In the hypercompetitive world of mobile services, one small misstep can mean huge trouble for carriers. And in the case of Verizon last month, a giant error could have lingering effects.
For at least 24 hours at the end of June – and longer in some cases – the carrier’s billing system went offline for customers – and potential customers – in large swaths of the U.S. Customers couldn’t login to Verizon’s online portal to view their bills and make payments, and even worse there were issues with activating new customers. Some even reported problems with their actual Verizon service.
Not only did this cause problems for customers, but independent sales reps had their bottom lines affected since they could not sell and activate brand new phones. And the timing could not have been worse, coming just before the long Independence Day weekend in the U.S. when presumably people with a day off might be buying a new phone, changing their plan or simply paying their bill.
The problems seem to stem from a software update by Verizon that clearly didn’t go as planned and caused a domino effect across the carrier’s network. Verizon itself admitted the blame lay with its billing software, which probably didn’t go over very well with its vendor. Granted the failure seems to have only affected online billing and presumably not the carrier’s ability to actually conduct billing functions. Verizon was also quick to point out that this was not the result of hacking.
Verizon is certainly no stranger to billing issues. When Verizon bought out MCI in 2005, billing integration was a huge part of the merger and actually led to Verizon completely transforming its billing processes. But the current debacle doesn’t seem to be the result of consolidation, which leads us to wonder how closely Verizon worked with its vendor on this update and if the vendor might be to blame at all.
Billing update hiccups are nothing new; just last summer US Cellular undertook a billing system upgrade that resulted in tens of thousands of customers not receiving a bill or finding their accounts suspended even if they were current on payment. Not to defend the carrier, but at least US Cellular had the foresight to let its customers know in advance about the upgrade.
Verizon’s troubles come at a tough time for mobile carriers in the U.S.; the operator is perennially running neck-and-neck with AT&T to dominate the market and a prospective T-Mobile/Sprint pairing raises a lot of uncertainty about the future. Verizon, like many other mobile providers, is also spending a bundle on its LTE build out (claiming to have America’s largest 4G network) and hopes to recoup this expenditures by upselling customers, providing advanced services and siphoning off new customers from the competition.
Hopefully Verizon realizes that even just a couple of days without access to their accounts can seem like an eternity to today’s consumer. And if the operator doesn’t make good with their customers, all the XLTE in the world won’t help them.