June 27, 2008

Verizon Ad Man: ‘Can You Hear Me Now?’

By Heather Caliendo

Ken Lee jumps out of a white truck wearing red suspenders and a black shirt sporting the words Verizon Wireless.

For several years, Verizon commercials have featured a dark- haired man with horn-rimmed glasses, saying the all-too-familiar question, "Can you hear me now?"

But for Lee, who more resembles Santa Claus than the actor from those commercials, those five words are not just a slogan, but part of a day's work.

"That guy in the commercial is a fraud - I'm the real thing," he said with a laugh. "The ad slogan is trying to make the public understand we have this program where we physically test our network."

Lee is part of a team that Verizon sends out across the country to study how customers' experiences are on its network. Besides testing its own network, Verizon purchased cell phones from competitors to measure their capabilities, as well. About 90 trucks with equipment costing a quarter of a million dollars travel on fixed routes and collect data.

Lee pulled into Tulsa with a truck that looked normal except for the small antennas scattered across the roof. The passenger seat has two laptops - one for data connection and the other for voice calls.

Lee drives about 3,000 miles monthly and covers Oklahoma, north Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. The units focus on areas that have 15,000 people or more in a square mile.

"My life, about two-thirds of the time, I'm literally out driving," he said. "We usually drive the same routes over and over so the data is comparable with each time."

For his Tulsa route, Lee has installed seven phones that are programmed to make calls at the same time. While he steers the truck and monitors the equipment, the phones are making 20 calls an hour back to computers in a Verizon office.

"The computers talk to each other, they get synchronized and it passes voice clips," he said. "We can measure the quality of the voice clip so we can tell how good a call is and how clear."

He said studies show the average length of a cell phone call is two and half minutes, so the phones are programmed to call the computers for that length. Lee said if the data comes up with any problems for the Verizon phone, engineers are sent out on site.

Lee said testing Verizon's capability gives them an advantage over competitors.

"Our claim is that we are the best network, and our data proves it - I collect the data that proves it," he said. "One of our competitors over a year ago said they have fewer dropped calls than we did, but they don't say that anymore."

Lee said that sometimes he is faced with a boring drive but would rather drive around the country than be in a cubicle. He said that since the company has implemented the teams, its sales and market shares have continued to go up.

"The main thing is I've been doing this eight years and the service was very good when we started, but it's better now and I'm proud to have helped with that," he said.

Originally published by Heather Caliendo.

(c) 2008 Journal Record - Oklahoma City. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.