A customer-service journey: upgrading my mom’s Fios TV boxes

No family visit can be that complete for somebody in my line of work without some tech support for relatives, and this week that took the form of getting my mom’s Fios TV boxes replaced so she could get on a cheaper TV plan. I thought that would be a simple errand, but it was not.

Step one was to call Verizon to put in the order, dumping her old “More Fios TV” plan for a cheaper “Your Fios TV” bundle with fewer channels and a little more customization possibilities. To complete that switch, I’d also have to drop off her two old TV boxes and pick up two newer Fios TV One models compatible with this offering Verizon introduced in January of 2020.

(My Patreon readers may recall reading about the first part of this customer-service interaction, back in July; for a variety of reasons, nobody had gotten around to doing the box exchange, leaving only Mom’s Internet service changed.)

I lucked out by having an extraordinarily patient and helpful rep named King answer my call. He walked me through the ordering process, explaining the various options available, then called the nearest Fios service location (a third-party shop) to verify that they had two of these new boxes. He also said the $50 hardware-upgrade fee we’d been quoted before would no longer apply, and we promptly got an e-mail confirmation of the order he’d put in. Great!

My brother and I drove to that location, barely 10 minutes away, and then things started going sideways. After waiting on line at this store as people ahead of me had various issues with their phones addressed, I sat down before a rep and showed the boxes and the order number we’d just gotten. He looked that up and showed me a screen indicating we’d need a technician to install the boxes. I replied that we’d had a lengthy phone conversation informing us otherwise and asked if he could double-check that, after which he did some more investigation and then said the store didn’t have any of these new boxes anyway. Not great!

The rep did look up which other authorized service locations might have them, called one to confirm, and gave me the address–about a 25-minute drive away. My brother had to get back to work, so I endured traffic crawling along some of the less scenic parts of U.S. 1 solo. At the second place, I barely waited for a rep to look up my order, collect the old boxes, hand me two new ones–a larger one for the primary TV in the living room, a smaller one for the bedroom TV–along with a printed receipt and a second printout listing a tech-support number in case of trouble.

On the drive home, King called me to verify that I’d gotten the boxes; I said I had but it had taken much longer than expected, so he couldn’t switch out the old TV plan just yet.

And then when I plugged the larger box into the living-room TV, its setup stalled at a screen saying it couldn’t download required data because it needed an activation number that should have been on the receipt but was not.

I called Verizon yet again and lucked out a second time when another incredibly helpful and patient rep pick up, and I wish I’d jotted down her name. She asked me to read out the serial number on that new box, then plugged that into the system to get the box activated. This took her a good 30 minutes, most of which I occupied by rearranging wires and boxes under the TV to tidy up the layout. 

Finally, the remote activation worked. We repeated the process on the second box in much less time, with the only hiccup coming when I had to power-cycle it after it stalled out in the setup.

The next morning, King called yet again to confirm that the new boxes were working fine, then completed the plan changeout. Verizon executives, please look up this gentleman and give him a raise. I’d also like to see the same recognition given to the second phone rep.

After all of this, my mom has a cheaper TV bill, two boxes that take up less space, an onscreen interface that’s much faster and a good deal cleaner (see after the jump for the settings I changed), and compact voice-controlled remotes that don’t look like their hardware designers got paid by the button.

I’m glad I was able to do that for my mom. And I’m glad I only have Fios Internet and so am at no danger of repeating this particular experience at home.

Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Twitter buys Brief, iMessage mess

Once upon a time, you could count on August to be a slow news month. The Trump administration put an end to that–and even with Trump gone, the pandemic will ensure nobody gets a break from breaking-news alerts anytime soon.

Screengrab of podcast episode page as seen in Chrome for Android7/28/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast by Parks Associates, Mark Vena

My industry-analyst pal now works at Parks Associates instead of Moor Insights & Strategy, but the podcast he hosts continues to run on the same outlines. My contribution to this week’s episode, once again featuring my fellow tech scribs Stewart Wolpin and John Quain, was to call out the ridiculous pricing Verizon has slapped on its new Fios TV streaming apps.

7/30/2021: Twitter buys Brief, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on for a few minutes to discuss Twitter buying the news-recap app Brief.

7/30/2021: Are your iMessage texts disappearing? The answer might just be checking your email, USA Today

Yet another episode of messages from an iPhone-using friend going to my iPad instead of my phone finally pushed me to dig into how Apple’s iMessage routes your chats. This column is paywalled, but the headline basically spells out the fix: If you use an Android phone, remove your regular e-mail address from your Apple ID profile.

Weekly output: Verizon earnings, Netflix casting, Verizon Fios TV apps, Redbox + Wurl, AT&T earnings, Twitter tests downvotes, Locast comes to Pittsburgh

I spent three days filling in at my trade-pub client FierceVideo covering industry developments–which allowed me to spotlight yet another example of customer abuse by a telecom conglomerate.

7/21/2021: Verizon Q2 earnings show video continuing to shrivel, FierceVideo

As I wrote in a Forbes post months ago, the sales pitch awaiting at Verizon’s site suggests this company is already acting like a post-pay-TV provider.

7/21/2021: Netflix launches in-house casting department, FierceVideo

Before writing this post, I would have guessed that Netflix had set up its own casting operation long ago, but I’m not exactly a student of Hollywood’s workings.

Screenshot of the story as seen on an iPad mini's copy of Safari

7/22/2021: Verizon adds Apple TV, Fire TV apps for Fios TV, FierceVideo

I had this story mostly written when I thought I should step through the ordering process on Verizon’s site to see if it would suggest its new Apple TV and Fire TV apps as alternatives to renting its Fios TV boxes–and then I was surprised and annoyed to see the company list a $20 monthly fee for the privilege of using these apps. Verizon’s inability to read the room here–even after it’s seen more than 20% of its TV subscriber base boil away in the last four years–is something to behold.

7/22/2021: Redbox turns to Wurl to boost its free-with-ads streaming TV, FierceVideo

My editor asked me to write up this bit of embargoed news she’d gotten; no problem.

7/22/2021: AT&T continues to shed video subs but touts HBO Max success, FierceVideo

AT&T’s earnings call confused me more than a little when the company spent so much time talking up the HBO Max video business that it will soon spin off into an independent company.

7/22/2021: Twitter tests downvotes, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to discuss Twitter’s new experiment in letting some iOS users downvote replies–with that negative feedback only shown to the authors of those replies, not to the general Twitter public.

7/23/2021: Locast lights up Pittsburgh, FierceVideo

My last post for Fierce this week covered the expansion of this non-profit organization’s free streaming of local broadcast stations to the Pittsburgh market, which I used as an opportunity to educate readers about that region’s unusual second-person plural pronoun “yinz.”

Weekly output: T-Mobile and Verizon wireless home broadband, sports on streaming TV, MLB streaming (x2), Netflix earnings, WiFi hotspots, the future of live events, Fios TV, WWE, Facebook’s new audio features, Mark Vena podcast

The list you see below reflects a lot of work done in earlier weeks–three virtual panels recorded in advance, plus a Wirecutter update that I started researching last year.

4/19/2021: Time to cut internet cords: T-Mobile, Verizon up their bids to be your next home broadband, USA Today

I wrote about the fixed-wireless home-broadband services now available from these two carriers–one of which looks better positioned to let more Americans dump their local cable or telco monopoly.

4/19/2021: A key lesson of sports on OTT: first, do no lag, FierceVideo

An editor at this trade pub asked if I could fill in with coverage of an online event they were hosting. That work started with a write-up of a panel about lessons learned in distributing live sports events on over-the-top (aka “OTT,” meaning delivered on a third party’s broadband) video services.

Screenshot of the panel as seen on an iPad, with me at the left and Marinak at the right4/20/2021: Keynote Interview: Producing OTT Sports Content, StreamTV Sports Summit

I didn’t just write about Fierce’s conference, I also participated in it by interviewing Chris Marinak, Major League Baseball’s chief operations and strategy officer. You can watch our banter after registering with your e-mail or Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts; meanwhile, take a close look at the screenshot at the right and you may be able to recognize the Nationals bobblehead I’d placed on my desk for this recording.

4/20/2021: MLB to RSNs: It’s time to think direct-to-consumer, FierceVideo

Fierce then invited me to write up my own appearance at its show, so I led with Marinak’s answer to my question about his statements in a March season-preview event that MLB wants regional sports networks to sell game coverage direct to subscribers instead of making them sign up for a big pay-TV bundle. (I’d covered those earlier comments in an Opening Day post at Forbes.) Marinak reiterated that stance, and my recap got picked up at a few places; among them, Awful Announcing‘s Andrew Bucholtz and The Streamable‘s Jason Gurwin provided useful context.

4/21/2021: Netflix subscriber growth downshifts in Q1, FierceVideo

I wrote one more post for Fierce, in this case because the usual reporter was taking a just-in-case day off after getting his second dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Netflix earnings are less annoying to cover than those of other tech companies, because NFLX posts an “earnings interview” video instead of making people listen to an audio-only recording on which all the executives usually sound alike.

4/21/2021: The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot, Wirecutter

This overdue update to the guide I’d last revised in those innocent days of early 2020 brings a new 5G-specific pick, T-Mobile’s M2000 hotspot. AT&T and Verizon’s 5G hotspots, lacking the midband 5G T-Mo offers, were nowhere close–and yet Verizon’s LTE remains so good that the top pick went to the same Vz 4G hotspot as last year.

4/21/2021: Preparing for the return to live, Collision

I started this interview of Nathan Hubbard (formerly of Musictoday, Ticketmaster, Twitter and Rival) by mentioning the last game and concert I’d attended in the Before Times. That last musical event was a John Hiatt set at the Birchmere, which led Hubbard to recount how he’d once played that Alexandria venue himself.

4/21/2021: Verizon’s Slumping Video-Subscriber Numbers: Here’s What A Post-TV Provider Looks Like, Forbes

Seeing Verizon lose another stadium’s worth of pay-TV subscribers led me to take a closer look at both its Fios TV service and its sales pitch for it online, which at this point represents the softest of sells.

4/22/2021: WWE: Breaking down the data, Collision

I talked to WWE CTO Rajan Mehta about the network’s applications of technology… after offering the disclaimer that not only am I not anybody’s idea of a WWE viewer, as a D.C.-based journalist I must self-identify as a C-SPAN man.

4/22/2021: Facebook Exec Sounds Off On Its New Audio Features, Forbes

Fidji Simo, who heads Facebook’s app efforts, spoke at a couple of Collision panels about the social network’s upcoming audio features–while other Collision speakers made some good points about Facebook’s history of not thinking through the implications of new products and features.

4/24/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (4-23-21), Mark Vena

I returned to my tech-analyst friend’s podcast to discuss Apple’s announcements from its “Spring Loaded” event and talk about my findings from testing 5G hotspots around the D.C. area.

 

Weekly output: wearables and privacy, Verizon Custom TV, Tech Titans, EMV credit cards

My streak of never getting an invitation to the White House Correspondents Dinner continued, although I once again partook of Yahoo’s hospitality at their pre-dinner reception. I am okay with that streak; I look at it as one of my few remaining bits of indie cred.

4/20/2015: A Conversation on Wearables, State of the Net Wireless 2015

At the end of this half-day policy conference, I quizzed Center for Democracy and Technology president Nuala O’Connor about the privacy issues posed by wearable gadgets like the Apple Watch.

4/21/2015: Verizon’s ‘Custom TV’ Fixes Overpriced Channel Bundles — or Does It?, Yahoo Tech

I applauded Verizon for finally taking a step I’d suggested back in 2004: letting viewers buy packs of related channels instead of making them buy up to a higher tier of service. I was a lot less excited to see equipment fees and other surcharges inflate the advertised $54.99 price by over a third.

Washingtonian Tech Titans page4/23/2015: Tech Titans, Washingtonian

Every two years, the magazine puts together this list of “the most important people in digital Washington,” and this time around enough D.C.-tech types apparently spoke well of me to get me included in this list. I am honored and flattered by that. (The story’s not online yet, but I’ll add a link once it is. 5/4: Link added.)

4/26/2015: Chip-card security remains scarce in wallets, USA Today

A half-day conference I attended Thursday gave me some useful material for this update on the “EMV” chips that remain absent from all but one of our credit cards–and which have yet to see any retail use on that Amex. There’s also a tip about a new Sprint international-roaming offer with a nasty surprise in its fine print, something I first covered in an April 13 update to my Wirecutter guide to wireless carriers that was too small to mention here.