IPv6, Vonage, and why I’m smiling…

I bitch a fair bit about tech support, and in my defense, it’s not totally unjustified. My family can attest to the 7 calls and 5 hours it took me to get my mom’s new Tracfone activated recently.  (To Agent #1, yes, I do think it’s reasonable to expect to be able to use a mobile phone when I’m not at home.  And to Agent #2, reading me the scripted response slower and with enhanced diction does not make what you are saying any more correct.)

I’ve worked in tech support. I get the challenges, and I get the cost pressures companies are under. And I know why the person I’m talking to lives in Argentina, just started last week, and is armed with all the knowledge that three days of crash courses and access to a cobbled together database can provide.  That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

But once in a while, you get that special and exceptional experience that cements your loyalty to a company.  This is the holy grail of customer support.  It’s what it’s all about. And today, Vonage nailed it. I want to recognize them for that.

I’ve been a Vonage phone service customer since the company was in its infancy 10 years ago. I’ve always had good phone service with them, and on the rare occasion I’ve needed support, they’ve always been helpful and good to deal with.  But today was completely unexpected.

You see, June 6th was IPv6 launch day.  A brand new Internet addressing scheme was turned on and left on for the first time. There’s no need to panic. The old IPv4 scheme will still work in parallel for years. And the vast majority of users won’t ever know the difference.  Most of the changes will happen with your ISP, but some older home networking routers and such may need to be upgraded or replaced.

Anyway, I’m currently running a Vonage provided wireless router which is not IPv6 compatible. So on a whim, I drop Vonage an email asking what their upgrade plans are. I specifically said this wasn’t a problem now, but wanted to know if they had a plan and what the timing was. I completely expected to get a canned response explaining they were working on it and I should just be patient.

Instead, a few hours later I received a personal response saying that my existing router was, in fact, not IPv6 compliant. They have an IPv6 compliant single-port device they’d be happy to send me at no cost to me. Then they went on to offer that they recognized this means I would now need to buy my own wireless router in my home, so they were issuing me a $50 credit toward that purchase.  All I needed to do was confirm my shipping address.

Well confirm it I did, and they promptly responded that they upgraded me to overnight shipping since I was such a long-time customer. And oh by the way, the old (perfectly good for several years) router was of no use to them, so I could just keep that too.

Frickin’ awesome.  Above and beyond.  I’ve been debating lately whether or not to keep the home phone service at all as I mostly just use it for conference calls at work.  But I’m committed now.  I’m keeping ’em. Hell, I’m hoping they launch a cell phone service, a line of refrigerators, designer tube socks… whatever, sign me up!

And that, my young Padawans, is what customer service is supposed to feel like.

How I almost left Ellen for Catrina (and Kim is still speaking to me)

Artist's Exaggerated Rendering of the Situation

It all started one dark and stormy night back in February. My miscreant son mistook the word “RAM” on the side of my truck for a verb and turned the ass end of an innocent mini-van into an abstract sculpture.

Fast-forward seven months, and my auto insurance came up for renewal with a little surprise.  Travelers decided to assess me a 39% surcharge for the next 39 months as a result of the winter mishap.

My initial reaction was incredulity that a company I’d been a customer of since 1984 would be trying to extract a punitive charge for a relatively minor accident.  Especially since my only other claim was in 1995, and the other guy’s company paid for that one in full.  So I got right on the phone to Ellen at the agency and asked what this was about.

Ellen has always treated me well, and she was quick to assure me that the charge was not punitive.  Rather, it was an actuarial assessment of the now greater risk of another accident.  I tried to wrap my head around this.  After all, my son is not on my insurance policy.  He borrowed the truck that night, and he doesn’t borrow it all that often.  Clearly they weren’t saying his whoop-si-daisy somehow made me a riskier driver.  So either they were assessing me a 39% penalty for my questionable judgement in whom I let drive my vehicle, or they were worried about some previously unknown quantum-gravitational attraction exerted by fresh paint such that my truck was now hopelessly attractive to other cars.

Either way, I felt betrayed, jilted, and abused.  As if three decades of loyalty had no meaning.  So, I did what any man would do.  I went trolling on the Internet looking for someone new.  By the end of the weekend, I had found Catrina, a delightful woman who worked for State Farm.  She was only too happy to console me, answer my questions, and provide quotes enticing enough to lure me away from my tarnished relationship with Travelers.  The temptation of something new and cheaper was powerful.

I called Ellen the next day to tell her I couldn’t go on like this.  I wasn’t paying the surcharge, and if it didn’t come off, then we were through.  I knew in my heart, if I wrote a check, Catrina would have me.  But Ellen didn’t answer her phone.  I left her messages. A whole day went by. Not a word.

When I finally did hear from Ellen, she told me how she’d been working with others in her office, as well as the underwriter and the claims manager to get this resolved.  She told of how she accidentally yelled “yahoo!” during a call with another customer when the email finally came in indicating Travelers had seen fit to waive my surcharge.  My checkbook went all pitter-patter as Travelers was once again my least expensive option, and I do like it cheap.

But now the hard part, I had to nip my blossoming relationship with State Farm in the bud.  I contacted Catrina and told her the sordid tale of the “clerical error” Travelers made about who was driving that night. A misunderstanding that apparently caused our whole spat.  I explained that I had agreed to take them back… but to be assured, they will be sleeping on the couch for a while.  And should Travelers ever step out on me again, I will kick their butt to the curb and be giving her a call.

She said she understood, and that if Travelers ever slipped up on me again, she would be there with tissues, a bottle of wine, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and a stack of insurance binders ready for me to sign.

The whole experience leaves me wondering… why do only friendly helpful women work for insurance agencies?  Is this some sort of cosmic yin to the DMV’s yang?  Is it some bizarre way for the universe to achieve a weird state of cordiality balance?