Once upon a time I told you the saga of getting my refund from Time Warner Cable.
And once upon another time I told you about my love of VoIP phone.
Here is a new VoIP saga.
Now, this is not VoIP's fault. I still love VoIP. Vonage, however, has some seriously lousy customer service. There's a huge disconnect between the customer service and the tech sides of the company. I would switch to Rogers VoIP (called "Rogers Home Phone") in a heartbeat, if only I could keep my phone number. But because my phone number is from Vonage (not from a Bell Canada), I couldn't keep it with Rogers, so I don't switch.
Fortunately, I never need Vonage customer service - everything is self-managed on the website, which is completely self-explanatory, easy and efficient. But on the extremely rare occasions when I have needed customer service, it's always been for something complicated - and it's always a nightmare.
When we moved here, we took our VoIP equipment with us, and set it up ourselves, just as you would set up another computer component. It takes a minute, and your phone service and number come with you. It worked perfectly.
This meant we were still using a US phone service, which had two implications. One, on caller IDs, our phone number showed up as a 212 - New York City - number. I added a local 905 number*, which anyone could call, but our outgoing number was still 212. This was not a problem for me. Once when Allan called in sick to work, there was speculation that he was really in New York City, but office gossip is not a reason to change phone service.
The other caveat was more serious: we didn't have 911. If we called 911 from our home phone, we would be connected to 911 in the US. Not very helpful. I know this is an important gap, no lectures needed.
Could I change my 911 address to a Canadian address and still use US Vonage? No. US addresses only.
Was there any way to swap our "virtual" (local, add-on) number for our primary (old, US) number? Only if we switch to Vonage Canada.
Could I switch to Vonage Canada but keep the same equipment and phone number? No. We would have to discontinue our Vonage US service and open a new account, with new equipment and a new phone number.
I didn't want to do this. Someone told me that the 911 situation might change over time, and I decided to put it off. Goddess knows we had enough to do without bothering with this.
So we haven't had 911 from our home phone (we'd have to use a cell, and Allan doesn't have or want one) and our outgoing number is area code 212.
Now fast-forward to the present.
I used the occasion of our upcoming local move to take out a new local phone number, this one truly local: area code 416. I'd be notifying everyone of a change of address, might as well do a change of phone number at the same time.
I also asked US Vonage if there was any movement on the 911 situation. Answer: no, you'd have to switch to Vonage Canada.
Question: Could I do that and keep the same equipment and phone number? Here it comes, folks. Answer: yes.
Friday afternoon, I began the process.
Call #1: I explain my question. Customer service says, no problem, we can take care of that for you, please hold. I hold. I am cut off and get a dial tone.
Call #2: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. Next person, no problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Next person, oh no, that can't be done, everything in Canada is different, there's a completely different system there, your equipment won't work in Canada. I explain that I've been living in Canada for a year and a half, using all my same equipment, and it's been working perfectly. No, I'm sorry, that can't be done. But I'm doing it right now. No, I'm sorry, that's not possible.
Call #3: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. Next person, no problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Next person, you will have to cancel your US Vonage service and start all over with Vonage Canada - new account, new phone number, new equipment.
Call #4: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. (For each call, of course, I am proving my identity by answering all the questions with my identifying information.) Next person, no problem, let me connect you with someone who can help you. Next person, I can take care of that for you. This person actually begins the process of changing over my account to Vonage Canada. He says I should create a new account online while we're on the phone, so he can immediately refund the activation fee, and make sure I can keep my same equipment. We begin the process, but eventually reach a step where I have to order equipment, and - checking repeatedly with various tech people - he insists I need new equipment.
Right about now Allan is asking me - again - why I want VoIP instead of a land line. So many reasons. I think VoIP is a big improvement on traditional land line phones. Most customers would never have to do this odd switch, and I'll only have to endure it once. I continue.
Call #5: to Rogers. I like Rogers. Despite what Canadians say, I have found their service very reliable and their customer service friendly, helpful and efficient. (You want to see a bad cable company, go to New York.) I use Rogers for cable, internet and cell phone, and I never have a problem with any of them. Why not get an even bigger discount and get all four Rogers services? So... can I switch from Vonage to Rogers and keep my phone number? No. Thank you, goodbye.
Now I take a long break, and two Advil, and pour a glass of wine.
Call #6: I explain my question. No problem, let me connect you with someone who can do that. Next person, yes. I can do that for you. It will take quite a bit of time, we'll be on the phone awhile, but by the time you hang up, you'll have your Vonage Canada account. He sounded like he knew what he was doing. I settled in on the couch.
First he tried the shortest distance between two points. If your service is working in Canada, why switch at all? (To get 911.) Can we just change your 911 address (home address) to your current Canadian address? (No, it won't accept Canadian addresses.) He tried more of that from his end, which I appreciated, because it showed me he understood my issue and was trying to come up with a solution.
Then I heard him typing a long message into my account, so the next person would know exactly how to proceed.
Finally, he said he would switch me to Vonage Canada sales, I would set up a new account, then ask to be transferred back to US account management and they would finish the process. By this time, he knew (the short version) of what I had been through, and promised me profusely that the issue would now get resolved to my satisfaction. I was skeptical, and he reassured me, several times.
He emphasized that after dealing with Vonage Canada sales, I must ask to be transferred to US Vonage account management - not Customer Service, and not Vonage Canada account management (who had gone home for the day), but US Vonage account management, accept no substitutes.
OK. I get transferred to Vonage Canada's Sales department. A friendly rep takes my order, then tells me she cannot complete the order, and must transfer me to customer service. I tell her that the person who started this process specifically instructed thath I return to account management, not customer service. I'm sorry, she says, account management closes at 5:00. No, I explain, I don't need Vonage Canada account management, I need US Vonage account management. She insists I need customer service. I insist I need account management. She claims she cannot transfer me to any other division, then tells me she cannot transfer me at all, advises me to call the main number, and terminates the call.
I struggle to maintain my cool, knowing the Competent US Account Manager has recorded the whole transaction in my file.
Call #7: I go through the lengthy identification process, and lo and behold, all the information is in my file. Customer service transfers me to account management. Competent US Account Manager Number Two has an even better idea: she keeps me on the line and conferences in Vonage Canada sales, then shepherds them through the transaction herself. As it turns out, my first transfer to Vonage Canada sales did nothing: there is no record of my conversation with her at all.
I remain on the line, answering questions as needed, for another hour. I am lying on the couch drinking wine, so I don't care how long it takes, as long as the transaction gets completed correctly. Mostly the Vonage Canada representative is taking direction from Competent US Account Manager Number Two, who ensures that I will not be charged an activation fee, nor sent any equipment I do not need.
They swap my phone numbers, so our primary number (for 911 and caller ID) is the 416 area code, and my virtual number, for US callers, is the 212 area code.
Two hours after making Phone Call #6, five hours after beginning the process that customer service said was "no problem," the issue is resolved.
* * * *
One big part of the problem, as far as I can tell, is that Vonage's first line of customer support appears to be under instructions to say yes to everything. Whether or not it's possible, just say yes, and let the other departments pick up the pieces. Think of how detrimental this is for customer relations, of the misplaced customer expectations and frustration it creates.
But clearly, if one Vonage account manager was able to complete this transaction, shouldn't they all be able to do so? Shouldn't all the representatives at least know what's possible to do?
As for why I want to stay with a company that's so ridiculously hard to deal with... I love VoIP, I want to keep my phone numbers, and this is only the second time I've ever had to deal with them at all - once when I signed up for service, and now again to make this unusual change. Usually it all just works, and that's that.
* Of course, this turned out to be not-so-local. Not knowing that all 905 numbers are not created equal, I inadvertently took out a 1-905 number, causing calls from Toronto and Mississauga to our home to be long-distance. This in turn caused many cheap Canadians not to call us, and caused me quite a bit of annoying repetition to local businesses, explaining, yes, I live in the area, but yes, it's a 1-905 call. This situation has now ended. That's why I took out the 416 number.