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un... believable

This is by far, the most absurd customer support call I have ever heard. Of all the dumb, annoying, customer support people I've talked to on the phone, this makes any difficulties I've had seem utterly trivial. Ladies and gentlemen, behold the depths of math illiteracy of Verizon Wireless:


The remix, to the tune of Pink Floyd's Money:

What really gets me about this is that, not only do they not seem to understand the difference between dollars and cents, but every time he explains it to them (which he does again, and again, and again in as clear and simple and patient language as possible), it's like they just go blank and right when you think they're going to have an "aha! I see what you're saying" moment, they go right back to repeatedly and explicitly denying that dollars per kilobyte is not the same thing as cents per kilobyte! I could understand if they made the mistake once or twice... but how can they just keep denying basic facts about currency? Are they trained by company policy to play dumb in order to scam people delibrately? Or are they really this incapable of understanding currency and decimals? This is literally 3rd grade math (http://www.aaamath.com/grade3.html -- I looked up the grade level on the web, because I thought I might be going crazy here). In the US, as early as 1st grade, you're supposed to know how to write down a dollar and cents amount without confusing the cents with the dollars. In order to pass 3rd grade, every child (typically about 8 years old) is supposed to know what a decimal is, and the difference between a tenth, a hundredth, and a thousandth. (I assume the situation is similar in other countries, but with different currencies.) All 4 of the Verizon Wireless customer service reps he talks to (the last 2 of which are in the mp3 here) repeatedly argued with him again and again when he tried to explain 3rd grade math to them. Each one he talked to, instead of finally agreeing with him, becomes more and more insistent that units don't matter in calculating an amount. One of them even says "it's a matter of opinion."

What is going on with this society we live in... do people take 3rd grade, and then somehow pass 4th thru 12th grade without understanding decimals? Or do they pass them all understanding them, and then forget it after they get their first job? The weirdest part of the conversation is when the big boss, the manager, says "I don't agree that .002 dollars is different from .002 cents, because there's no such thing as .002 dollars." This is where I start to think they are just putting him on in order to cover their asses after conning people into signing up for their service and then charging them 100 times their advertised price... WTF?!?

Poll #885650 verizonmath

So what do you think? Are they:

playing dumb (to cover up their deliberate fraud)
not understanding or not listening to the words he's saying
actually do not know what a dollar or a cent is
actually do not know what a decimal or a fraction is

I have been leaning towards A, but I have been known to overestimate people's math skills in the past (although I can't recall ever having run across this extreme a case of math illiteracy), perhaps due to being around math and science people most of my life. While I can understand confusing the two momentarily in casual conversation if you're not used to using decimals for your job, I have a really tough time buying that they are sincere here by the end, after he's gone over it so many times. This is what I mean when I say that sometimes you can have conversations with people and all of a sudden they will just say nonsensical things. Computers fail current Turing tests once they say non sequiturs, but if I read a transcript of this phone conversation without hearing their voices, I would be hard pressed to agree that it was actually a real adult human saying these things. At most, I could imagine a homeless person who had almost no contact with society for most of their life. A person with a job in an office somewhere where they are allowed to talk to customers? No way, nuh uh.


( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2006 06:28 am (UTC)
I think you seriously overestimate how many people have even the most rudimentary understanding of what decimals mean. Just because it's supposed to be 3rd grade curriculum doesn't mean people actually learn it. It seems like plenty of people even get college degrees without understanding fractions and decimals. (Ever read any of the math-education-oriented blogs like http://learningcurves.blogspot.com? Some of the stories of stupid things students write or say are terrifying.)
Dec. 10th, 2006 09:19 am (UTC)
I guess I'm already shocked enough when I find college students taking intro physics classes who don't know a sine from a cosine, or what a derivative is (after having supposedly taken calculus), but this is so much worse. I realize not everybody takes calculus, and some people never even take trig or in some cases algebra. But I thought pretty much anyone, as long as they've graduated high school or made it most of the way through, should be pretty familiar with decimals.

I don't know what makes me so terrified about hearing about this kind of thing. A part of me wants to say "let it go... it doesn't matter." But somehow I can't help but feel like this is somehow closely connected to the statistics on how many people believe things like the earth is 3000 years old, or that Noah fit 2 of every kind of animal on an Ark and sailed around for a few weeks while the grand canyon got carved out. Both of them make my jaw drop, and I just think to myself "how do these people figure out how to brush their teeth in the morning, or function at all." I think there's some key thing I'm just missing about human behavior... that's never quite made sense to me. Some way in which people have of thinking/acting without rhyme or reason, but somehow still managing to pull off raising a family, paying the bills, and being perceived as relatively sane by their friends.
Dec. 12th, 2006 10:56 pm (UTC)
OMG, you were not kidding...

This is the kind of thing where I think it's worth finding and interviewing the student to try to find out what was actually going through their head. Do you think there's a chance that some students just have no idea what the answer is so they try to be funny?
Dec. 10th, 2006 06:42 am (UTC)
The rate IS .002 DOLLARS per KB. The computer calculated it that way. The problem arose when (to his glee) someone quoted him 0.002 cents, probably because when someone sees a decimal, they just say "cents" because we're used to things to the right of a decimal as being cents. I dont know if they quote this to everyone, or if someone just quoted it to him when he called to ask.

I think this happened:

He called to find the rate. The idiot on the phone looks it up, and sees:

"NationalAccess roaming in Canada will be charged at a rate of $0.002/KB"
(taken from verizon's site)

Idiot reads $0.002/KB out loud as "point zero zero two cents per kilobyte". Because he doesn't know how to deal with a 3 digit number of "cents". At this point the customer is shocked at the cheapness (or just knows its wrong), and requests this person make a note on his account that he was quoted this rate. (note that on the recording he had them make a note of what he was quoted on his account several times). He made them make this note because he KNEW it was a mistake, it just couldnt be that cheap.

The computer bills appropriately, and he calls back, and points out to them that they quoted him in cents. The problem arises when these people are staring at computer screens that they know CANT be wrong saying he owes $70 bucks. They work the problem, get the same number, and see a dollar sign on the screen next to the number they just got.

Here is where your poll comes in. Did they realize (from the bill) that its OBVIOUSLY not in cents, and played dumb to cover their asses. Or did they trust their computer over the customer on the phone AND not understand simple math and units. This would explain the "opinion" statement and the "there is no such thing as 0.002 cents" statement. It also explains why after looking it up, the first guy quoted it IN CENTS again just like the first person before he went to canada did. They both saw $0.002 and said .002 cents. It wouldn't have taken him 3 minutes just to read what was already quoted in his file, obviously he looked up the real international rates and made the SAME mistake AGAIN.

I can believe that your average college graduate working in a call center would assume that 0.anything is cents. They see it everyday in their life. $0.50 is 50 cents. The mistake comes when they call it POINT 50 cents.

Also, if they were covering their asses, they wouldnt have made so many mistakes and misstatements. They'd just repeat over and over what they'd already said in hopes he'd get bored and hang up. Which is what happened.

He did a poor job with his examples. He was using simple math, but he said things that were confusing and beside the point. Granted, he's not a 3rd grade math teacher, but he could have done better. I really think they didn't understand him. Its hard to ignore a computer and trust some guy. They didnt even think about the problem, they already knew the answer, they were just trying to work backwards and explain to the customer why his bill is what it is.

Someone on my friends list just posted that he was denied a job in a call center at cingulair because he didnt have a 4 year degree. He would never make this mistake. Perhaps college really DOES make you stupider.
Dec. 10th, 2006 08:39 am (UTC)

They both saw $0.002 and said .002 cents.

Ok, that makes sense... but how can they not agree when he asks "do you agree that there is a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents"? This was the very first question he asked when the mp3 starts, and that in itself should have been enough for the to go "oh, I meant dollars, not cents"... but instead, they kept insisting that X dollars and X cents are the same, after which he tries everything else he can to figure out where they are not getting it. Yet they still don't see what he's getting at.

He did a poor job with his examples. He was using simple math, but he said things that were confusing and beside the point.

I thought he did a much better job than I could have done. After the first 2 lines, I think I would have involuntarily started screaming "you fucking pieces of shit, dollars are not cents. Now give me my money back." Instead he came up with all sorts of ways of highlighting their errors and inconsistencies. Like getting the guy to say 2/10 of a penny and then 2/1000 of a cent right after it. Or pointing out that paying for a $20,000 car with 20,000 pennies is not going to work. Which part of what he said did you find irrelevant?
(no subject) - lars_larsen - Dec. 10th, 2006 10:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2006 08:57 am (UTC)

This would explain the "opinion" statement and the "there is no such thing as 0.002 cents" statement.

Actually, it wouldn't bother me nearly as much if they had said "there is no such thing as .002 cents". Maybe they just think all prices should be in dollars (which is, after all, the convention) which makes a decent amount of sense. However, that's not what she said... she said "there is no such thing as .002 dollars", implying that you can have a fraction of a cent, but not a fraction of a dollar!
(no subject) - lars_larsen - Dec. 10th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 10th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2006 07:04 am (UTC)
I've seen this kind of thing before. I come across it every once in a while in small print, promotions, sale signs, that sort of thing and I always think "oh, they must mean dollars, look how dumb" and then move on. I have never come across someone actually trying to win this argument, however, and that probably comes down to the fact that it made a difference to him, he had it confirmed in advance and then they proceeded to try to stick to their script instead of actually hearing him. That you and I and millions of other people understand the math and see the problem is irrelevant. We assume math is a universal language. But there are too many people floating around who don't get it at some basic level, but they're invested in assuming their literature is correct.

The background chatter while he's holding is the part that's telling. I have a feeling he's absolutely right. They actually *mean* dollars, but because there's a decimal point present they think "but that's less than a dollar, so let's say cents" and then they just go ahead and say "cents" without seeing the problem at all. This whole thing is closer to a philosophical argument than a math one, to tell you the truth. The same kind of thing happens when two people argue and one is trying to use actual logic while the other doesn't care about inconsistencies. You have to agree that you both care, otherwise the whole argument is moot. I've had a few of those in the last few days, and I'm soooooo spent. But we don't have to go there.

Chances are that at some point here, if this gets publicized enough, a Verizon accountant will get involved. I'm pretty confident that once that happens, they'll solve his problem. Whether anyone else follows suit to fix their literature and "rate sheets" is what I'd like to see.
Dec. 10th, 2006 07:42 am (UTC)
This whole thing is closer to a philosophical argument than a math one

what? you sound like the rep who said "that's a matter of opinion."

the amount ".002 cents" holds a fixed value whether you know what that value is or not. it has nothing to do with the logic or philosophy of any of the parties.
(no subject) - urlgirl - Dec. 10th, 2006 07:52 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lars_larsen - Dec. 10th, 2006 08:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - urlgirl - Dec. 10th, 2006 09:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 10th, 2006 09:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lars_larsen - Dec. 10th, 2006 10:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 10th, 2006 08:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - urlgirl - Dec. 10th, 2006 09:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 10th, 2006 09:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lars_larsen - Dec. 10th, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 10th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lars_larsen - Dec. 10th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 10th, 2006 07:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2006 07:47 am (UTC)
i believe it.

true story: there is an engineering professor at berkeley who was working on a paper with craig evans (this story was told to me by evans) who came in one day very exciting, claiming to have "proved" something crucial to their paper. evans looked at it and it turned out the engineering professor had plugged in numbers (the ones for the trivial case, at that) and the answer turned out as expected.

this is an engineering professor at berkeley.

now, if we scale that back to verizon customer service rep. i can easily see how s/he would be confused about .002 cents and .002 dollars.

most people are far from literate in math. sad but true.
Dec. 10th, 2006 08:26 am (UTC)

now, if we scale that back to verizon customer service rep. i can easily see how s/he would be confused about .002 cents and .002 dollars.

I can totally see how they could be confused... what I can't see is how, after he explains it a dozen times, in every possible way, how they could remain confused! That's what I don't get here.
Dec. 10th, 2006 08:59 am (UTC)
You'd think an office worker would know more than this...o.O Unless you've never had a lick of education, I think you should know that. Geeze. How...the...FUCK...do you get dollars and cents mixed up?
Dec. 10th, 2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
A girl in a freshman honor's class at my school thought "Me be rockin'" was a grammatically correct English sentence. She is however, failing said class. So I don't know how relevant this analogy is. But she's in college goddammit, and if she can continue to write fragmented, nonsensical, informal and inappropriate sentences in her thesis papers while still not understanding WHY exactly she is failing, then it is conceivable to me that fully grown, college educated people could not understand the difference, even after repeated explanation, between dollars and cents.

However, I am a devils advocate. It is my opinion that this was most likely a cover up for fraud.


Dec. 10th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)

I think it's the last one mixed with a healthy dose of the first one. They don't want to understand because it would mean that he was right and only owed $0.71, so they encounter a convenient mental block about math. Not even necessarily a purposeful one. More of a "Well, our billing system just can't be this wrong so he's either trying to confuse me with math or he doesn't know what he's talking about."

In my opinion he makes a few minor mistakes in explaining things that let them weasel out to the wrong conclusion. For example, when the uber-supervisor person decides to write 1 cent as 0.01, he shouldn't have let her get away with it.

Dec. 12th, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)
Non technical people (ie people who work in call centers) don't really learn the concept of "units" the way people who study physics do. I listened to the recording and thought it was just as silly and sad as all of you but the issue here is not what it sounds like to people who understand the idea of units. The problem is that the phrases ".002 cents" and ".002 dollars" don't have a clear meaning to people who don't really grasp units. Of course everyone has a rudimentary grasp of units; everyone nows that .002 apples is different from .002 oranges. With that said, in money in the US, people determine the units by looking for a decimal point. If there is a decimal point, the stuff to the right is less than a dollar, which in their minds means cents. If there is no decimal point, then the units are dollars. The $ means "money" to most people in the US who haven't studied units. So "$5" would be "five dollars" and "$.05" would be "five cents". Due to this reading ".002 dollars" and ".002 cents" would both be ways of saying "$.002". Of course these people would agree that if you take a dollar and a penny and consider equal ratios of them, their values would not be equal. To these people, that's not what he is saying when he says "Do you recognize a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents?" Without a physics style grasp of units the question becomes "Do you recognize a difference between one way of saying $.002 and another way of saying $.002?" . The lady asked him what ".002 cents" would "look like" to him. This is the giveaway that she doesn't grasp units and in her mind the decimal point's presence determined the units.
Dec. 12th, 2006 10:29 pm (UTC)

Non technical people (ie people who work in call centers) don't really learn the concept of "units" the way people who study physics do.

Well, it's a fact that they are taught it, and expected to know it in elementary school. Look at any 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th grade, etc. curriculum and it will be in there. This is true regardless of whether the person goes on to work in physics, or build houses, or wait tables, or work in a call center. But I suppose that you're right, that doesn't necessarily mean they learn it. Although what I don't understand, is how they end up getting passed by their teachers grade after grade, without a basic understanding of the concepts being taught.

I think it is true that the more you use something, the more familiar it becomes, and I will certainly admit that I've ended up using units a lot lot more than the average person and this may bias my perception of the whole thing. However, I still think there is a problem here.

The $ means "money" to most people in the US who haven't studied units.

But everyone in the US has studied units, at least dollars and cents. It's required by law. And if they didn't do well at it in elementary school and move on to more advanced topics like division and percentages, then they probably studied it even more in middle school and high school. Part of the whole point of going over money in the first 3 grades of school is to make sure that the children know that the $ sign is different from the cent sign, and that they don't just mean "money", one means 100 times the other.

I think you're probably right in your explanation of what was going through their heads. I also would like to thank you for explaining it, because it makes some of what they were saying on the phone make a little more sense. But in using terms like "non-physics-style grasp" I think you're contributing to the idea that this is something most people shouldn't have to know in order to do non-physics jobs. I think that's a dangerous attitude to take, and it supports a system where a lot of people do not understand economics, or what it means when they are charged a certain amount per minute or kilobyte, or whatever. It's even worse when it's someone whose job is supposed to be helping people figure out their bills... something I think they should absolutely be fired for. Would you agree that this is a big problem that needs to be addressed, and not just something only math and science people should care about?
(no subject) - ikioi - Dec. 12th, 2006 11:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 13th, 2006 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Dec. 13th, 2006 06:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Dec. 13th, 2006 06:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 13th, 2006 09:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Dec. 13th, 2006 08:59 am (UTC) - Expand
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )


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