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Verizon told me to do something and all I got was a headache

Commentary: It seemed like a simple instruction. Instead, it turned into a bizarre Groundhog Day in which the customer is left bemused.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Technical problems?

Scott Olson, Getty Images

It was a simple request.

Verizon emailed me to say that my credit card was about to expire and my payment details needed updating.

It was also an odd request, because I'd updated them months ago. Still, Verizon helpfully provided a link.

What followed was yet another lesson in machines just not being able to speak human, which leads to humans becoming very frustrated with machines.

Verizon's site, you see, didn't recognize my computer. So, despite my giving it all sorts of other information (zip code etc), it wanted the answer to my secret security question. I couldn't remember the answer.

I clicked, therefore, on the "Forgot your answer?" link. This led to the site sending me a link to a new password. Which took me back to the site. Which let me change my password, but which still wanted the answer to my secret security question.

Naturally, I blamed myself (Disclosure: Polish heritage). So I tried a few more times, with a few more links to new passwords. Before, that is, (screaming and) clicking on "help."

It was no help. There were only canned responses. There was no response for "secret security question response Groundhog Day."

So I called customer service. Where I got a machine. The machine, when I said my issue was payments, would only let me make a payment, not talk to a human being.

I called customer service again, this time saying representative (very) loudly.

Suddenly, the voice of a human. There was a solution. I would have to be un-enrolled from the AutoPay system and then begin my enrollment all over again. There was no other option.

The nice lady from customer service eliminated me. I then had to change my password yet again. This time, however, I had the option of creating a new -- and more memorable -- secret security question.

All this had taken, oh, 45 minutes.

I got into my account and found that my payment details were, indeed, completely up to date. However, there was still an old card in there as well, which had set off the original email.

"Our systems aren't very good," the customer service rep admitted. I had to agree. Here was a tech company using technology to make a complete technological mess of customer service.

I contacted Verizon and a spokeswoman told me: "The team looked into this and identified an issue which they are working to fix."

This isn't especially to poke at Verizon. All too often, automated systems just don't communicate. They're there so that companies don't have to hire humans. They often have all the practicality of a blancmange basketball.

All too often, this supposed artificial intelligence is really the artificial, engineer-created machine of customer frustration.

When was the last time a machine gave you better customer service than a human? When was the first?

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

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