How to Call US Toll-free Numbers from Mexico (and My Verizon Experience)

While preparing for a trip to Mexico, I checked with my Verizon service on what I would need to make calls and have Internet access. In the past I had to pay for international service, but I learned that my Verizon account should work in Mexico just like it does in the US, with no special charges for calls, texts, and data. Sounded awesome.

But shortly after arriving, there was  death in the family that required making major changes in our travel plans. That’s when I discovered that my phone could not make calls to 800 numbers or 888 numbers in the US, though my wife’s phone on the same plan could. Her phone is a cheaper SE iPhone, while I have an iPhone 11. I also discovered that my iPhone could not provide a hotspot for my computer to use, though my wife’s phone could. I tried many steps to tweak my phone, restart it, change settings, etc., but nothing worked (though there was one time when my 800 call worked, just as it always has done for my wife while we were in Mexico). I really needed to call the airlines and other business but could not. Looking for non-toll-free numbers for these companies was not fruitful — though I later found a number that I could have used. But after using my wife’s phone and resolving our emergency, I still wanted to get my phone service working properly. That was a mistake.

I tried reaching Verizon’s customer service for help, and was surprised at just how bad their app is. The chat function uses extremely small fonts and typing information is constantly interrupted by any actions being taken on the other end. Worse of all, I found that the information I had entered about my problem just to initiate a chat was not visible to agents and I had to enter it again, and when anything went wrong with the call — a signal glitch, taking too long to respond, etc. — the chat was interrupted and when I resumed it, I had to start all over again explaining the most basic things like which line I was calling about, what the problem was, etc. It took so many tries and so much time to just begin getting answers, and then they were wrong.

After efforts over two days to get support, I finally reached a Tier 2 tech support representative without the call being booted, and then they simply told me that there is no way to call an 800 number from Mexico. Absolutely impossible. I explained that I had done so with my wife’s phone — and their response was “then just use your wife’s phone.” Brilliant.  But we both needed these features and there will be times when I may be on my own and won’t be able to rely on her phone. The agent refused to believe that it was possible to make 800 calls and that I was wrong to even be attempting to do that. End of story.

I should never have wasted time trying to reach Verizon customer service. Their app is bad, their chat system is bad, and their call-back service was also a problem. Maybe for easy questions their customer service might be helpful, but my question was too hard.

Fortunately, I found others had had the same question (and found some people who complained bitterly about Verizon’s poor service in Mexico). Here is what I think is the answer:

You can call toll-free numbers in the US, as my wife can do, but if there is a problem, change the country code from “+1” to “001” and also change the “800” to “880. ” Thus to call Delta Airlines at +1 800 323-2323, dial 001 880 323-2323. For and 888 number, change the “888” to “881”. For an 977 number, change the “877” to “882” and for and 866 number, change the “866” to “883”. Suddenly my phone is working fine in terms of calling toll-free numbers. I still can’t use the iPhone hotspot, while my wife’s phone does it without any trouble.

Kudos to YucatanLiving.com for the details on how to change toll-free numbers for successful calling from Mexico.

For some huge companies like Verizon, customer service is a necessary and seemingly unwanted expense. If the company isn’t willing to make a decent interface for their app and can’t provide chat access in less than 10 minutes, they probably don’t see customer service as an important feature of their business. They aren’t going to do what it takes to solve your problem or to make your experience with them a positive one. It’s better to assume that they aren’t goping to be helpful and to just focus on finding useful information online about how to solve the problems you encounter, saving tech support as a last resort when corporate intervention is needed.

By |2023-01-31T10:31:14-07:00January 31st, 2023|Categories: Business, Consumers, Products, Surviving, Tech support, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

When Outlook Slows to a Crawl, Try Repairing, Compacting, and Re-importing Your PST File

Office 365: Outlook Slowness

Office 365: Outlook Slowness

My wife’s new HP Spectrum computer with Office 365 was giving her very bad performance in Outlook. It was taking hours sometimes for email to show up, when the same emails were quickly available on her iPhone.

It’s the kind of problem that suggested trouble with the PST file. But the file was not huge (780 Mb) and has only been around for a few months since starting Office 365. How could it have become corrupt? But it seemed like fixing the PST file was the first thing to try, and then perhaps we could do a complete reinstall.

The frustrating thing about Office 365 is the folks at Microsoft don’t seem to have a way to just reinstall Outlook alone. You have to remove and reinstall the whole package, which is traumatic and leaves room for all sorts of loss and mischief (losing autocorrect commands, spelling dictionaries, Macros, custom styles, etc.) unless vigilant and time-consuming steps are taking. It’s sort of like finding out that to repair a broken windshield, you also have to remove the bumper, the radio, the front seats, the wheels, and the radiator. Or like having to strip out the engine in order to inflate a flat tire. No thanks.

Fortunately, repairing the PST file worked well and was easy — not in normal human terms, but in Microsoft terms, meaning it only was five times more painful than in should have been, and that it gave more reasons to doubt Microsoft.

When a PST file is suspected of corruption,  Microsoft’s website indicates that one should simply run the SCANPST.EXE file. This began the fun journey of finding where this is. Since it’s a basic utility file that almost every user of Outlook will want to use someday, Microsoft has taken the appropriate proactive customer service measure of hiding it. That’s right, it’s an invisible system file buried in an obscure location that is not universal for all users, just to keep things complicated. So one must first use Folder Options to make invisible files visible. One can then search for SCANPST.EXE, but this doesn’t seem to work. Multiple searches yield nothing, perhaps to due to the Microsoft Deep Hide parameter being set to “FULL ANNOY” somewhere in Regedit. So I had to manually find it. I struck gold by looking in “\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Office16,” as recommended for some computers.

Once I found it, I carefully followed directions, which become meaningless as soon as I did step one, “double click on SCANPST.EXE.” It usually takes two or more steps for the instructions to depart from reality, so this was more fun than usual. I double clicked and nothing happened. I tried right clicking and running as administrator, with the same response. I made sure Outlook was closed, checking with Task Manager. Tried a number of approaches, and realized that this software simply did not operate, which is why there are a host of 3rd party applications being sold to help poor Outlook users part with their excess funds to do something that should happen automatically in Outlook: maintain and repair damage to the PST file.

Abandoning SCANPST.exe, I tried a simple strategy based on what I could do short of a complete reinstall of Office. Within Outlook, I first when to File > Account Settings > Data Files. There you can select an email account and repair it. You can also compress it. I did repairs for both accounts (there was a duplicate account that I deleted, which may have contributed to the problems) and then compacted the PST file. Then I exported it to a backup file. Select File > Open & Export > Import/Export and then choose to export the PST file (click the highest level folder choice and choose “select subfolders,” then export). A password is not needed — just click “OK.”

After exporting, I imported the PST again with the instruction to replace duplicate entries with the newly imported data. Here my theory is that any corruption still in the PST file from a damaged email record might be forced into decent form by the export and then, upon importing, might overwrite a bad portion of the PST file with something sensible. After importing, I quit Outlook and opened it again. Kapow! Emails from earlier today that had been waiting without being received suddenly were downloaded, and further tests showed that Outlook was working much faster than it had for many weeks.

Whew, I’m amazed that it worked. Nice to have to yank out the entire engine to inflate a flat tire.

 

By |2022-01-20T15:50:26-07:00January 20th, 2022|Categories: Computers, Products, Surviving, Tech support|Comments Off on When Outlook Slows to a Crawl, Try Repairing, Compacting, and Re-importing Your PST File