue" strategy). After that was over, I immediately got a recording telling me that there was "currently" an outage in the Pennsylvania market, and that the estimated time of resolution was 4 PM. OK, two major things wrong there. Number 1, I've already typed in my phone number, so they should know I'm not in Pennsylvania. Number 2, it was around 5 PM when I called. If indeed I was in Pennsylvania and experiencing this outage, I'd be pretty upset to hear the 4 o'clock message at 5. At the very end of the recording, there was a strange sound that I can only describe as a grunt. Weird.

Their on-hold music must be on a tape somewhere, a tape that has seen much much better days. Can you say wow and flutter? Music on hold is usually an annoyance, but this took it to a whole new level. Every once in awhile, a marketing message would come on, telling me about the wonderful guides that were available on the website. I might have been interested, if I was able to get to the website.

The Pennsylvania message and the marketing message repeated over the course of my twenty-plus minutes on hold. Aside from getting really ticked off about the PA message, I noticed that the two messages were somehow interfering with each other. If the PA message was playing, then sometimes after it was done (and after it grunted at me), the marketing message would kick in somewhere in the middle. I can't even imagine how you'd program a system to play messages like that. I'll have to ask some of my colleagues with better Avaya knowledge. (I assume there's an Avaya system in there somewhere, based on their job listings, which I have perused more than once).

Once I finally got connected to an agent, things went well. He was impressed when I said I'd already "plugged into the demarc", and quickly got a service call scheduled. As of this writing, the problem still exists (I just called my own number and got the Cavalier voice-mail system), but hopefully that won't be the case when I get home this evening.

I actually know at least one person who works at Cavalier, I wonder if she could put me in touch with somebody so I can offer my services on fixing their annoying system?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Verizon: The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

Oh my little Baby Bell, how do I love thee. Let me post the ways.

So, when last we left off, my install on (My Street) "DOCTOR," was scheduled for this past Saturday, 19 January 2008, between 8AM and 5PM. I dutifully got up at the crack of 7-ish and made sure I was ready for the guy to show up. I tidied up the bedroom a bit (because there's a TV there, get your minds out of the gutter) and made some coffee and then I waited. And waited. And, of course, waited. Finally, at about 12:45 or so, I got a call asking if it would be OK for them to come out on Sunday at "9 or 9:30". This was a tough call, I'd had plans for Saturday night for some time, but I really did want to get the installation taken care of, so I said yes. Supposedly, I'll be getting an American Express gift card in an undisclosed amount for my troubles.

Right, so fast-forward to Sunday morning. I had set my alarm for 8:15 or so, and was quite in the middle of Snooze-ville, when the phone rang at 8:20. It was the VZ installer guy, who said he'd be there in 15 or 20 minutes. A tad early, but I managed to get moving.

The outside bit of the installation took awhile, and then we got to the indoor stuff. The bedroom TV got a standard-def set top box, and that was pretty routine. In the living room, the shiny new HD TiVo got two CableCards. I had to go through the guided setup again, but after that it looked like everything was good.

Of course, it wasn't. I was getting all the channels on CableCard 2, but CC1 was quite unresponsive. I waited until today to attempt to call for service. What a nightmare.

Of course they start out with asking for my VZ phone number. Still don't have one, guys. I proceed through a few more menus asking for information, and after EVERY F'ING question, an additional confirmation prompt. Jebus, VZ, your speech reco engine returns a confidence score, just freakin' use it, mmmkay? I finally get to the part where the system wants me to state "in my own words" what the problem is. "Cable Card not working", I say. Great, I'm going to be transferred. And then I hear two DTMF tones and a recording saying "your call could not be completed, please try again later." Arrggghhhh.

I called back right away, and tried to short-circuit my way through the menus a bit, but still requested Tech Support. Again two tones and the same recording. A third attempt was rather identical.

I poked around the website for a bit, and found another phone number, but it turned out to be for FiOS Internet service, so was useless. Great website there, VZ, steering me to completely unrelated pages and all.

On my fourth attempt at calling, I pressed zero. A lot. Finally, the system told me the wait time to speak to somebody was 7 minutes, OR, I could leave a number and they would call me. That seemed ideal, so I said yes, left my number and recorded my name and waited. After nearly exactly 7 minutes, my phone rang. I said "hello" and a recording told me this was a Verizon callback, and if they had reached "Larry" to say yes. I did indeed say yes, and was promptly connected . . . . to a busy signal. And because that wasn't bad enough, they held my phone line open for another couple minutes. I'd hang up the phone, wait a bit and then try to dial again, only to hear the busy signal still going.

Finally, they released the line, and I was able to make phone call number 5. This time, the wait was going to be 9 minutes. I elected to stay on the line. FORTY minutes later, somebody finally picked up. I told her my problem, and it was all resolved within about 5 minutes.

My total time spent on the issue, nearly two hours. For the record, my rate is around $55 per hour, so maybe they owe me about two months of service for free, right?

Honestly, Verizon, is that the best you can do? Because frankly, what I went through today SUCKS, and I'll be contacting the State Corporation Commission to report your bad behavior. The reception looks good, but I think I'm more in love with my new TiVo then the program delivery service.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Quick Hit

For as long as I can remember, orange has been the color to indicate decaf. When you stumble into 7-11 for that morning cup o' Joe, you make sure to grab one of the pots with a brown or black handle, and steer well clear of the orange. I don't know who invented this color scheme, but it seems to be universal, or nearly so.

But no . . . Recently a new food service company took over the cafeteria where I work. They serve "Seattle's Best" coffee, from those big insulated pump-type dispensers. The dispensers themselves are red. The label is beige, and at the top (where it is mostly hidden by the spout), there is light grey lettering that practically disappears indicating regular or decaf. The decaf label has a bit of blue somewhere. Yes, blue. Any third grader can probably tell you that blue is exactly opposite orange on the color wheel.

I'd like to suggest that the herbal tea-drinking marketing/branding jerk at Seattle's Best look for a new line of work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Verizon Part 3

Verizon Part 3

I'd like to skip writing about VZ, but honestly, they make it too easy. I got to my desk at work this morning and found a voicemail message from VZ. They just wanted to confirm my installation appointment. The message itself was completely automated, a mix of pre-recorded messages and text-to-speech. Since that type of application is exactly what I work on day in and day out (although I concentrate on inbound calls), it was automatically a bit more interesting to me than it might have been to the average Joe. So the voice was telling me about the time frame and date and what not, when it got to my address. Now imagine for the purposes of this post that I live at 1234 Pleasant Drive. This is what I heard : ". . . at 1 2 3 4 Pleasant Doctor."

I'm pretty sure that somewhere in the rules of programming TTS applications, there is a line that says "make sure the output matches the type of input." Thus, when feeding an abbreviation (like, oh, say "Dr") to your TTS engine, tell it that it's working with an address. Or pre-process the input to eliminate ambiguity.

At least I don't live on Main Saint.

I wonder if they'd hire me? They obviously need help with their website, their inbound call centers, and their outbound calling application. Resume is over to the right there, VZ dudes...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dealing with Verizon, part 2

OK, so the new TiVo showed up yesterday, and here I am without any CableCards still. And, despite what I'd been told by the TiVo rep, it appears that the HD can not be used with a cable box.

So, I went back to the VZ site this morning to find the number to call to order FiOS. Maybe there was an easier way, but the only way I could find it was to go through the address/phone number loops again. Finally I found it - 888 GET FIOS.

I called the number and the first thing they want me to do is "enter the phone number you are calling about." Errrr, I called "Get FiOS," why would they think I'm calling about a phone number? Evidently they think that everybody has VZ phone service? As I'm writing this sentence, I'm on hold, getting disclaimers and cross-selling messages about "phone/internet/video" bundles. OK, again, I called the number that specifically says "Get FiOS". It seems clear that all their numbers get dumped into one big call center. Now I'm being told there are "heavy call volumes". Yes indeed, I would imagine so, given the sheer futility of trying to use the website.

I have a sinking feeling that jumping from Comcast to Verizon is like going from the frying pan to the, ummm, other frying pan. At least there is no annoying on-hold music - although this does make me check the phone display fairly often to make sure I haven't been summarily disconnected. I sort of wonder if they really want to sell this service. Surely the sales call center should be well-staffed, even if their customer service is abysmal?

Oh hey, a ringing sound.

Now I'm talking to Brian, I think. He wants to know what phone number I'm calling about. (insert rolled eyes here). In a rather exasperated tone, I tell him I'm not calling about a phone number, I called the "Get FIOS" number. I give him my address and wait. He finally comes back and asks how many TVs; I decide to cut through the muck and tell him I want TV only, two cablecards and one standard definition box. I also mention that I'm not going to pay an activation fee, since their non-functional website is not my problem. There are very long delays while I can faintly here Brian typing.

We've gotten through the credit check now, and I'm on hold waiting for a price and installation date. This time there's music. Woo hoo. Wow, it's 10000001 and Strings, playing Moon River. I haven't heard crap like this in ages! Flashbacks to WIP-AM in Philadelphia. It's almost fun. But not really.

After all of Moon River and at least half of something I don't know the name of, Brian comes back and gives me the package price, which is pretty much what I'd expected. The question remains of why it took so long to add up four numbers. Maybe he had to use an abacus, I don't really know. Now we are waiting for an installation date. The first available date is a next Saturday, i.e. just over a week from now. That's OK, I guess, but the bad news is that it's a "wide open" appointment, which means anywhere from 8 AM till 5 PM. OK, whatever, I have no life anyway.

I've just now finished up with Brian. At this point, everything seems on track, but honestly, I'm going to be prepared for the worst. I've heard lots of nightmare stories about people trying to get CableCards installed.

Fingers crossed, over and out.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Their Roots Are Showing

I was trying to check out Verizon's FIOS TV offerings today. I went ahead and ordered a TiVo HD, so I'm going to need CableCards, and getting away from Comcast is always a desirable goal. So I got on to the Verizon website and they would like me to verify that the service is offered in my area (never mind that I know it is, they send me junk mail all the time). To do this verification, I am supposed to put in my Verizon phone number. Which I don't have, I've been a customer of Cavalier Telephone for years. But that's OK, they tell me I can verify availability by putting in my address. The first attempt fails, presumably because I have had the temerity to spell out "Drive" in my street name. Maybe that's not really what happened, but on my second attempt, I put "Dr". This works. Sort of. The next screen asks me to verify that address, which I do. And then . . . I get a message telling me that there is Verizon phone service at my address, and I need to put in my phone number. Which, of course, doesn't work, because it's not a Verizon phone number. But that's OK, I can put in my address. GAH!

I've also tried to put in the phone number I had before my brief move to Georgia, which, IIRC, was a Verizon number that got ported to Cavalier when I first switched. But no, that doesn't get me anywhere either.

Now according to the few screens I was able to get to in this maze of twisty little web pages, all different*, was a mention that there is an "online only" offer of "no activation fee." Leaving aside for the moment the sheer ridiculousness of an "activation fee", let us pause to reflect that I can't make an online order, because their system has me trapped in an endless loop of address - phone number - address - phone number.

* Seriously, there is one address entry page that has the values for the State drop-down list ordered alphabetically by state name (thus VT comes up before VA, since Vermont comes before Virginia), and another address entry page that is almost identical, but VA comes before VT, since they ordered the list by postal abbreviation. Nice attention to detail there, folks. Neither one lets me past the dreaded phone number lock.