Verizon field techs keep a social distance on Fios installs due to COVID-19

field tech
In order to keep its field techs and customers safe, Verizon is eliminating in-home installations as much as possible. (Pixabay)

Verizon's field technicians are now keeping their distance in regards to new installations of the company's Fios service. In Verizon's Friday morning Q1 earnings call, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said his company started work two or three weeks to reduce contact between field technicians and home subscribers in order to keep everyone safe. Those measures include "Fios in a box," which allows customers to self-install their services.

Vestberg said Verizon's techs would only enter a customer's home if the situation was critical.

RELATED: Vodafone keeps customers connected during COVID-19 by using TechSee

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It also now includes the use of a virtual agent that can guide customers through those self-install steps. While not mentioning TechSee by name, FierceTelecom recently first reported that Verizon, along with Vodafone, Liberty Global and Orange, was using TechSee's remote virtual agent to troubleshoot home connectivity issues or provide live video feedback between customers and technicians for installs.

Fios in box allows a service technician that is working outside of a subscriber's home to determine whether the fiber can be connected without needing to enter the house. If that's the case, the service tech rigs the cable from the nearest pole using crushable fiber that can be fed through a customer's window or door.

The service tech also leaves a box on the customer's doorstep, which includes the equipment needed to provision Fios triple services. The box containers an optical network terminal (when one is needed), as well as power supply, router, set-top box, remote control, Ethernet cord, phone wire, HDMI cord and power strip.

Once the customer has the fiber and box in a home, the service tech can use the TechSee app to help guide the installation in real time.

"One thing is safety and health for our employees, that's why we were very early on to closing down almost 70% of our stores, and going to new visiting hours," Vestberg said on the earnings call. "We have done the same thing for our (field) engineers. It's very important to see that they are safe and healthy and in the beginning we were very restrictive on homes.

"But we also seen a lot of innovation. The last couple of weeks we have innovated so we can start installing Fios without going into homes with what we call Fios in a box where the customers can install themselves. We also have a virtual agent where a customer can be guided on the installation. That's innovation we've been able to do in two or three weeks and now we are starting to ramp that up. I'm confident that we can almost be back to the normal levels of installation, but (also) with the safety and health of our employees and customers."

In what is typically a slow quarter for new broadband subcribers, Verizon added 59,000 Fios broadband connections in the first quarter. Despite cutting in-home installs, Verizon saw a 60% increase year-over-year from March 15 to April 15 for net Fios broadband adds due to the impact of COVID-19.

While Vestberg was confident that Verizon could almost reach its normal number of Fios installs going forward, Verizon Chief Financial Officer Matt Ellis cautioned that broadband adds in the second quarter could be negatively impacted by not being able to do in-home installations.

Unlike some remote virtual assistants, TechSee doesn’t need the user to download an application to their smartphone or tablet. With TechSee, a Verizon customer agent can send an SMS to the broadband subscriber that is experiencing a broadband issue. The subscribers click on the link that turns on their smartphone cameras to show the agent a broadband router or set-top box. TechSee supports Android and IoS devices, and also works on tablets.

Using augmented reality and an algorithm, TechSee is able to diagnose the type of device, the correct cabling and the correct sequencing of the LED lights on a router, among other items.

"In a crisis like this you need to balance all of the different stakeholders and see that you have the priorities right," Vestberg said. "Our priority from the beginning has been the safety and health of our employees."

RELATED: Verizon embraces change, innovation in time of coronavirus crisis

Verizon also has about 115,000 of its 135,000 employees now working from home, which it implemented in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vestberg said Verizon's services and networks are critical in the time of crisis such as the coronavirus. While Verizon's network has withstood the increased demand from customer employees working from home, as well as remote learning and more telehealth usage, the telco is continuing to add headroom to its network capacity.

Vestberg said Verizon has a three-pronged strategy related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The first was forming a crisis management team that is dealing with all of the challenges that Verizon's customers, as well as society at large, are facing.

The second prong is having the majority of Verizon's executive team "running business as usual," which includes a focus on 5G deployments, more fiber and mobile edge compute. The third prong is a team that is focuses on what the new normal will be going forward. 

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the digital landscape for service providers and their customers, and some of those changes are likely to continue going forward.

Vestberg said that while Verizon and its customers have adjusted to the new normal during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, going to back to how things were before the pandemic didn't seem likely. The coronavirus has led Verizon's customers to embrace digital channels at a faster rate.

"One of the things I believe will happen is we will see a much more digital only sort of channel for our customers and we're ready for it," he said. "We'll probably see another work environment that we need to think about. We're probably going to see a different type of product that we need to put forward.

"We're going to see much more of digital usage of ordering, but we're also going to see things we never thought possible."

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