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Even your complaint now is bundled

PAM called the other day.

PAM, as it turns out, is my own free personal account manager, there to help me with my new Verizon FiOS plan that has provided my home phone, Internet and TV service for a few months now.

Just the other day, PAM sent me a friendly letter of introduction, then left a phone message. PAM is apparently there to help, a sort of Jenny-on-the-Spot, if you will.

PAM promises "ONE STOP RESOLUTION: No wait times, no multiple calls to different locations, no impersonal 800 #." On the Web site that hooks you up with your own personal PAM (www.VzPAM.com), PAM appears to be a pleasant-looking blond of nice smile and sturdy headset, ready to tackle your troubles. (Never mind that my PAM actually turns out to be, according to a later message on my answering machine, a guy named Ricky.)

Now's probably a good time to get PAM on the scene. She could have helped early on when I was negotiating the Byzantine billing system or the insanity-inducing customer service phone loop. Lately, Verizon has taken its lumps regarding customer service, including complaints to the Attorney General's Office.

The come-ons were pretty great: pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited calling, fast Internet, "dazzling" TV. And get a free HD TV besides!

But demand got so high they ran out of free TVs. And initial bills, which can require an entire firm of CPAs plus a NASA engineer to correctly decipher, can smack customers with sticker shock, given the complicated billing.

The original price tag — $99 a month being a popular "bundle" — can go up quickly with different taxes in different communities and particularly with customer add-ons (like an extra box for a kitchen TV for those of us who like to cook alongside the Comedy Channel).

Verizon officials will tell you the company has fiber-optic service in 16 states, available locally to 900,000 households, including Hillsborough and Pasco and in north Pinellas headed south. They get about 19,000 Florida customer calls a day.

Growing pains, anyone?

Right about here I should tell you (and PAM) that in our household we have no complaints about the actual Internet, phone or TV service. In fact, we really like it (though we still find that local Weather Channel to be weirdly hypnotic).

I did, however, get e-mails early on threatening cancellation if I did not go to a Web site and "activate," which I did, more than once, only to get more e-mails predicting doom for my account. It was unclear exactly what I was supposed to be activating.

So I spent a ridiculous amount of time making a series of calls to a variety of Verizon­istas in an assortment of departments, each of them eager to sell me additional products but not one who could tell me what was going on. Eventually, the e-mails stopped.

Verizon stands by its service and says the company is doing a good job overall. "We take all complaints seriously," says spokesman Bob Elek. Billing is simplified, he says, and everyone promised a TV will get one.

Still have some thoughts on this? You're in luck. Verizon officials are to appear before Tampa City Council on Thursday at the council's request to address the issue of complaints. Bet a few customers show up, too. (Wonder if PAM will be there. Maybe we can do lunch.)

Even your complaint now is bundled 04/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 4:53pm]
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