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: 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.

 

Porting out a Verizon landline number, part 2: my Fios account survives, my Vz mail moves

When I last wrote about my experience porting out a land-line phone number to Ooma’s Internet-calling service, I was still a little antsy that Verizon would cancel our Fios Internet service.

I need not have. A few weeks later–without any further action on my part–Verizon’s online account page no longer listed ours as being disconnected, my next automatic payment had gone through as usual, and I could cash in some accumulated My Rewards+ points for a $10 Amazon gift card. And then I finally got my invitation to migrate my Verizon e-mail to AOL–almost two months after I’d written about that change for USA Today.

I opted to keep my verizon.net account, less because I plan to use it anytime soon and more because I had to experience this switchover firsthand after getting so many reader questions about it.

Verdict: fine. AOL’s site asked me to create a new password, choose from one of four preset (and not all that secure) security questions, and add a mobile number, presumably to confirm any strange logins in the future. AOL suggested I might have to wait a few hours for the messages to appear in my new inbox, but all 7,000-plus spam messages and the 50 or so legitimate e-mails accompanying them were waiting for me moments later.

Two weeks later, the single best part of having AOL manage my mail is having a spam filter that works. When I logged in today, I only had four messages waiting in my inbox, all legit, with 33 junk messages tucked away in the spam folder instead of littering my inbox the way they did on Verizon’s mail system.

The downside is a much tackier login experience, since AOL defaults to showing you its clickbait-stuffed “Today on AOL” page. To fix that and go directly to your inbox, click the Options menu at the top right corner of the page below your e-mail address, choose “Mail Settings,” and uncheck “Show me Today on AOL when signing in.” And for a recurring dose of 1990s nostalgia, check “Play ‘You’ve Got Mail’ alert at login if there are new messages.”

I still need to figure out why Verizon’s site thinks I should pay $127.99 for gigabit Fios, well above its advertised new-customer rates. But solving that (and finding a use case for that  much speed, versus a measly 50 or 100 Mbps) will have to wait for yet another post.

Keeping Fios while porting out a landline phone number can be tricky

For years, my secret shame has been that we still have a landline phone at home. Why? The number dates to 1997, so all my relatives know it and some of them still call it. Besides, I find the robocalls it attracts in campaign seasons weirdly fascinating.

Those things, however, weren’t worth the $15 Verizon charged us for the most minimal level of phone service. The obvious fix, one I endorsed in a 2015 USA Today column, was to port our number to an Internet-calling service. But months after third-party reviews and some testing of my own led me to pick Ooma‘s free service as that VoIP alternative, we were still wasting $15 a month–because I am sometimes slow and always easily distracted.

Finally, a Costco sale on a bundle of Ooma’s Telo VoIP adapter, a WiFi/Bluetooth module for it, and Ooma’s cordless handset got me to get moving on this transition.

After I put in the order on March 18 to port out our number (for which Ooma charges $40), it was active in Ooma’s system on the 22nd, allowing us to place and receive calls through the Telo. The next day I logged into our Verizon account to confirm the transfer.

That’s where things got interesting, as that site said our account had been disconnected.

Prior reports from Ooma users in various forums as well as Verizon PR’s own statements had led me to expect an industry-standard porting experience: You start the port with the new service, and there’s no need to talk to the old one until your number’s out of their grasp.

Perhaps I was wrong? I called Verizon to find out. That March 23 call was a model of how phone customer-support should work–I only had to provide my account number once, I wasn’t left on hold, and the rep said my Internet service should be fine.

Alas, other parts of Verizon had other ideas. A day later, a recorded message advised us to contact Verizon by April 14 to discuss new service options or risk disconnection a second robocall a week later cited the same April 14 deadline.

On April 4, our Internet went out.

The error page that interrupted my Web browsing told me to set up automatic payments to reactivate my service, but each attempt (using the same credit card as before) yielded a generic error message. It was time to call Verizon again.

Thirty-one minutes later, another pleasant rep was as confused as me, saying she couldn’t get the auto-pay setup to go through either. She said she’d get a specialist to work on my case and would call back with an update.

In the meantime, I enjoyed the unfair advantage of having two LTE hotspots in the house–required research to update a Wirecutter guide–that I could lean on for free in place of our inert Internet connection.

By the next evening, our Fios connection was back online, in keeping with the second rep’s “you should be all set” voicemail that afternoon. But Verizon’s site still listed our account as disconnected.

A third call Friday deepened the mystery. This rep said she saw two account numbers–and the one she could access listed our service as pending disconnection. Then I took another look at the e-mail Verizon sent after the second phone rep had pushed through my auto-pay enrollment: It cited an account number ending with seven digits that did not match my old one.

My best guess here, based only on my dealing with Verizon since it was Bell Atlantic, is that Verizon’s system has created a new account for me because the old one was somehow too intertwined with the phone number to keep around.

If so, I should be getting a letter with the new account number in the next day or so, after which I may or may not need to set up a new account online. Sound right? Or am I in for another long phone call?

Either way, I suspect I have not written my last post here on this subject.

Verizon’s online tech support needs some serious work

Yesterday I logged into my Verizon account for the first time in months and got an unpleasant and embarrassing surprise: a $2.80 “router maintenance” fee for having an old router. It was unpleasant as all junk fees are, embarrassing because I’d covered this exact problem in my USA Today column.

And Verizon had even warned me about the charge. Once. A July 19 e-mail advised me to upgrade my router to avoid the fee but offered no instructions on returning the router I hadn’t used since 2012–since we don’t get Fios TV, I’ve always been able to plug in the router of my choice.

verizon-chat-safari-incompatibilityI saw on Verizon’s support site that I could have them call me back, so I plugged in my number. After a day of nobody calling, I tweeted to the @VerizonSupport account that this support option wasn’t too supportive. In a direct-message reply, a rep told me to try Verizon’s chat instead.

I hadn’t seen that as a choice on the support site earlier, and clicking that link yielded a 1990s-esque error page with the useless message “We are sorry, but a problem with your request has occurred.” Somehow, this chat doesn’t work in Safari. Memo to Verizon: Running the default Mac browser is not an edge case.

I asked why we couldn’t deal with my problem in our direct-message chat. My interlocutor’s reply: “We have to secure your account and the chat is the secure location for that.”

verizon-tech-support-chatFine. The chat link did work in Chrome, and then I was treated to thanks-for-your-patience automated messages every 30 seconds, each heralded by an annoying chime. The chimes stopped at some point, but a rep never showed up until I closed the chat window by mistake.

I tried again, and a human entered the chat right away. The rep asked for my name, phone number, address and account number–an understandable request, since I wasn’t logged into my Verizon account in Chrome, but also information that I could have given just as easily in a Twitter DM chat.

Which would have been more secure too: Chrome reports that Verizon’s chat site employs the obsolete and insecure SHA-1 algorithm.

After some back and forth to establish that I haven’t powered on this old, Verizon-issued router in years, the rep said Verizon would send a return mailer kit for the thing and, after I asked a second time, said they would also refund the two months of router-maintenance charges.

Total time to get $5.60 returned to me: about two hours. I need to rethink this particular business model.