Hell hath no fury like a wireless customer scorned – or something similar. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) finally backed-off an ill-advised announcement to introduce a new $2 fee for customers who want to pay their monthly wireless bill online or via their phone instead of allowing Verizon to automatically charge their credit card or bank account. Not since the move by Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) to charge debit card users $ 5 a month for the privilege of accessing their own money has a well-known company attracted so much abuse from their own customers. Wait. That’s right Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) did the same thing a while back when they announced that DVD rentals would be separated from online video streaming services and their customers flogged the company until Netflix reversed their decision. Of course when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that “they were looking into the matter on behalf of wireless consumers” the folks at Verizon no doubt thought better of their decision to “address costs incurred…by those customers who choose not to use other (free) options available to them…”
Change is Coming
The outrage that was generated by the initial announcement prompted a reported 95,000 people to join a campaign at Change.org aimed at getting Verizon to eliminate the fee. The New York Times detailed how comments on Twitter and Facebook assailed Verizon, the country’s biggest wireless firm, and took the company to task for trying to “get another $2 per month” from its customers. Marketing experts commented that Verizon approached the $2 fee completely wrong by not explaining how many people would actually have to pay the fee or how their competitors have fees that are actually much higher. AT&T (NYSE:T) and Sprint (NYSE:S) both have fees that are more than double the Verizon $ 2 fee, but they’ve done a much better job of defending it to their customers. And then there’s Verizon’s recent service outages and problems with their much-touted fourth-generation (4G) service.
Can You Hear Us Now?
On Dec. 8th customers of Verizon were unable to get Internet access on their wireless devices, an outage that affected some customer for 24 hours. Some of the customer posts on websites vented that Verizon – a company that reported $15 billion in revenues for the most recent quarter – was not as forthcoming with network information as they should be and took issue with the company refusing to acknowledge service outages until the media got the story. The consumer activism that banks faced last year when several of the big banks tried to introduce debt card fees was somewhat unexpected for the time. The banks had tried to hide behind a new rule from the Federal Reserve Bank that reduced network fees that banks could charge to merchants that accept debit cards.
What’s the Lesson Learned?
A company the size of Verizon has enough resources and talented professionals that surely they must have thought that adding a new fee which was to have gone into effect very quickly, on or about Jan. 15th would attract some attention. Take it from the airline industry when they tried to “nickle and dime’ air passengers for baggage, pillows, blankets, soft drinks and even peanuts they had to gracefully back down or lose face with the very people who had stuck with the airlines during the terrible downsizing that occurred after 9/11. Hopefully Verizon and other firms will learn from the example that consumers are watching every penny and when they that they’re being targeted or taken advantage of, the quickest way to get heard is open their window and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. In a 140 characters or less to fit on Twitter, of course.