why don’t people understand dollars and cents?

December 11, 2006 at 10:29 pm | | news, science and the public, wild web

There’s a strange problem being reported by multiple people on the internets: Verizon cannot (or refuses to) grasp the difference between 0.002 dollars per kilobyte and 0.002 cents per kilobyte—obviously a 100-fold difference. Their confusion is clear: they seem to believe that a fraction of a dollar is called a “cent.” When asked Do you recognize the difference between 0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents?, the customer service rep replied, No, they’re the same thing.

For those of us who have ever converted megapancakes per second to picoyummies (conversion factor: 1018 y*s/p), this seems pretty idiotic (and soooo frustrating). (And it seems that the Verizon customer service people need to be trained to be a little more respectful and helpful, and to listen to their customers.) Plus, this may be a societal problem of the reluctance to think in abstracts (e.g. units). But I also have to be sorta the bad guy and point out that—while not their job to teach the Verizon idiots how to do very simple math and finance—these people who spoke to several customer service reps and managers need to take a little responsibility for failing to communicate effectively.

Of course I understood what the wronged customers were saying, but I’m well educated in math (just as they seem to be). I would have used the same tactics, analogies, and examples that they did. And I would have failed to convey the problem, too. Especially without the help of a blackboard, time, or patience (on either end), clarifying the difference between 0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents might be an impossible task. But I’m still disappointed that the well educated customers failed—and failed again and again using nearly identical tactics.

So maybe the bad Verizon math scandal is a wake-up call for both sides—the educators and the desperately-needing-to-be-educated-even-just-a-little—that, if at first you don’t succeed, try again a different way.

4 Comments »

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  1. Oh. My. God. Go here. Listen to the audio. Commence head slapping. The good news is that it did get solved in the end. (via Everyday Scientist)

    Pingback by Spectroscope — December 12, 2006 #

  2. Maybe the service reps don’t understand, but shouldn’t those in charge of billing? Who in verizon made this mistaken in the first place, and was it on purpose?

    Comment by william — December 12, 2006 #

  3. came accross this blog and wanted to comment.

    0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents are the same. cents vs cent implies 100 (plural being 100 in this case vs. singular form) to equalize dollars to cents for speaking and writing out and are widely understood among most people.

    the correct way to write this is (.002) cents or $0.002 but we can’t speak with () or $ so it’s more of a semantic argument where a cent is 1 of 100 and cents is an implied 100 or dollar.

    -Kirk

    Comment by Kirk — February 16, 2009 #

  4. Cents (plural) does not imply 100 or dollar, especially when there is a number in front of it, as there is in 0.002 cents. Consider 50 cents. That is definitely half (0.5) of a dollar–not 50 dollars! Or consider 10 cents or 5 cents. These are obviously what we know as a dime and a nickel, respectively. To then take the analogy further and say 0.002 cents means 2 thousandths of a cent. It certainly does not all of a sudden imply that we mean 2 thousandths of a dollar!

    Comment by Adam — February 18, 2009 #

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