Verizon and INCREDIBLY STUPID Verification Schemes

Before we begin today’s rant, it is important to point out that the word “elegant” holds a special meaning for software people. Let me quote the entry from the New Hacker’s Dictionary (or the “Jargon File” as it is sometimes known):

Combining simplicity, power, and a certain ineffable grace of design. Higher praise than `clever’, `winning’, or even cuspy.

Now we can move on to the topic of today’s rant: Verizon. Verizon’s systems that interact with customers are most definitely not elegant.

This weekend I tried to pay my Verizon phone bill. It was near the due date, and so I didn’t want to mail a check (so… 20th century-ish) and paying by phone brings with it an irrational $3 fee (always a good business practice to make it harder for your customers to pay you… riiiiiight…), so paying online seemed to be the best option. What the heck, I’d done it before, right?

Well, no.

Since I’ve moved, my phone number has (obviously) changed. And although my online account still works (user name and password logs me in, anyway), there are no phone numbers associated with my account. Apparently, the USER – the CUSTOMER is responsible for this association. Great call there, Verizon.

So I try to associate my phone number. In order to prevent random people from stealing your account, their system will actually call you on your home phone – which seems like a good idea at first glance. (I’ll set aside arguments about how this won’t work unless you are at home with a working phone for now, as they didn’t apply to me.) Apparently, the way it works is their automated system will call you and give you a “temporary PIN” which you then type into the website and that’s how they verify that YOU are actually the owner of the line. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Good Idea: Use a temporary PIN to verify the owner of an account
  • Bad Idea: Use a temporary PIN that is read by an automated computer voice that uses a lot of the following easily-confused-with-one-another letters: B, D, V, and probably others that I couldn’t figure out because it was a computer reading them to me.

The problem here should now be obvious. Here I was, being spoken to by a computerized voice which read out some random bunch of letters & numbers (which really isn’t a “PIN” in the strictest sense of the word, but whatever), and for the life of me I couldn’t tell whether it was saying “B” or “D” or “V” or maybe even some other letter that sounds sort of the same (and there are a lot). It didn’t even use the standard phonetic alphabet readings, like “V as in Victor” and so forth, so there can’t be any confusion.

In the end, after many different tries of different combinations of letters, I gave up. I could not validate my account AT ALL online, and had to pay BY PHONE and be charged $3 for the privilege of getting my money to Verizon faster.

You can understand why this interaction with Verizon left me feeling like I’d been sucker-punched in the stomach.

For a company as big as Verizon, this is inexcusable. What’s worse is that because it was the weekend (Sunday, to be exact), ALL of their support phone numbers (which are hard enough to find as it is) were closed – except for the automated computer system that can only read you your balance (and take your payment and charge you $3 extra for it).

I’d love for someone to explain to me how, exactly, this is considered “good” customer service?

Let’s break down the transgressions, shall we?

  1. Verizon doesn’t synchronize changes to a user’s account with their on-line account – even though they have the information to do so.
  2. Verizon uses a computer to read letters & numbers to you without spelling them out using the phonetic alphabet (“V as in Victor” style)
  3. When you have a problem entering the “temporary PIN,” a link appears that says (basically), “Having trouble? Contact us!” Which does not take you to a phone number – it takes you to the “let’s hide our phone number from our customers” page
  4. Support for the 24-hour on-line system is… only available during weekday business hours?
  5. The 24-hour payment option charges customers an extra $3 for the privilege of paying quickly and on-time.

It’s enough to make me think about finally giving up my hard line with Verizon and going entirely with VoIP phone service instead.

If you want 5 ways to lose customers and make them angry, just take these tips from Verizon.

By Keith Survell

Geek, professional programmer, amateur photographer, crazy rabbit guy, only slightly obsessed with cute things.


  1. I’ve been trying to pay Verizon all day today. I have tried to register onlne and I get the message that my phone will ring with my temporary PIN. However, after several hours, I’ve yet to receive a call and I’ve been on hold with Verizon for over 4 hours (on 5 calls today). I surrender. They can have their stinking $3. What a scam!

  2. This is Jan 7, 2010 and Verizon still have problems with their “Temporary Pins”. This is really not on for a tech company.

  3. Reason for a pin, temporary or otherwise escapes me. Have a username, PW and favorite pet name.
    See no need for an additional digital hassle for reaching my Verizon information. And hard to find a place for “pin” information or editing on Verizon pages.

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