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Proudly Flaunting Ignorance PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

verizonThere seems to be no limit to the willingness of ignorant people to demonstrate their lack of understanding.  This example shows how abysmally some folks at Verizon failed at simple 4th-grade-level arithmetic.  Go to http://tinyurl.com/r2l5ar and hear part of a telephone discussion between a customer and the Verizon geniuses concerning a billing item. This incredible exchange runs just over 3 minutes. I suggest you first listen to this, then return here...  Go!

A good question for the Verizon geniuses could have been, "Is 100% of a cent the same amount as 100% of a dollar?"  If their answer were "No," follow that with "Is .002 percent of a cent the same amount as .002 percent of a dollar?"  The answer to both questions has to be the same...

This would be hilarious, if it weren't so scary.  How uninformed can people get, and still be so willing to defend their ignorance?

If you can stand the entire brouhaha, go to http://tinyurl.com/lvo35f and suffer...

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written by MadScientist, August 19, 2009
Huh. I wonder if that's the sort of "New Math" that scared the hair off Adam Savage when he was passing through Canada using his mobile modem.
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written by AndyD, August 19, 2009
I once had a similar run-in with a poltician's office. I had complained of a situation in which if I earned an extra dollar one week, the tax office would take 30 cents of it from me and the social security office would deduct 70 cents from my wife's parenting benefits.

$1 - $0.30 - $0.70 = $0.00 = 100% effective tax on the extra dollar.

I got the following reply:

"I take on board fully that you do not agree with the way the system is structured however to say you are being taxed 100% means the logical extension of that argument is that you are taxed at 30% and your wife at 70% so we are talking about two taxed incomes (70% + 30% / 2)= 50% tax by the logic of that extrapolation."

So, in case you missed it, their argument was that if the one of the partners earns a shared dollar and the government then takes a dollar in total off the couple, the couple really only lose 50% of the dollar because there's two people sharing the original dollar so you have to divide the 100% in half.

I think they assumed that if they used words like "logic" and "extrapolation" (even if their usage was somewhat tortured), and if they used what must have looked like complicated arithmetic to them, that I'd be so impressed I'd realise that 100-100=50. Strangely, I was less than impressed.
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written by VincentGuitar, August 19, 2009
oh boy, this is shameful beyond recognition.
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written by Cian, August 19, 2009
Teacher: "Who can tell me what 7 times 6 is?"
Student: "It's 42!"
Teacher: "Very good! - And who can tell me what 6 times 7 is?"
Same student: "It's 24!"

.... that student went on to a great career with verizon smilies/grin.gif
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Post Office - Same Workers?
written by Liveliest Crib, August 19, 2009
Yes, Verizon is one of the worst companies with which it has ever been my displeasure to deal.

I wonder if these are the same folks who, when I had to call the Berkeley post office regarding their continued failure to deliver my mail, told me to come to meet with the manager at "10 pm."

"When?" I asked.

"10 pm," he repeated, angrily.

"P-m?" I asked again, incredulously.

"Yeah, 10 pm, what's so hard about that?"

"Why 10 pm? Is anyone even going to be there?"

"That's when the manager shows up for work."

"At ten at night?"

"No, not at night, in the morning! Why would you think at night?"

"Because you said 10 pm. That's at night. You mean 10 am, right?"

"Oh, am/pm, what's the difference?"

I do wish I were kidding. I was so bad, I had to get a PO Box in a nearby city in order to receive any mail.
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written by dacium2007, August 19, 2009
The mathematics isn't the sad part, the same part is that people don't understand units of measure.

CENTS * units = CENTS
To get dollars you have to convert it:
CENTS * 1/100 * DOLLARS / CENT = DOLLARS

Yet none of the people even pick up on the units at all, they use them interchangably. Their maths otherwise was actually correct.


The original video is here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCJ3Oz5JVKs, it happened way back in 2006.

AndyD, I have seen the same problem in Australia. Here people can be charged 25% tax on a dollar, while at the same time loosing 75% of a welfare dollar. So their marginal tax rate is 100%... and they wonder why there is no incentive for these people to work. In same cases, because the parenting pensions are so high, people will have marginal rates in excess of 120% if they actually go to work. Of course when you point this out, because there gross tax rate is only 10% to 20% it is ignored and the politicians don't think that there is any problem, or as in your case they rationalise it by distributing it per person of the household etc.

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written by rjh02, August 19, 2009
I have seen something similar. If the post office cannot deliver a parcel to your home because you are not home they will leave a note saying pick up the parcel after 5pm. So people come at 5:30pm (or later). Problem the post office closes at 5:15...
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written by TDjazz, August 19, 2009
I just got up and listened to the recording with the Verizon representatives--I'm going back to bed.
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written by Andrew Wiggin, August 20, 2009
@ rjh02

The initial encounter was quite some time ago, but Verizon has managed to keep this issue quite current by not making its policies clear and by allowing its representatives to make claims based on dubious math. This particular incident is not a unique experience and represents a trend. Either NO ONE at verizon can do this simple math or the company is keeping the particular confusing 'dollars per unit'/'cents per unit' practice because it encourages confusion in the customer. I'm dreading the moment I have to deal with verizon every time I have an issue with my alltel phone. Alltel's customer service is bad enough.
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Post Office
written by dpskala, August 20, 2009
I have seen something similar. If the post office cannot deliver a parcel to your home because you are not home they will leave a note saying pick up the parcel after 5pm. So people come at 5:30pm (or later). Problem the post office closes at 5:15...
_______________________________________________________ ______________________

Er, rjh02 -- 10:00 AM the following day is after 5 PM. That is the way I always interpreted that message. I think the idea is to allow the carrier time to get back and leave the package at the post office for your retrieval.
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written by dpskala, August 20, 2009
I teach an intermediate algebra course at a community college, and we spend one whole week dealing with units and unit conversion. I always thought that it was a rather elementary topic to deal with on the college level, but I guess not. I like to assign a problem which involves converting US$/gallon gasoline price to Can$/liter (should you fill up before crossing the border?).

BTW, I am a satisfied Verizon customer. I'm sure you can find these kind of dummies in virtually any organization.

My favorite story involving innumerate employees relates to my stopping at a grocery store some years back where the cash register system was temporarily down. I grabbed an 85 cent item, took it to the register, and gave the clerk a dollar. She could not calculate the change due without using the register.
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written by GeekGoddess, August 20, 2009
I'm a bit disappointed to see Mr. Randi write about this. It's an old story that has been emailed over and over again. I most recently received it just this past summer, and could tell that it had been forwarded and copied to over one hundred people. It's the type of thing that drives Snopes.com.

Yes, the person didn't understand percentages and fractions. Yes, it's shameful. I blame calculators. Just as many schools no longer teach cursive writing, many schools do not drill students on basic arithmetic, because everyone has access to calculators. Unfortunately (or fortunately) those of us who are math and science literate can look forward to long careers.



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written by LovleAnjel, August 20, 2009
With the ubiquity of cell phone calculators, a lot of students have let their "in-head" math skills deteriorate (plus they only use their cellculators, so they can't do power, fractions or scientific notation). I remember a Chinese student in my class being horrified that American students did not have to memorize their tables & couldn't do multiplication or division on paper.

"I grabbed an 85 cent item, took it to the register, and gave the clerk a dollar. She could not calculate the change due without using the register."

If she's anything like me, she can't remember the sales tax rate. I'd be useless in that situation, too.
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written by Alan3354, August 20, 2009
This AM and PM business needs to be disposed of. Airports outside the US show time on a 24 hour basis.

Should I mention the metric system? Too soon?
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written by Alan3354, August 20, 2009
PS I had Continental Airlines set up for 24 hour time format. I once accidentally tickets for 9PM when I wanted 9AM. Now, the 9PM says 2100.

I once set an alarm clock to 4 PM, when I needed 4 AM, too.

What upside is there to the AM PM BS?
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written by Alan3354, August 20, 2009
oops ...accidentally bought...
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2+2=5
written by Realitysage, August 20, 2009
Perhaps that old cliche was started by Alexander Graham Bell.....
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written by ShowerComic, August 20, 2009
@LiveliestCrib's post about AM vs. PM reminds me of when we got a second phone line added in our old condo. -- The human scheduler (yes this was years ago - early 80's) mixed up the month and day, so I stayed home waiting and waiting and waiting. -- you get the idea.

Following that - the rescheduled appointment. -- The Technician found the two extra lines for the new phone number in the basement, and attempted to refuse to connect them to the existing wiring into the condo, without charging more money. -- (this was an old patch panel, where special tools were needed)

I knew it wasn't necessary for him to enter the condo, as we earlier had two phone lines. -- and it was easy enough for him to find the connection point. -- He basically said do this yourself, or pay up. But he also tried to claim entering the condo unit itself would incur an additional charge.
-- $$ installation fee, $$$$ to verify we get it right.
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"The answer to both questions has to be the same... "
written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009
I fear you have misunderestimated the intelligence of the geniuses at Verizon. The problem is that to them, logical and illogical arguments are both the same when you look at them on paperwise.
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Be kind
written by pxatkins, August 20, 2009
An estimated 20+ per cent of Westerners are functionally illiterate. I bet there's a weak spot in every one of us that could be highlighted and make us look like a numpty. Quick ... what's the capital of Ergotia? Poor mathy skills is not necessarily indicative of low intelligence.
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Clearing this up.
written by Sadhatter, August 20, 2009
I worked in a call center for over 6 years, the first 3 of which were great. The pay was excellent and due to this pride was taken with the job.

During my initial few years the job hiring was strict and limited to those over 20 and what is called " Quality " within the industry was looked into very carefully.

A quick run down of what i mean is things like tone of voice, knowledge and customer satisfaction were all priorities.

Think of this as customer focused customer service. Your "best" reps were the people who could handle issues quickly, had the most knowledge of their job and were good at dealing with customers.

Now fairly recently this focus was changed to what i would refer to as " corporation focused customer service" by this i mean that the focus was shifted from helping a customer in the best possible way, to measures designed to maximize cost effectiveness for individual locations.

Though there are many different "tricks" as i would call them, in this case it is fairly obvious that two particular measures are what was causing the issue.

1. Shortened training time.

A rep in this job can be trained to know the systems enough to functionally work within about a week. But this does not take into account the incidental knowledge required to do your job effectively and problem solve.

To have a person trained for telephone service in a manner that is going to get the most out of the experience for the customer about 2 months or 7 weeks or so is needed. Besides running the systems a rep needs to be trained on the specific type of math required , common misconceptions, how other departments work and a myriad of other things before they pick up the phone for the first time and say hello.

As of now most places have decided to forgo this bit of the training , baptizing the reps by fire as the case may be , and making them pick up this knowledge during working with customers.

This saves the company quite a bit of money but leads to situations like this. In which a rep. is encountering a problem he has not seen before, which should never happen.

2. Corporate focused customer service.

Reps at any level are now sales focused. Customer service is secondary to making a sale on every call. I could go on about the various ways in which this is done, but i think i can sum it up in a nutshell by a comment that was given to us by the highest management on a constant basis.

" Who cares if a customer gets mad at you? You are not going to talk to them again, and if you do, try to sell them another phone! We do not make money by making people happy, we make money by selling phones. "

So the long and short is, that when your talking to a sales rep they don't care about getting your issue taken care of. Their focus is keeping you on the line ( or in the store) and selling you something. And when you do speak to a dedicated customer service person, this is the b squad at best.

As a yard stick of this, think back a few years, the order you would have went if you called in would be

customer service>specific department needed>sales if needed

now almost universally it is

Sales>level 2 sales>customer service> specific department >sales

Not being part of the industry anymore the advice i can give is to complain en mas, and don't speak to a supervisor ( though the myth that it is just another person sitting beside them is false) for anything other than simply getting the location to send a letter to. And yes, sending the letter is the only way your going to get heard. Complaints at the supervisor or manager, or any other over the phone level ( or e-mail) are handled with credit at best and ignored at mid to worst.

Many people assume that the mail location simply gets tossed into the trash, but the reason the mail location exists is that the highest levels want to know someone is having enough of an issue that they are willing to sit down , spend the postage and write their concern. And not many people are willing to do this. I cannot count how many times i spoke to someone who would simply call back and speak to every manager and supervisor within 4 centers thinking eventually they would speak to a magic person that had a power no one else had.

Sorry for the tirade, but if you want this to change, organize some letter writing, asking for reps who are customer service focused, which to be honest are going to be reps who are trained well and paid well.
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We should collect these stories about companies with 'illogic' means of operating
written by Jobson, August 20, 2009
Seriously, I think that a collection would make a nice additional feature to this site. I'll give great insight in how employees actually operate within boundaries and goals set by higher management. And especially, at what point they stopped thinking from themselves. All from a scientific approach ofcourse. Now let me give you a nice example out of my own experience.

I live in the Netherlands and we have here our national pride and joy: TPG postal service (something like your Fedex).

They:
Promote them selves as being fast (which is quite nice for a postal service, but is doesn't cut any wood)
They promote themselves to be operating in such a way they spare our enviroment by letting some of their trucks run on natural gas. Less co2 production.

Here's the case and how it actually is brought into practice:
We don't have the 'send to post office' option when someone sends you a parcel. It simpy is not in their process.
That means packages are delivered almost always during the week, during business hours, during which, like most people like me, WORK!
That means we are not home! So they notice they are in front of closed door a leave you note! The note says: We will try again tomorrow. Great!
Next day, I am not there. I am at work! Again! So we get a second note: We cannot deliver, please pick up your parcel at the post office...the day after tomorrow!

So logically:
A parcel which I could have had on Monday (if they did have the send to post office option and I would have found a note by mail on monday and could have picked it up after work) is now available to me on Thursdays. 3 Days later!! smilies/angry.gif

What is it with this company? How fast is this delivery? How enviromentally friendly is it to ship a parcel 3 times before it actually reaches the customer?

It just blows my mind. smilies/cry.gif
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written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009

I think this would be my approach:

"Zero point zero zero two cents per kilobyte is zero point zero two cents per ten kilobytes, right?"
"What?"
"Like: if the rate were one tenth of a cent per kilobyte, then that would be equivalent to one cent per ten kilobytes, right?"
"No, sir, the rate is zero point zero zero two cents per kilobyte."
"I know that, but I'm just showing you how to convert from the rate per kilobyte to the rate per ten kilobytes. Okay?"
"Okay."
"So, zero point zero zero two cents per kilobyte is zero point zero two cents per ten kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"And zero point zero two cents per ten kilobytes is zero point two cents per hundred kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"And zero point two cents per hundred kilobytes is two cents per thousand kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"And two cents per thousand kilobytes is twenty cents per ten thousand kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"And twenty cents per ten thousand kilobytes is two hundred cents per hundred thousand kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"And two hundred cents is two dollars. So the charge is two dollars per hundred thousand kilobytes. And I only used thirty-five thousand eight hundred and ninety-six kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"Which is less than half of hundred thousand kilobytes, right?"
"Right"
"So I must owe you less than half of two dollars, right?"
"Um..."

But realistically:

"So I must owe you less than half of two dollars, right?"
"Um... no, it's point zero zero two cents per kilobyte, multiplied by thirty five thousand eight hundred and ninety-six, is seventy-one seventy-nine"
"Yes, seventy one point seven nine cents".
"No sir, seventy one dollars and seventy nine cents."
"I am going to come round and rip off your head and spit down your neck."
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
Should I mention the metric system? Too soon?


Mention it to the guys on Top Gear (England) and let me know how that goes.
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
"Zero point zero zero two cents per kilobyte is zero point zero two cents per ten kilobytes, right?"


Is it 2 cents? Or .02 cents? The latter is two 100ths of a cent... .02 dollars ($0.02) would be two cents.
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written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009
Is it 2 cents? Or .02 cents?


Is what 2 cents or .02 cents?

Just answer the question: do you agree that 0.002 cents per kilobyte is the same as 0.02 cents per 10 kilobytes? If not, would you like a job at Verizon?
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Relax dude
written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
I wasn't arguing with you, I was just wondering if they meant "2 cents" or ".02 cents" Not the same thing.

I agree that "0.002 cents per kilobyte is the same as 0.02 cents per 10 kilobytes", but are they really charging 2/1000s of a cent per kb?
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written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009
are they really charging 2/1000s of a cent per kb?


That's the entire point of the article (did you watch the video?!).

They intend to charge 2/1000ths of a dollar (0.2 cents) per kilobyte -- but they told the guy that they were charging 0.002 cents per kilobyte, because they don't understand the difference between $0.002 and 0.002¢.

And if you think this is an isolated incident at Verizon, see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdKwRdWocco
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written by JWideman, August 20, 2009
No, they aren't charging 2/1000s of a cent per kb. The issue is that they are CLAIMING they are.
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@hatfinch and JWideman
written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
Yes, that's the point I was making as well. But the quoted sections on the customer's part didn't clear that up. The customer in hatfinches should have said "Do you mean .002 CENTS or .002 DOLLARS".

If they said CENTS then you send them the payment and have done with it.
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written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009
The customer in hatfinches should have said "Do you mean .002 CENTS or .002 DOLLARS". If they said CENTS then you send them the payment and have done with it.


Why not watch the video before posting comments?
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
I've seen it before, as was said, it's old news. But your approach didn't resolve the problem...
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written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009
I've seen it before


Well either you've got a bad memory, or it went completely over your head then as well!
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
Whatever dude.
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written by hatfinch, August 20, 2009
Ah, I've only just noticed your website. IHBT.
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
Ah, and that means what?
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@Steel Rat
written by Kuroyume, August 20, 2009
Mention it to the guys on Top Gear (England) and let me know how that goes.


Love that show. Anybody brave enough to call Ford automobiles crap and then show it is great in my book. Don't worry, they'll anything that's crap 'crap'. Then they go on with a sense of humor about themselves. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
Anybody brave enough to call Ford automobiles crap and then show it is great in my book.


Lol, yeah. Then Jeremy buys a Ford GT...
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written by redwench, August 20, 2009
I always work with 24 hour time formats, both at work and personally. AFAIK, all the airlines do as well.
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@Steel Rat
written by Kuroyume, August 20, 2009
Lol, yeah. Then Jeremy buys a Ford GT...


Bloody Bastard! ;P

But he's still taller than Richard and faster than James.
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written by Steel Rat, August 20, 2009
I think everyone is taller than Hamster and faster than Captain Slow smilies/cool.gif
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written by Alan3354, August 21, 2009
written by redwench, August 20, 2009

I always work with 24 hour time formats, both at work and personally. AFAIK, all the airlines do as well.

All airlines, towers and Air Traffic Controllers use GMT, Greenwich Mean Time, commonly called Zulu time. Even small planes on local flights use Zulu time.
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written by Alan3354, August 21, 2009
In most of Texas, it's now 1320 CT, or 1920Z.
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written by gr8white, August 21, 2009
Several years ago the organization I worked for published a new form for customers to calculate their billing rates. The calculation involved multiplying the customer's volume (call it N1) by the basic rate (N2) and multiplying that by a variable percentage (N3). The printed form showed something like this:

N1___ x N2___ x N3___%

Problem was, to get the correct rate you didn't multiply by the fractional percentage as implied by the percent sign, but by the whole number (e.g., for 50% multiply by 50).

I pointed this error out to someone in the appropriate department who agreed it was incorrect, but he referred me to a manager who assured me it was correct.

To prove it to me he had me try the calculation out on a calculator (N3=50):

Him: Enter N1...times...N2...times...50

Me: OK, now I'll press the percent key.

Him: No. Just equals.

Me: Are we multiplying by 50 or 50 percent?

Him: It doesn't matter.

Me: Are you telling me multiplying by 50 is the same as multiplying by 50 percent?

Him: Yes.
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written by gr8white, August 21, 2009
I'm not sure how "Is .002 percent of a cent the same amount as .002 percent of a dollar?" would be a relevant question. They were talking about .002 cents vs. .002 dollars, not percentages thereof. .002 percent of a cent would be .00002 cents, likewise with dollars. Anyway that line of reasoning obviously wouldn't have worked as he did ask the right questions: is one dollar the same as one cent? etc. but the folks on the other end of the line just couldn't make the logical connection when he got to "is .002 dollars the same as .002 cents?".
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And here is how I would have done it...if I had thought of it
written by lyzyrdskyn, August 21, 2009
You have a piece of gold worth 1 dollar and a piece of gold worth 1 penny. You break each of them into 2000 pieces (or .002). That example has got to do it. If they don't get it after that...then they are not going to get it. I think the problem is not that they are stupid but they are part of an automated corporate machine that gave them bad information. There was either bad data in the script they were given or 'that is what the computer says and there is nothing they can do about it'.
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written by gr8white, August 22, 2009
No, I don't think any logical argument would allow them to get it.

I think the real problem is that they are conditioned to think that when they see money in a decimal form, the dollars are to the left of the decimal point and cents to the right. Thus the comment about "when you look at it on paper they look the same". I suspect if the quantity was 20 cents, they would also believe "point 20 cents" and "20 cents" are the same. They don't really understand it as a quantity of a given unit, just what they are conditioned to seeing as money. So when they multiply it out, they see the 70-some number to the left and automatically interpret it as dollars.

Probably the best solution would be to give them a script that eliminates the "point" altogether and expresses the quantity something like "two-tenths of a cent per kilobyte". Then even if the operator doesn't understand the significance the customer would be informed accurately. However once the operator goes off-script there could still be problems as that might lead them to use .2 as the multiplier and still interpret the result as dollars.
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written by LuigiNovi, August 23, 2009
LiveliestCrib: Verizon is one of the worst companies with which it has ever been my displeasure to deal.

Ever deal with Apple? The way they treat their customers will curl your toes.
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Wow
written by speedycash, August 28, 2009
Now that is customer service for you.
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written by latsot, August 28, 2009
Too many years ago I worked in a pub in rural England. There was no till (cash register) at all. There was just a drawer to keep the money in. I'd like to think that working there improved my arithmetic skills and it probably did a little bit. However, eventually I found myself just learning the total cost of various combinations of drinks. I could split large orders up into groups of drinks I knew the total cost of and eventually learned the price of combinations of combinations.

The surprising part is that price changes didn't hit me as hard as I expected. It took a few days to become fluent, but providing I remembered that the prices had changed, it was easy to adapt.

The sad part is that I don't think this has helped me in the slightest in later life. It seems to be a non-transferable skill.
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