This topic has been beaten to death by the old and curmudgeonly (namely my dad and others social commentators similar to him), so it’s under no pretenses of originality that I submit this review…
Today, I learned that my name is Dan Suller. I must’ve been underneath a rock the last however many years thinking my last name was Fuller. Beyond that, I apparently live at 281 Linden Street.
Because the price was right, I signed up for Vonage phone service. It’s a bit less than half as much as comparable traditional phone service with the bonus feature that there’s a chance that when you call 911 as you’re being brutally murdered or your house is burning down, 911 won’t be able to pull your address from their phone system and see it on their screen. A win-win proposition. Oh yeah, also if the power goes out while your being murdered or burning alive inside your house-sized oven, Vonage is of no use.
I had some questions about the phone service, so I decided to call to order instead of placing it online. Actually, the ordering process went fine, it took longer than the online signup would have, but online has the benefit of a keyboard and it being your own darn fault if you mis-enter your billing, etc. information. After going through the whole spelling words out with my own personal phonetic alphabet, “D – as in, uh, … Dan; A as in, hmm, ‘a bird'” and so on (needless to say, the fact that my last name begins with “F-U” makes phonetic spelling quite the undertaking. “F as in, uh….hmm….hold on…[silence on my end]… umm….fox!” Thank god there are no “P’s” in my name. Anyway, we (the customer service person and I) plowed through the “data entry” part, and I was good to go.
Well, not so much. Ten days after that order (which was 8 days after it showed up on my credit card statement), the “starter kit” never came. I realized I had specified a Vonage.com user name for checking my account, paying bills, upgrading, etc. so I thought I could dig up the tracking number for the package through there. I had used my Gmail account to set up the Vonage service, so I used “dancfuller” as my user name but it wouldn’t go through. There was a default password set, but it naturally didn’t work. I tried the “e-mail me my password,” and that’s when I learned that there was no account with the username “dancfuller,” the one that I had definitely signed up with and had been definitely billed for.
I called customer service, was on hold for only a minute or so and talked to a woman who kept asking if I was having “MAC address” issues (a computer network-related problem) to which I kept saying, “No, I have not and still have not received the startup kit from Vonage.” She tried pulling up my account, but again, no username “dancfuller” and no user “Dan (Or Daniel) Fuller” but a very real entry on my credit card statement. She realized it was out of her control and passed me on to “level two” tech support, probably some guy hiding behind a curtain. More likely, a guy that you’ll end up waiting on hold for 45 minutes then deciding against it and figuring you’ll just go through the painful process of exchanging one e-mail a day with their e-mail service department until it’s finally taken care of. During these 45 minutes, I was looking online and of course, found lots of people with horror stories about Vonage’s support, and going in, I knew it was supposed to be spotty, I just figured that as long as the whole phone over the internet thing got going, I could hopefully troubleshoot anything that’d come up without relying on Vonage’s “representatives,” but being that the “getting it going” part had been duffed by someone at Vonage, I had had enough of sort of being their customer. 45 minutes was too long, so I hung up the phone. Realizing that probably wasn’t going to get any help from their e-mail service (I somehow didn’t technically have an account with them and the first step in the customer service process is verifying that they’re spending their time on an actual customer, I’d be in a bad position. Of course I couldn’t cancel online (and I’m sure that it wouldn’t have worked if I could have), but they do make it look like you can (look through the support tree). That number goes to general Vonage technical support (in India) and once you get through the menus in that system trying to find the “cancel service” option, you’ll be on hold for a short time (a couple minutes), explain you want to cancel, then they’ll say you need to call a different number. That number is 1-800-681-4094. To make sure it shows up well in search results, here it is very obviously. The direct number to cancel Vonage is 1-800-681-4094. You’ll be on hold for a while (mine was 20ish minutes), but that’s the only way.
I talked to someone decidedly in the United States (not that someone in India couldn’t help me….oh wait) and of course he couldn’t access my account either, but he could look up my account via my credit card number. Let’s all note that this means that Vonage doesn’t do any name check against the credit card (I’m not sure this is standard procedure for online orders elsewhere or not). To a computer “Dan Suller” is just as much not equal to the name on my credit card as “Willem Smythe” would be.
So, that’s how I found out that my last name was Suller. Which means that the username associated with my account was dancsuller, and the e-mail address associated with it was “firstname.lastname@example.org.” (that explains why I never received a confirmation e-mail) So that’s three birds with one stone. But wait! There’s more! I needed the kit shipped to a different address than the billing address, but of course those were inverted and the billing address was just plain old wrong. There’s nothing like a phone company having problems with the audio clarity during the ordering process. Quality product, no doubt.
The person I talked to cancelled my account, and pre-refunded the various equipment return and cancellation fees (hey, Vonage doesn’t have contracts, they just charge you a fee if you cancel before an arbitrary amount time has passed….an arbitrary amount of time such as one year) that will show up on my credit card . I’m not sure what the solution is, but Vonage isn’t it. I guess it’s (finally) time I get my cell phone converted to a local number, as I never considered land line (or sort of land line, such as Vonage) phone service all that necessary. The guy’s recommendation was that I just sign up for all of it online to avoid the hearing/clarity/accent issues inherent with having the call center in India.
Outsourcing Phone Support to India receives 1 star due to problems with phone infrastructure, accents, and cheap American companies. Global Economy schlobal economy. I have nothing against people from India, the problems I had weren’t related to them “as a people,” but with Vonage’s reliance on it/them because the labor rate is so low. The accent issue isn’t really too bad, but the phone service (ironic in this case) at the call center is awful. I’d guess that someone decided to save money and limit the call bandwidth to a notch below “nominal” for the entire facility. I’ve had similar issues with Dell’s call center audio, and it’s like talking to someone in a third world country (hmm…). Dell’s was especially bad because the system is all about referencing “service tags” and easily muddled strings of letters and numbers. I’m not sure what the solution is. There are some industries where foreign workers can do just as good a job (or better) work than Americans and save the companies lots of money because of the insanely low labor rates, but being that the phone system (at a phone company) was so shoddy, in general American companies are probably more accurately “cheap” than “thrifty.” If the work involved speaking/conversation, I’d hope that companies think twice before committing to inevitable “accent issues.” They spent so little on the phone system that when the initial order representative phonetically spelled my name, it sounded fine to me. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that she messed up the “bill to:/ship to:” section of the order. I’m sure that they could’ve found more technically proficient people in India to staff their support/ordering center. I’d make some sort of comment here about how in any case, Indian people are good at making bathrooms smell like a wolverine that has been dead for three weeks after an acute case of garlic poisoning, but that’d be culturally insensitive and not that funny. Really though, at college I shared a bathroom with a wolverine. It was awful.