KEEPING THE FAMILY ONLINE by Ellen Donker
Someone's got to do it
In most every household there is someone who holds the title of HTO, as in Home Technology Officer. This is not a position that you interview for and it pays no salary. Rather it is assigned to whomever in the home is willing to call their internet provider when their service goes out so they can get on their hands and knees to untangle the mess of cords in order to unplug the modem for 30 seconds and plug it back in. Or, my favorite: to read back the miniscule CMAC address on the underside of the modem if you happen to get a live rep on the phone.
I have held this position for 20 years. And because I became so adept at navigating the phone tree of our internet service provider (let’s call them Company X), using the online chat feature on their app, or simply being relentless in getting my internet fixed, I was awarded a new region: my mother’s home in Florida. For some reason my brother and sister weren’t recruited for this coveted promotion.
Having put in about 24 hours of calls and online chats with Company X back in February for my own woes (I believe I cooked an entire dinner on call three of six), the folks in Florida probably thought I needed a new challenge.
All I can say is I’m grateful my 89-year-old mother can text to let me know her service is down. But I can’t expect her to call Company X and negotiate the customer service prompts to get a live agent. And forget about her getting on the floor to unplug her modem to see if that does the trick.
So that leaves me as the one who gets to advocate for her. When her internet, TV and landline went down about a week ago, I engaged in a lengthy online chat which finally resulted in a service appointment. Several days later, a tech got her back online and my mother reported that he was very nice. He even gave her his cell number in case there was another problem.
For all I know that number was connected to a burner phone because when her service went down four days later, I texted Mohammed and got no reply. Then I made a call to Company X. I don’t recommend it. In fact, its automated greeting, “Thank you for calling Company X,
ELLEN,” sounded a bit hostile. Make no mistake, Company X is not happy you’ve called, and will thwart your every attempt to reach a live agent.
Sadly, I have no advice about getting through to a human. I tried finding the key moment to say “live agent” at the prompt. But when the voice asked for more information, it routed me back through the troubleshooting menu I’d just been through. I’ve heard that pressing “0” repeatedly will get you to a real person, but I think Company X is on to that. Most likely they’ve renamed what they call their reps so you can’t utter the right combination of words to reach one.
When I finally got a real person on the phone and she was about to schedule a service appointment, she started repeating, “Hello. Hello? I can’t hear you. Are you still there?” I assured her I was. As she continued asking me if I was there, I yelled, “Yes, I’m here.” Repeatedly. A few minutes later she hung up. I considered calling back but couldn’t face going through the prompts again.
Instead, I vented my anger by riding 12 miles on my stationary bike. Six miles in, the rep called back assuring me she was trying to expedite the service appointment. Call me jaded, but my hopes are low. My mother, who would love nothing more than to watch Major League Baseball, play Words with Friends and use the Happy Color app on her iPad, will have to wait it out.
I will admit that there is some job satisfaction for the HTO. Once service is restored you feel so relieved that you consider dropping your grudge against Company X. You experience newfound wonder at having unfettered access to the internet and your favorite TV shows. And for me, I get heartfelt thanks from my mother.
With my promotion, there was also an unexpected bonus. Had I not gotten the opportunity to perform my HTO duties for the Florida region, I’d still have a blank page staring at me for this column. So, to Company X: Thank you for the inspiration.