Small World: Too big to succeed


Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

This title is the subject of our discussion for today. Normally, its opposite meaning (“too big to fail”) is applied to the giant banks of New York. It means that their failure would have such widespread consequences that if they collapsed the damage would be too great to tolerate. Therefore, the banks must be either broken up and made smaller or society must be willing to save them with subsidies. That is an argument for another day.

Today, we are concerned with those enterprises that are simply too large to work properly. (Some would say that description applies to the federal government. That, too, will have to wait on another day.) I take for my present text a recent experience with Verizon, my telephone provider in Maryland as it used to be in Bridgton. I begin: The other day, I received my monthly Verizon bill for telephone, TV, wireless and Internet. Its total was about $50 higher than normal. So being retired and disputatious by nature, I telephoned the company. First, one must tolerate a winnowing process in which every possible problem or grievance is summoned by a number to press. Then, a second level of queries and buttons mixed with musical intermissions punctuated by a variety of identifying questions.

Finally, a human voice — Sam, he called himself — is heard, rather sleepy it seemed. (It was, after all, just after lunch.) He has questions that duplicate those previously raised by the recordings. He understands the problem and offers an explanation and fix. I have been charged twice, he says, for my wireless bill. Easy to correct it; just redo the bill. But, alas, he can’t perform that task. He will pass me to the wireless people.

More recorded questions and guidance. Then, a pert young voice comes on and, understanding Sam’s diagnosis, rules that it is incorrect. No duplicate wireless billing. She will pass me on to the “one-bill” people. More recorded instructions followed by the usual musical selection.

A female human voice answers, listens to the problem, calls up my records and rules that I have reached the wrong desk. I am talking, it appears, to another staff member of the wireless department, not the “one-bill” people. She graciously promises to direct my call to the proper recipient.

What do you think? I land back where I had started out — as if I had just picked up the telephone and dialed. Recordings and music, followed eventually by the voice of Daniel (doesn’t use a last name). Well spoken and understands my complaint. Checks my file and says the fault lies in the company’s failure to bill me for wireless in October and catching up with a double billing in November.

I am now mentally numb from the time spent — just short of one hour — on the telephone. I ask that a supervisor telephone me. Daniel says he will set that in motion and takes time out to write a report. We part company. I wait.

In this Verizon-less vacant time, I reflect. Last summer in Bridgton, I called Fairpoint to complain that my Internet was operating slowly and sporadically. Within one half-hour, a technician arrived, made some adjustment to the line and the problem disappeared. Smaller company than Verizon.

I reflect further: Two summers ago, our Sears hot water heater developed a small leak. Informed, the company sent a technician who confirmed the opinion. A new heater was in order as the warranty was still in effect. Then began a telephone siege that made Verizon appear a paragon of efficiency. Untold conversations with some central officer and two in Maine and New Hampshire. It appeared that the model prescribed was available only in New Hampshire, but they could not deliver over a state line or install or some such reasoning. Finally, with the help of a kind neighbor with a van, we picked up the heater and a local plumber set it up.

“What do you do with your time?” people ask me. “I do battle against the forces of bigness and inertia,” I reply. I am losing both the battles and the war.

Henry Precht, a retired Foreign Service Officer, is still waiting for the Verizon supervisor’s call.

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