The Times-Reporter of new Philadelphia, Ohio, reports that police searching for a potential suicide victim were thwarted by a Verizon Wireless operator who refused to turn on the customer’s cell phone so the p0lice could use a nearby cell tower to locate the victim.

The man was behind on his bill, the rep informed police, and the police would have to make a payment on the bill or the signal would not be connected. (See “Unconscious Carroll man found after 11-hour search,” by Nancy Schaar)

This kind of intransigence makes me think that Verizon Wireless has been unsuccessful at implementing a key practice in good customer relations: Empower your people to do the right thing for the customer.

Perhaps my experience with Verizon Wireless is not typical, but twice in the last ten years I have had to write letters to company executives and lodge complaints with the state consumer protection agency simply to get Verizon Wireless to do the right thing for me as the customer. In both cases, I was in the right but customer service reps and even supervisors were evidently trained and incentivized to stonewall. (One of these incidents occurred when the company was still called Bell Atlantic.)

The Times-Reporter article describes the interaction between Sheriff Dale Williams and the Verizon Wireless operator:

Williams said he attempted to use the man’s cell phone signal to locate him, but the man was behind on his phone bill and the Verizon operator refused to connect the signal unless the sheriff’s department agreed to pay the overdue bill. After some disagreement, Williams agreed to pay $20 on the phone bill in order to find the man. But deputies discovered the man just as Williams was preparing to make arrangements for the payment….

“I was more concerned for the person’s life,” Williams said. “It would have been nice if Verizon would have turned on his phone for five or 10 minutes, just long enough to try and find the guy. But they would only turn it on if we agreed to pay $20 of the unpaid bill. Ridiculous.”

AB — 23 May 2009