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GAME'S ON FOR VERIZON

Name a big business whose service quality has revived after slipping badly.

Home Depot comes to mind. The staff is more engaged than several years ago. McDonald's is another. Employees are more courteous, and its restaurants cleaner than they used to be.

Then there's GM, unveiling its 60-day money-back guarantee on vehicle purchases.

Now comes Verizon Florida pushing its "Verizon Service Commitment." The ads are self-deprecating, a good thing when reintroducing a standard of service perceived to be lacking in the past.

Area print ads started last week and radio ads began Monday. Says the ad: "And while no company is perfect, no company works harder to be perfect." That's great, as long as it's not coming from, say, the Detroit Lions, a team that could claim it's "working hard to be perfect" but still ended up 0-16 for the 2008 season.

One of Verizon's new commitments is its 30-day "installation pledge." It lets customers directly call their original installer for follow-up service. (After 30 days, installers would still take the calls and either handle service themselves or, if schedules do not permit, make sure another installer handles it quickly.)

Verizon southeast region president Michelle Robinson admits the business suffered a string of bad publicity over service quality and HDTV promotions in early 2008.

Last year, Verizon's largest labor union in Florida urged employees and customers to picket the company. The union argued Verizon's "churn and burn" policies prevented workers from providing quality service on the company's legacy landline phone service.

Since then, Robinson says, Verizon Florida focused "fast and furious" on expanding its FiOS brand of fiber-optic TV services across a service territory ranging from Sarasota County to the south to Pasco in the north, and Pinellas east through Polk County. That task is still under way.

Now Robinson's talking customer relations. "We recognize, like GM, that service is the great differentiator and, particularly so, in light of this economy," she said. "People want to know they are getting value."

Verizon is convinced its FiOS service is technologically superior to the cable TV service of primary Tampa Bay competitor, Bright House Networks. Yet Bright House built its public reputation around its JD Power customer satisfaction awards. So Verizon now seems willing to gamble that its new service campaign will stack up favorably against Bright House.

The Verizon service commitment also promises "white glove" installation with an explanation of FiOS features and computer set-up (for Internet access), a redesigned service bill said to be simplified, free product instruction at certain Verizon stores, 24/7 tech support based in Florida and product guarantees.

Verizon's new campaign was born in Florida, which so far is the only service territory touting this promise. Other Verizon markets may adopt the new service pitch - if it resonates with customers.

Robinson says the new service commitment will not end with the monthlong ad campaign. "This is the new standard going forward."

Kudos to Verizon for bravely stepping up to offer such a public promise. Ad campaigns are one thing. Delivering better service every day is another.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

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