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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Verizon FIOS missionaries

The Local Lens

Published• Wed, Nov 21, 2012

By Thom Nickels

After a few years of turning away Verizon FIOS salespeople, both on the phone and in person, I finally buckled and signed up. In the beginning it was easy to say no to FIOS. They would say, "Okay, think about it," then not call back for several months. Then the tempo changed and things went into acceleration mode. More calls, more direct mail ads, and then the last straw: FIOS missionaries pounding on the front door. "We are from the Church of FIOS! We have news that may change your life!" While they didn’t exactly say that, they came pretty close.

The FIOS knock was not a light knock but a police-style "You are under arrest" knock, as if someone was pounding their fists on the door. This style of knocking is always guaranteed to get attention because it mimics police knocking, which—just like in the movies—is an intense, very fast series of pounds that gives the impression that the matter at hand is one of life or death. It’s annoying that salespeople have adopted panic-police-style knocking, but what can you do? Most organizations have learned that quiet, polite knocking will get you nowhere. The last time FIOS knocked it had me rushing to the door.

"No thank you," I said to the missionaries, decked out in white shirts and pocket ID badges. "If I’ve told you guys once, I’ve told you a thousand times: put me down as a permanent no."

Months later FIOS sent a clever salesman who canvassed our street for a full seven hours. I did not mean to open the door but the knock caught me off guard. He was a clean-cut missionary type who began by asking me if I would like to hear about FIOS. He was so manic he talked right over me. Since I was not in the mood to shut the door in his face, I did the polite thing but soon regretted it. His monologue was non-stop.

"You know," I interrupted, "it’s really just a phone. I really can’t spend this much time talking about a phone. If this is a new deal, can you send it to me in writing?" Before I knew it, he was writing something up, an addendum he said I should sign before the mailing of printed material could take place.

"I’m not signing anything, thank you," I offered. But he would not stop. As a former fundraising telemarketer for colleges and universities, I was taught to respect a person when they told you that they’re unable to contribute anything—anything, as in one hundred dollars or five dollars. When I kept saying I wouldn’t sign, he became angry and tore the paper in half.

I thought I was finished with FIOS, but then came the innumerable popup ads that sometimes stalled my computer. Not only did FIOS ads appear in other online activities but new offers came in the mail at least twice a month in addition to phone calls. Soon I felt I was being prodded into a corner until at last, exhausted, I would wave the white flag of retreat. "But I will never submit," I thought.

One day another FIOS postcard arrived, but this one said something extraordinary: it was offering FIOS for life at such a cheap price I knew there had to be a hook. I discarded it until a friend pulled it out of the trash and said, "Woo, are you kidding me? Check this baby out!" So, based on his enthusiasm, I did just that but was told by the Verizon person on the phone that there was no such deal. Luckily the postcard had a small ID number, although at that point I was afraid that it could still be Spam. Twenty minutes later, after a lot of checking, the customer service person said it was a valid deal.

On the appointed day, a FIOS installer came to my home, a young woman who set to work rearranging wires in my basement and installing the FIOS box. Since the installation process was long, I didn’t follow her around as some homeowners are wont to do, but allowed her space to work even though it made me nervous that she was constantly calling Verizon for advice. The length of time she spent on the phone getting these instructions was beginning to worry me. Was my house her first job ever? I breathed a sigh of relief when another Verizon truck pulled up outside. Help is on the way!

When the job seemed almost complete I went outside to talk to her, when I noticed that one of the bricks on the front of my house had fallen out, the pieces lined up on my windowsill. Instead of drilling a hole for the FIOS wire from the outside of the house in, she had followed a reverse course which is almost always a disaster because the drill literally pushes out the brick in front, sometimes crumbling it to pieces.

The brickwork on the front of my house is from the 1950s and has an unusual color. Replacing it would involve more than a trip to Home Depot. When I saw the wound where the brick had been I asked why the drilling wasn’t done from the outside in. "Because I don’t have an outside drill," she said. I stepped back and inspected the FIOS wire holes in the neighbors’ houses and saw that they were picture perfect, like little William de Kooning sculptures.

"I’ll fix it before I leave," she said. "I have special silicone glue. I have all the pieces."

If an offer appears too good to be true, it probably is. Perhaps my "too good to be true" FIOS deal came with a secret hitch: installation by an employee-in-training. Whatever the reason, when I went out to inspect the patch-up job, what I saw was a haphazard Jackson Pollack mismatch. She had stuck the pieces in upside down.