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When Tech Support Doesn't

By farl in Culture
Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 06:25:42 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

There are two major issues most people have with technical support ("TS"). Firstly, in many cases, it is very hard to get hold of technical support when you need it. Secondly, when you do get hold of them, that unless the TS solves the problem immediately, their further promises of finding a solution to your problem are mostly worthless.

Of these two issues, I have had numerous encounters with both of them. The first one is the easiest to resolve, in that you either get hold of the company or you don't. When I had problems with my Imac that I had just bought (the power button was not springing back up making the computer shut down and power up whenever it felt like it), I contacted Apple and had TS on the phone within 30 seconds on any of the few times I called them for this problem and other random questions. Apple clearly has, to my experience, one of the best TS departments in existence. When the TS staff didn't know the answer to one of my questions, they took my name and number down and called me back within 15 minutes with the answer. You can't beat that.

On the other hand, try contacting QPS for solutions on their never-working Que Drive (4x4x8x USB CDRW). If you have one of these drives, return them IMMEDIATELY and get a better drive. These drives are reported to fail almost 100% of the time, and once they do fail, they never work properly again. QPS TS is for the obvious reason, very hard to get hold of. Even when I wrote them an email claiming to be the purchaser for a major firm looking to install 100 or so of these drives across our network (which is not entirely untrue), it still took them over a week to get back to me (and their solution they emailed to me didn't even work). Quite obviously a bad example of TS, and quite the norm these days.

The second problem (and the main reason for this article) is the one I referred to in the introduction to this is the greater problem I believe. You call TS, they cannot solve the problem immediately, and then they claim they will work on it and get back to you. What is even worse, is if they say they will fix it by a certain time, and based on that, you pass that information on to a client/manager/boss, and then when they do not come through, you look like an idiot and quite probably lose money and reputation. My most recent example of this happened with a nationwide company called Abacus.

Picture this scenario:
  • Day 1: You recommend a web hosting service to your client based on the MIVA service they offer. You sign up with them and create the account.
  • Day 2: You check back to see on the status of the account, only to be told it will take a few days. At this point this is acceptable.
  • Day 3: Account is not active yet. TS is working on it.
  • Day 4: Account active. Everything is okay with it EXCEPT they forgot to install the MIVA package, which is the whole reason the account was created. Call TS. They say it will be taken care of by the next working day.
  • Day 5 Morning: Still not working. TS will take care of it "again" by later that day.
  • Day 5 Evening: Still not working. TS is still working on it. Will be done by next day guaranteed. Based on this guarantee, I contact my client and inform them of the timeline and they fact I will have a proof up on their site by Monday (which is Day 8 in this timeline). Client wants a guarantee. So I give one based on TS. I contact TS again and confirm the timeline. Everything is on time according to them and they are aware of my guarantee and they will make it. No problem.
  • Day 7: Panic sets in. No MIVA, no response from TS beyond "we are working on it". I contact TS management and they confirm it is being worked on and will be up on time.
  • Day 8: No MIVA. I am out $1,000.00 in guarantees. TS is still working on it.
  • Day 9: No MIVA. I am out $1,100.00 in guarantees. TS is still working on it.
  • Day 10: No MIVA. I am out $1,200.00 in guarantees. TS is still working on it.
  • Day 11: No MIVA. I am out $1,300.00 in guarantees. TS is still working on it. TS FINALLY gets it working.
  • Day 12: Proof presented to client who is now happy, but for good reason thinks the hosting company is incompetent and wants to transfer the accounts out of their. I am in full agreement here. I contact TS and try to get them to reimburse me with the cost of my loss based on their guarantees.
  • Day 13: Phone and email tag with management.
  • Day 14: Phone and email tag with management.
  • Day 15: Phone and email tag with management.
  • Day 16: Phone and email tag with management.
  • Day 17: Phone and email tag with management. Finally get a response that there is nothing they can do. They are not even willing to credit it to one of my other accounts (which has an actual cost to them of $0.00). Play some more tag.
  • Day 18: Phone and email tag with management.
  • Day 19: Phone and email tag with management.
  • Day 20: Phone and email tag with management. Get a 2nd response that there is still nothing that they are willing to do.
Now I have over 25 different accounts hosted with them, so I am not a small client of theirs. I bring them over $1000 of business a month. They are apparently willing to eat that rather than stand by their guarantees. Their TS manager claims that nothing their TS staff said implied a guarantee. I don't know about you, but when someone tells me "It will be done by X date for sure" that is a guarantee. Management should take responsibility for their employees. Especially when guarantees have been made numerous times by various employees.

The problem I have now is that I really don't want to take that $1,300.00 hit for nothing, and I really don't want to go through the bother of moving 25 accounts over to another ISP. Not only will it be time down for the clients, but also more expensive for the clients, as Abacus has really good pricing on their systems. I intend to contact the BBB and my local newspaper and TV station (the last two I have friends on the staff whom have both expressed interest in doing articles on this story).

Have you had similar experiences? Actually found a way to resolve these issues? Got any useful advice?


- Yes, I know I should never guarantee anything to a client.
- No, I will not actually lose the money, because the client understands.
- Yes, I am going to submit this story to Fox News and the San Diego Union Tribune.
- Yes, transfering to another ISP is a good solution, but I am not sure if it is worth the aggravation.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Do you have good experiences with TS?
o Yes 2%
o Sometimes 29%
o Almost Never 21%
o Never 3%
o I am in TS 17%
o I never use TS 25%

Votes: 127
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Apple
o Abacus
o Also by farl

Display: Sort:
When Tech Support Doesn't | 76 comments (75 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
(comment on poll options) (3.66 / 6) (#1)
by ramses0 on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 04:32:03 PM EST

I've had really good experiences with Western Digital tech support. When I was trying to get my 20gig UDMA drive working under linux, they had a unix-guy come on and work through correctly specifying the partioning parameters (block size, etc...), and I was able to get it working in very short time with their help.

When my old 1.6 gigger died one November, getting an RMA was really easy, and they were just super cool about treating their customers right.

I don't know if others have had similar experiences, but based on those experiences, I will only buy WD drives from now on. (well, until they start treating their customers like crap ;^)=

[ rate all comments , for great justice | sell.com ]

My WD experience... (3.00 / 1) (#34)
by flieghund on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 01:51:57 AM EST

Ditto on the great experience with WD TS. I've heard horror stories from other people, but they never seem to have the facts handy... But my own experience has been nothing but stellar. Two events stand out in my memory:

  1. Trying to (re)hack together an old 286 at my mother's company a few years back. The case (which was about the size of a standard suitcase and weighed 30 pounds) had an ancient hard disk in it -- made by Western Digital. Unfortunately, I was not the first person to attempt to resurrect that old beauty, and my immediate predecessor had reset the BIOS HDD type to Type 3 or some such nonsense. So, I called information, got the WD tech support line, and two minutes later had all the specs I could ever want. Another thirty seconds, and the big ol' monster was booting WFW 3.11. All for free, with nothing more than the S/N from the top of the HDD.
  2. About a week after moving into my last apartment, my computer began acting up. (More than usual, that is...) Files began disappearing from my drives, Windows was less operative than normal, etc. Then one morning the computer simply refused to boot to the HDD; booting to a floppy I discovered that I couldn't even read the HDD. So I dragged the hard disk over to my friend's computer, where we downloaded and ran the nice WD diagnostic software. It got about 30 seconds into scanning the drive when it suddenly stopped and gave a message along the lines of "Error code XXXX, please call WD Technical Support."
    So I did. The call went something like this:
    Me: Hi, I was running the diagnostics on my Western Digital drive, and it gave me Error Code XXXX.
    WD Tech: Oh. Well, would you like us to ship you a new drive right now, or wait until you return the old one?
    Again, no questions asked. And by securing the replacement drive with a credit card, I had a brand spanking new HDD in 48 hours. (No charge upon return of the old drive.)

That was the only Western Digital HDD that I have ever personally known to fail, and I quickly traced the problem to the seventy-year-old electrical wiring in the apartment building. After investing in a nice UPS, my computer returned to its "normal" state of bugginess.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Tech Support Makes/Breaks a Company (3.50 / 6) (#2)
by mandomania on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 04:47:38 PM EST

The last place I worked at is a great example of this. It offered a great service at a high price, but the crown jewel was its tech support staff. It was staffed with a bunch of really talented individuals who believed (and rightfully so) that they were the one's responsible for the well-being of the company.

Tech support is where the majority of your customers will interact with your company (at least in the service industry). If it contains competent individuals who honestly care about the company AND the customer, then the customer leaves happy. Otherwise, the customer feels neglected and unappreciated and will usually go to greener pastures.

If you have no direct competitors then you can afford to skimp on the tech support. Otherwise, be warned. To conclude my example, my last company grew very fast and was unable to keep the tech support crew at it's previous level. Complaints began to flow almost immediately. Luckily, management reacted by training new employees sufficiently and replacing the busted-ass old tech manager with a great new one (promotion from within). Complaints stopped almost as quickly as they started.


P.S. Move your domains to another ISP. Find a good one that will help you with your migration and it shouldn't be all that bad. Just don't do them all at once :)

The Code is Sound.
Creative labs TS (3.00 / 4) (#4)
by mirimoo on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 04:51:28 PM EST

I always feel like an ass when I call cust service and i always want to start with something like "I'm not a moron I have tried all this stuff, and it really isnt working, I need SERIOUS help" but no one woudl believe me anyway. I have a problem when i installed one of Creative Labs PC-DVD Encore set things. I called and they told me to re-arrange my stuff in the PCI slots about 5000 times, but I already tried that. I tried just about everything. But when I told them that they said, and i quote "I'm sorry, but that's all we can do for you. Bye." very nice.

Eventually I fixed the problem myself after my 4 or 5th reinstallation of windows. Apperantly my copy of Win98 was missing some essential files (nice huh?). Anyway, this is neither insightful nor directly related except that it is a shitty experience with TS and i felt like sharing it with everyone.
No two snowflakes are exactly alike,
but every fucking snowflake is pretty much the same
-- McGrath

I had an even sillier experience with Earthlink (none / 0) (#26)
by wnissen on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 07:56:45 PM EST

I tried to tell them that the slowness in my DSL connection was affecting all applications, not just Internet Explorer but ftp, ssh, etc. The tech insisted that I delete my cache (cutely referred to by IE as "Temporary Internet Files") in IE. I knew this was pointless, but tried it anyway. The DSL was still slow, even when downloading from earthlink's own server. So, his next brilliant step was to have me delete all my cookies! Yippee, that'll free up dozens of blocks on my hard disk, and thousands of bytes of memory. I finally said to him, "Look, this isn't going to help, my connection is actually slow, not the computer." His response, which I wish I had on tape, was, "We'll just see about that." "No, actually I don't think we will." <Sound of me hanging up the phone>


[ Parent ]
Earthlink tech support (none / 0) (#32)
by Chris Andreasen on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 12:28:16 AM EST

Back when I was signed up with Earthlink, I recieved an e-mail that said I was invited to test out the new Earthlink dialup server in Medford. I thought nothing of it, as the nearest city/town named Medford is in Massachusetts, and I didn't want to be charged for long distance every time I connected.
A couple of weeks later, the Earthlink mail server I was currently using stopped allowing connections. Naturally I called tech support to find out what happened, and the guy on the other end insisted in the most disgruntled voice that I had been told to switch to the new server weeks ago. When I read him back the e-mail I had recieved he told me that there was no dialup server in Medford. There was some argument and in the end I still didn't get my problem fixed.
A couple weeks later I found out that the new dialup server wasn't in MEDford, as the e-mail said. It was in MILford, which was about two miles from where I lived.
Is public worship then, a sin,
That for devotions paid to Bacchus
The lictors dare to run us in,
and resolutely thump and whack us?

[ Parent ]
Looks like Creative Labs TS was partly right (none / 0) (#33)
by J. J. Ramsey on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 12:59:06 AM EST

I called and they told me to re-arrange my stuff in the PCI slots about 5000 times, but I already tried that. I tried just about everything. But when I told them that they said, and i quote "I'm sorry, but that's all we can do for you. Bye."
. . .
Eventually I fixed the problem myself after my 4 or 5th reinstallation of windows. Apperantly my copy of Win98 was missing some essential files (nice huh?).

If your problem was the Win98 copy missing a few files, then I guess Creative Labs' TS did what they could. It doesn't sound like a problem they could've anticipated or known to solve.
--I am a fool for Christ. Mostly I am a fool.--
[ Parent ]

hmm (none / 0) (#62)
by sety on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 12:12:37 AM EST

reading your comment about haveing to rearrange the cards on the bus (which tech support has aked me to do too in the past). Why can't we have a bus that just works, plug in a card and forget about it, no conflicts. I believe the MAC has this.

Anyway kind of off-topic, but it would lower the number of TS calls.

[ Parent ]

RE: hmmm (1.00 / 1) (#66)
by farl on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 11:23:22 AM EST

As much as I hate to admit this, and a long time Mac user (all the way back to 1981), not all cards for the mac come close to true plug and play. Most (if not all) require a driver or two to be installed.

Of course, once that driver is installed, it tends to work first time correctly.

[ Parent ]
I worked tech support (2.07 / 13) (#5)
by Signal 11 on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 04:52:52 PM EST

I'm sorry, but you're 100% wrong. I always called my customers back, I always followed up, and if I couldn't solve the issue, I passed it to another tech and followed up with him until it was closed.

So don't put the blame on us - we're doing our jobs. But alot of us work in call centers that won't spring for call tracking software (it is very expensive). Some of them have terrible customer service practices - they mandate stupid things like 30 level voice prompting systems. Or they won't give us modern hardware.

There's nothing wrong with tech support, there's something wrong with management, who views our work as a cost center, and since we don't generate revenue like sales and marketing, they ignore us and keep our budgets too small.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Generalization (3.66 / 3) (#9)
by atom on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:07:00 PM EST

One exception doesn't prove someone "100% wrong." You don't need to take his article personally - there's always exceptions to any generalization. In many instances, tech support sucks. In a few, it's great. It's generalizing too much to say all tech support is [good|bad].
dotcomma.org - Resource for programmers
[ Parent ]
Me Too! (3.33 / 3) (#13)
by douper on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:22:07 PM EST

I work in TS, part time at my University... the Students are the TS, everyone else who works for the IT department is full time.

We don't get access to the Call tracking software. We can't log calls, or check on the status if someone enquires. I have to email someone full time to ask them to log it, or to get the status.

It's stupid. It's frustrating. We are required to count our calls on paper. But the money is good, and it's not ususally busy=)

Providing good technical support requires losts of money, time and effort. but the amount of money that is there limits the amount and quality of time and effort that is put in place.

[ Parent ]

Outside looking in, not inside looking out. (4.00 / 5) (#14)
by ucblockhead on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:24:45 PM EST

You are thinking like someone on the inside, where tech support is a department, not like those of us on the outside of a company, where tech support is a service. When we call the "tech support" number, we don't give a good goddamn whether a problem is "management's fault" or "the tech support department's fault". We just want our problem fixed. The company is a black box to us, and if we get poor service, we're going to say "the tech support sucks". Whether or not it is management that is at fault really doesn't matter, and shouldn't matter.

We're customers. Either the company is at fault, or it isn't. We don't look beyond that level. Nor should we.

His article was very much correct, because he was talking about the service of "tech support", not some company's tech support department.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Blackboxes and expectations (4.33 / 3) (#36)
by infinitewaitstate on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:36:30 AM EST

I've been working IT for a while now, and I've been the TS on the other end of the phone call, as well as the client making the call, and there are a few things that I've learned...

(General) TS lessons:
  • The client is usually lying either by intent or omission.
  • Always check the obvious first.
  • Never promise anything to the client, lest it come back to haunt you.
  • Never pass the buck, it lowers you in the client's esteem.
  • Always know where to look for solutions, outside the resources immediately at hand.
  • Admit when you are out of your depth, and find someone more capable to handle those problems - this will save eveyone time and frustration.
(General) Client lessons:
  • Always make sure you've covered everything on your end.
  • Always make sure you are as specific as possible when reporting a problem.
  • Never accept any assurance at face value.
  • Keep accurate progess logs of your own.
  • Phone more than once for ongoing problems, but never more than 4 times in an 8 hour period. (Keeps the heat on without being too annoying.)
  • Be firm but courteous. Abusive or passive attitudes usually ensure you are a low priority. - Techs are human, you know.
  • State any deadlines you have, and make sure they understand that you WILL escalate before the deadline is passed.
  • If all else fails, vote with your feet, but be vocal about it. - Reputation means almost as much as revenue.

I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten, however, the essence is this: both ends of the call are human. Expecting everything resolved immediately is asking too much, conversely, don't waste the client's time.

Attitudes like We're customers. Either the company is at fault, or it isn't. We don't look beyond that level. Nor should we. guarantee disappointment and longer resolution times - Murphy's Law is simple: if something can go wrong it will, and it applies both to your system failing and the solution being solved on the first go. The more unreasonable the expectation (blackbox thinking) the more likely that the problem persists simply because the problem is the issue, not whose at fault.

After all, it's not Dell, or Compaq, who installed a new package that corrupts the problematic registry entry, but they are the one's you'll call because they offer the TS.

... but then again, what do I know?
[ Parent ]

Couldn't agree more (none / 0) (#74)
by CaptainZapp on Thu Nov 23, 2000 at 10:48:26 AM EST

Save for the lying part that is.

I've seen both sides of the medal and was, in one job, in the direct sandwich position.

What customers sometimes not realize is the complexity to reproduce bad behavior for a multi-platform, multi-OS, multi network product (high performance database engine), possibly with some additional middleware involved.

The most interesting experience however was that the customers, that pay big bucks for their support contracts are normally realists and cool to deal with (customers forking out up to 250'000$ a year). The real pain in the butt are those folks that bought an 86$ odbc driver and believe (hey we're the customer!) in their right to have an onsite engineer at their disposal.

[ Parent ]

re: outside looking in (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by hazel-rah on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 03:44:22 AM EST

You are thinking like someone on the inside, where tech support is a department, not like those of us on the outside of a company, where tech support is a service. When we call the "tech support" number, we don't give a good goddamn whether a problem is "management's fault" or "the tech support department's fault". We just want our problem fixed.

well, back here in the real world, any information that can make your life easier is valuable. next time your computer is on the fritz, and the tech you're speaking with isn't satisfying you, try that speech and see how far it gets you. or try it with sales before you buy- they'll agree with you heartily, and tell bald-faced lies about whatever else you ask them. later, when you're up to your neck in it, call sales again. they'll listen to your pleas for help, empathize with your bizzare, unreal expectations, and then... they'll transfer you to tech support.

listen to what these "insiders" are saying. it's accurate, valuable info. i've been there. based on what they're telling you, you'll know sooner when you're in a crap tech support situation, and you can cut your losses and move on to other problems instead of uselessly berating some sad-assed tier-one support guy about what an imperfect world it is. his fondest wish is for you stupid people to stop calling so he can sit there and post to kuro5hin.

We're customers. Either the company is at fault, or it isn't. We don't look beyond that level. Nor should we.

no, we're human beings. the minute you start talking about how we should act like robots because it gives you a better customer experience, i start backing away slowly. you'll get the type of treatment you expect when you treats others the same way. i would have been happy to give perfect customer service to perfect customers, but you know, i never came across one.


[ Parent ]

One person's experience. (3.33 / 3) (#17)
by scottli on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:45:42 PM EST

If he were talking about you specifically he would be 100% wrong. But in general, from my own experiance in tech support and in systems management, sometimes tech support does suck. Mostly it's not a general thing, but some tech's are simply mindless apes who don't care about the customer. Of course the guy next to him probably does care about the customer and calls back, etc. But in my years, I have known more support to suck then actually be helpful.

[ Parent ]
He's not '100% wrong' (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by ChannelX on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 06:50:19 PM EST

In my experience the vast majority of tech support out there sucks. The only tech support I've found that is decent is Oracle's database server support (and associated tools....the developer support leaves a lot to be desired). The call tracking is fantastic and I've found them to be very knowledgeable and responsive.

OTOH we've had *huge* problems with Dell. The last major problem we had we had to explain the basics over and over again as you always got a new tech support person. One guy didn't even bother to put stuff into the call tracking database. The solution to our problem ended up being a reinstall of BackupExec and we found out about that via a newsgroup posting.

The difference between the two? The Oracle guys know what's going on and you deal with the same guy for the duration of the call ticket.

[ Parent ]

Call Tracking Software (none / 0) (#30)
by tzanger on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 11:06:16 PM EST

But alot of us work in call centers that won't spring for call tracking software (it is very expensive).

Oh I don't know about that... My junior admin and I wrote up a pretty decent call tracking module for our intranet... SQL backend, forces* correct/complete information to be entered and anyone in the company can access it. Some PHP to make it presentable and boom...

* it doesn't actually prevent you from not having the model/serial # of the device in question but will instead issue "Temporary Numbers" which must be resolved within a few days or the president gets a summary email with your name in it. And yes, that's how the president wants it. :-)

I'm hoping to opensource it in the near future. Keep an eye on Freshmeat.

[ Parent ]
Give me a break (none / 0) (#52)
by fester on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 10:18:39 AM EST

Just because you are Saint Tech Support, doesn't mean every schmoe doing the job is. Settle down and don't take it personally. The fact remains, most of the TS people I've talked to on the phone have known less about the product than I did and couldn't help me. It sucks to be an exception to the norm, but I think you can deal with it.

[ Parent ]
Suggestion (4.00 / 7) (#6)
by rusty on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:00:32 PM EST

I'd say that the only way you can really make your point is to move your business elsewhere. This will be a pain in the ass, but there is no shortage of ISP's who need business. Here's what I'd recommend:
  • Research them. Find ones with *good* TS, as reported by their clients and possibly independent rating firms.
  • Call up the good ones, tell them your story, and tell them you want a new provider, and how much business you will be moving. See if they'll match or beat Abacus' price. I'm betting some of them will offer you discounts based on the guaranteed business you're providing them.
  • Inform Abacus when you havea new host. Make sure they know exactly why you're moving, and post your story in all the places you used to research your new company.
The "customer dollar" only has power if they know you *will* go somewhere else.

Not the real rusty
Lame management (3.00 / 4) (#7)
by aphrael on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:01:13 PM EST

In the particular case you're talking about, it sounds like the problem is with management --- they're the ones refusing to provide you with any meaningful assistance whatsoever.

As for general problems with technical support --- working in technical support *sucks*. You've got lots of usually angry people demanding fast solutions on complicated problems, often because the complexity is a black box to them, and you usually don't have direct access to the information you need to solve the problem. People burn out on it quickly and move on to other things, which makes it even more difficult --- the people doing the job are undertrained, and there's little incentive to train them if they're just going to leave.

Bad companies->Bad support... (2.00 / 1) (#11)
by ucblockhead on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:17:55 PM EST

Yes, those are big problems, and to add to the horror, bad companies tend to want to pay the least and tend to treat their tech support people the worst. Since bad companies tend also to produce bad products, the very products that need the best tech support tend to get the worst.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Burnout (4.00 / 1) (#54)
by unstable on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 10:53:38 AM EST

People burn out on it quickly and move on to other things, which makes it even more difficult

Average "contact life" of a tech support person is around 18 months.

This is due to the fact most people dont like to be yelled at (I dont know how many times I have been chewed out because I couldn't fix a problem immediatly the THEY created). And dealing with problems over a phone ("no sir I cannot see whats on your screen")

Tech support people are probably the most abused IS staff of all. you can only do it for so long.

I have been a "Bob" for what will be 3 years this January and I am past burnout, I am at the "fried" stage my work is suffering because of it. I am finding it harder to "play nice" with some (l)users and I am starting to just not care. The only reason that I have stayed is that I like my boss and we are too short staffed now to lose another body so without me (or my co-workers) he would be screwed.

If you want to make a hel(p/l) desk operator happy say two words that he almost never hears...
Thank You

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

[ Parent ]

Miva (2.33 / 6) (#8)
by enterfornone on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:03:41 PM EST

Why on earth would anyone recommend Miva. Miva is horrid. My web host Yahoo has it as a freebie and I've tried writing stuff with it but it is so limiting that the simplest of things need monsterous hacks to acheive. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm lasy and I don't really need scripting I'd probably find a place just as cheap with Perl or PHP.

Yahoo don't support Miva, if you ask them questions they direct you to the mailing list. Moral is, before you sign up make sure you are paying for a supported product, not an unsupported freebie.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
Actually... (3.00 / 3) (#10)
by farl on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:11:04 PM EST

Actually I have found MIVA's TS to be incredibaly on the ball. The software is fast and comprehensive, if a bit limited in a few areas. The workarounds for this are easy and I think this is a solid product, especially since I do not want to code my own cart.


[ Parent ]
miva (2.33 / 3) (#12)
by enterfornone on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:20:47 PM EST

Never actually tried the shopping cart. I was trying to use the scripting engine to write a weblog and gave up (mainly cos I just use the diary here now). The main problem is it only supports flat file databases.

I guess if you just use it for the shopping cart and don't want to do much hacking it would be fine. I'm on thier list and I agree their support is good. It's just many hosts throw it in as a freebie and don't mention that they don't fo any support for it.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Miva (4.00 / 1) (#49)
by zantispam on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 09:38:49 AM EST

We just got done canning Miva. While I don't know about the quality of the TS (we used an outside consultant as a go between), I can say that the cart is absolutely awful. It's like Windows - great if you want to do *exactly* what the designers thought you should do, impossible if you have to deviate from their plan.

We spent about a month evaluating and testing the product. Then, with two days before we went live, we found three major showstopping (Bugs|Features) that we absolutely could not work around. One was the fact that the cart would die (HTTP 500) instantly about 60% of the time with no error messages or logs. Another was the fact that everything is done in ascii flat files. Great for readability, but when one has more than about 200 products, a database makes much more sense. The third was speed. It was *slow*. Dog slow. Grandma-driving-20-mph-in-the-fast-lane slow. Why was it slow? Apache was configured to be very fast (I checkd myself). We were running it on a Cobalt cube, RAID-5, 2 GB RAM (I think), and RedHat 6.2. Well, come to find out that for each request that Apache passed to Miva, the file ran itself a minimum of 10 times, and an observed maximum of 250 times. For one request(!) There's recursion, and then there's recursion. After looking through the code (one large 1800+ line file (what the heck is an *.mv* file type anyway?)), we decided that fixing the problems would take longer than it took to evaluate and set up the product in the first place.

In the end, my boss (1337 h4x0r type) wrote an entire cart from sratch in about 48 hours. I would strongly advise not using Miva in any of it's forms. Trust me - you'll end up saving much time and aggrivation(sp?) in the long run by writing the stuff yourself.

(References intentially vague to protect the innocent)

Free Duxup!
[ Parent ]
Outsourcing (2.33 / 3) (#15)
by enterfornone on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:34:33 PM EST

Another point, often when you call tech support you are received by a call centre far removed from the people who make the product. Often they will be an outsourcing company whos management care more about service levels (ie how soon they can get you off the phone) than good service. Communication between the outsourcing company and the company that makes the product is often non-existant, so known issues are not communicated to tech support staff, or when tech support become aware of issues they are not communicated back to the company.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
who is _REALLY_ at fault in TS hell? (3.25 / 4) (#16)
by azzael on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:44:52 PM EST

Having worked TS front lines (phone/field/walk-in-help-desk/email/etc...) for 5 years, I got sick and tired of people assuming TS has inside knowledge and any sort of magical or mystical powers. Look, when you are lucky you get someone who really knows what they are doing (and that is going to depend on the quality of companies you CHOOSE to deal, your choice as its part of what you bought), and they probably haven't seen your unique problem ever before. In supporting machines ranging from the wonderfully simple ATs and XTs to NeXT Step to Sun with Solaris to HP with HP-UX to proprietary crap running proprietary crap, I had to fix the customers' attitudes (99.44% of the time) before I could make any headway on the problem. Given the state of most people when they finally call on us, their lifeline, no wonder people have a lousy attitude about a lot of tech support. That said, I worked alongside super geeks that could very intuitively (usually based on the user) determine the problem in 4 sentences or less to people that I amazed to this day they still remember to breathe. Farl, you just gotta try not to blaim the person on the other end of the support and work with them. If they are an idiot, or just don't seem to be making progress, get transferred to another person (if a tech can't fix something, this is usually very easy). If there is still no joy in mudville, talk to a manager. If that don't work, vote with your wallet and buy a better product. Just my $0.02 -Azzael Remember what the Monty Python boys say.... "Life's a piece of shit..."
"Teach a man to make fire, and he will be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he will be warm for the rest of his life." -John A. Hrastar
The blame (2.00 / 1) (#20)
by farl on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 06:41:49 PM EST

I am not actually blaming TS in my long case i gave. The reason it took them long is pretty valid. What i was really uspet about was the management's inability to follow through. The actual TS people i spoke to were all helpful and informative, just not very effective.

[ Parent ]
You've hit the nail on the head (none / 0) (#39)
by byte on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:49:10 AM EST

In my experience (and I've been a technical support staffer and a support manager) the number one issue that seperates good support from bad is follow through. A good technician gets back to the customer even if they don't have an answer or a solution. When I worked as a support manager my cardinal rule was that any technican with open cases had to call each and every one back every day the case remained open. Worked like a charm too as it motivated the techs to resolve the problem (no one likes having to call the same person over and over again without offering some type of resolution) and the customers never felt abandoned. Now if only I could find someone else with standards like these...

[ Parent ]
Bogged down! (none / 0) (#50)
by cowbutt on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 09:39:21 AM EST

A good technician gets back to the customer even if they don't have an answer or a solution. When I worked as a support manager my cardinal rule was that any technican with open cases had to call each and every one back every day the case remained open.

Maybe I'm being over-sensitive here, and maybe your procedure wasn't aimed at engineers but technicians only, but it's possible to get so bogged down giving content-free callbacks that there's no time left to progress the calls themselves.

Better to go quiet on the customer for a week and give them something useful the next time they hear from you... causes less rows that way too...

[ Parent ]

Techies aren't omniscient. (2.50 / 2) (#22)
by whatnotever on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 06:45:52 PM EST

To second what you said:

People always seem amazed when I say "I don't know." The fact is, for *general* tech support (desktop support for faculty, staff, students in my case), you can't know everything. If you're supporting a single product or line of products, perhaps, but in desktop support it's not possible. I'll go in to see someone's machine which is acting up. It's made of cheap parts I've never seen, running random crap software (systray bloat) I've never seen, and the only thing I really recognize is Windows. I'll do my best to troubleshoot, of course, but it seems that quite often, the problem just isn't going to be found.

Amazingly enough, people don't seem nearly so surprised when I tell them "Windows just does that." They're generally okay with that... hm. :)

(And, horribly offtopic, I have to respond to your sig (yea, and the Gods shall strike me down!): I often think about just that. I *am* prepared, dammit! Of course, in most of my mind-simulations I get crushed by my bed...)

[ Parent ]
Tape all conversations with TS (3.50 / 4) (#18)
by SIGFPE on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 05:55:58 PM EST

When my Acer laptop failed their technical support sent me to a local repair company (Quest Micro Services) to get it repaired. They then charged me and Acer said they couldn't cover it under the warranty because they don't ever send customers to Quest. To cut a long story short - there was nothing I could do about it.

So when dealing with companies as incompetent as Acer you need to ensure that you take no action that could in any way affect your warranty without first making sure you have proof that you are doing exactly what you have been told to do by TS.
Ahh, the memories... (none / 0) (#37)
by byte on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:38:21 AM EST

My first technical support job was with Acer America in San Jose California. And yeah, you're right, we did suck pretty hard on occasion.

[ Parent ]
That may not be legal :) (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by Chakotay on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 06:47:52 AM EST

Here in the Netherlands taping a conversation without the express permission of all those involved to do so is illegal acquisition of evidence. If it's the police that's doing the taping, they require the express per-case permission of the OM (kind of like the DA, judging by US TV police series) or the Department of Justice.

Sure, you can do it, and use it to discredit the person you tape, but there's no chance in hell that you can use it in legal procedings.

Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

[ Parent ]

Not legal in the U.S. (none / 0) (#51)
by YellowBook on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 10:12:20 AM EST

Here in the Netherlands taping a conversation without the express permission of all those involved to do so is illegal acquisition of evidence.

It's certainly not legal in the U.S. It's not even just a matter of not being admissible in court; you could yourself be sued for doing the taping.

[ Parent ]
What if you tell them you're taping them? (none / 0) (#67)
by SIGFPE on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 11:32:33 AM EST

Seeing as I'm often warned that what I say may be taped when phoning companies.
[ Parent ]
Taping (1.00 / 1) (#68)
by farl on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 11:58:53 AM EST

The way it works (as far as i know) is that you have to let the other party know that you are taping them, and also have that annoying beepin thing every 10 or 15 seconds.

Otherwise it is illegal to use it as evidence in a court case.

Since i'm no lawyer I am not really sure, but this is how it was explained to me.

[ Parent ]
He he... (5.00 / 1) (#69)
by SIGFPE on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 01:20:14 PM EST

...next time Discover platinum credit cards, or whoever, phones me up to sell me stuff I don't want I shall start the conversation with "As with all calls of this type I shall be recording this conversation in the event that I need evidence for a court case. If you feel that you are no longer able to continue with this sales call please terminate now." and then I'll have a timer by the phone to remind me to say "beep" every 10 seconds.
[ Parent ]
even more hehe (2.33 / 3) (#71)
by farl on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 01:40:56 PM EST

What I find to be real fun too (since this subthread is wandering far away from the topic anyway), is to answer your phone with:

"Hi, you have reached Dave. If you would leave your name, number and favorite ice cream flavor we will be happy to get back to you as soon as possible."

The four tricks to this are:
1. Be able to make a good beep sound.
2. To keep a straight face and not crack up laughing on the phone. The more monotone you sound the better.
3. To insert apprpriate comments as they "leave their message". Not actual words, but encouraging sounds like "ahh, hmm, oo" etc. and do it softly and in such a way as the person hears you, but doesn't actually pay attention. 4. The "ice cream" trick is a great way to distract them from actually paying attention to the fact that its a human voice and not a recording.

Farl is a terror to people on the phone.

(Of course the best example i had was given by a coworker of mine. She is a small japanese lady who likes to answer the phone with "no my mommy is not here. no i cannot go get her. i am locked in this dark closet and i have to wait for her to get back from her shopping.") LOL

[ Parent ]
TC on OSS? (2.00 / 3) (#19)
by darthaya on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 06:39:57 PM EST

Does it mean you have only yourself to blame on if your installation of debian crashed and all your important documentations that you needed for the next day are lost on it?

The best luck to seek for TC on OSS is newsgroup or mailing list. But then, it is not newsgroup(or mailing list) people's responsibilty to help you, rather they are doing you a favor, and you should feel grateful about it. I dont particularly feel grateful if my job relies on OSS and it somehow spits out a segmentation fault.

When is a bargain not a bargain? (3.00 / 3) (#21)
by fossilcode on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 06:44:22 PM EST

How many $1300 hits are you willing to take before this bargain ISP ceases to be a bargain? Yes, the cost is higher to move to somebody else, but it sounds like you could still make money and save aggravation if you shaved your margin a bit and moved your client accounts to a more reliable provider.

Consider surveying a variety of ISP's based solely on their features, reliability, tech support and cost and restructure your pricing model to permit you to move to one that can truly meet your needs. I sympathize with your frustration; nobody likes to take a hit like this.

On the flip side, I did time in support too, and it is very frustrating to promise a customer something based on best information and then be let down by your engineers and account managers. I believe your ISP should credit you for service that was unavailable, particularly if their people told you that it would be. Otherwise, move your accounts and get that guarantee in writing from your new provider.

"All things are negotiable."

"...half the world blows and half the world sucks." Uh, which half were you again?
management (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by itarget on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 07:06:26 PM EST

The biggest problem with tech support is the management. Most IT departments are underfunded and/or hire incompetent workers.

A wet-behind-the-ears MSCE or A+ comes a lot cheaper than someone with a university degree. Many managers don't realize the difference between a certificate doled out by people who want to sell you stuff, and a real education.

Most of the time, the person you get on the other end of the line is little more than a trained monkey, reading down a checklist much of which they don't even understand. I'm sure they'd love to help if they knew how, but they don't. If your problem doesn't fall on the checklist, all they can do is refer it to someone else. You'll pass hands until you either go to someone who knows what they're doing (in which case they're probably so swamped being the only competent staff that you wait an eternity for a solution), or if the IT department consists entirely of MSCE monkeys you wind up at the manager. All you can expect there is doubletalk the run-around. After all, this is the guy who bought into buzzwords and hired incompetents. He knows even less about the industry than they do.

I hate to sound harsh, but that's just how it is. There are too few good tech workers to go around, and rather than face the grim reality management types buy right into the fly-by-night certified flood of tech workers even though it should be obvious it's too good to be true.

You must be kidding (2.00 / 1) (#27)
by enterfornone on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 08:21:43 PM EST

I'm willing to accept that experience beats certification, but there is np way you can say someone with no experience and a degree is any better than someone with no experience and a certification. It may be true for programming, but tech support requires real world product knowledge, not the theory you will learn with your degree.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
[ Parent ]
Not in my experience! (sic) (1.00 / 1) (#48)
by cowbutt on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 09:29:34 AM EST

For a couple of years, I did wonder whether my degree was going to ever be useful. But in my previous post (1st, 2nd, then 3rd-line support for TCP/IP and internet security products) I was able to support products with only a manual, having never even seen the product working. Because I understood their theory of operation, learnt during my degree. Couple that with an understanding of how any given product might be programmed and I was pretty effective.

There were some problems which were best assigned to someone with product knowledge, and I was happy to pass on those. But for dealing with new situations that required broad knowledge, knowing the theory well is the best approach, IMHO.

[ Parent ]

yes and no (5.00 / 1) (#58)
by matman on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:14:10 PM EST

Well, I'm taking an MCSE college course presently to make getting a job a little easier. I'm also spend time reading books (not MCSE texts ;) in the university library, and have been learning on my own for the last 8 years or so; I dont think that I'm just some trained monkey. I think that I'm pretty geeky in fact. However, I'm really afraid that to a lot of people, an MCSE cert may actually cast a negative light on me. This is too bad.

So, I'm sitting in class, and while most of the rest of the class is trying to make windows 2000 join a domain, I've got samba and pam authenticating against the domain controller. Obviously I know more about the stuff than they do, but it's not because I'm somehow superior, it's just that I've had a hell of a lot more experience. I imagine that when I'm hired, I'll have to proove myself before I'm given a lot of responsibility - and that's good for everyone; I wont make a fool out of myself, and no one will lose money.

They cover the basics. This course is a 1 year thing, and most people in it have almost no computer knowledge. I can see how people comming out of this course, with no previous experience, could make mistakes that someone with experience would easily avoid. However, how different is this from a doctor? I mean, straight out of school, before any residency (is that what it is, when you actually start doing real work?) if you tell a person to perform an appendectomy, they're likely to leak digestive juices into the abdomen and cause infections. This is why you dont put people with no experience in charge of things that can cost your company a lot of money. If they get told to do things that they dont know how to do, they'll try to do them, and fail - it's no fault of theirs, but rather the fault of management.

Anyone trying to solve a problem reads down a checklist in their mind; with more experience, your checklist grows and items can have more subtle relations to the problem, but, it's still a checklist.

[ Parent ]
You answered your own questions (3.50 / 4) (#25)
by FlinkDelDinky on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 07:18:52 PM EST

TS costs money. If you look at the costs of your Apple system relative to the general computing market I think you'll come to realize that you paid for that great TS. IBM is the same way. Generally when you look at systems that cost hundreds more than similar stuff out there you're buying that great TS (which is expensive).

Switching your ISP is not the solution. Switching to an ISP with good support service may be. But you know what? You're going to have to pay for that quick and clean support. Apparently, ever since that Adam & Eve debacle, we've run out of free lunch.

Gawd, I'd really like some free lunch. Oh well...

... not entirely (2.00 / 1) (#28)
by weathervane on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 09:10:42 PM EST

Lets take a look at more than just IBM and Apple though. For example, Dell. They've got pretty god tech support in my experience. Right now they're selling 733 Pentiums for $999 canadian (that's about $666 for all you 'mercans out there). And that's with a 3 year service warranty. Why pay more? Then, you have Compaq. You pay, but you don't recieve. You have to pull out your credit card just to talk to a service guy. And they still don't have any idea what's going on. I used to own a Compaq laptop. It died. It's still dead, and in the end I had to scavenge it. Compaq was absolutely no help whatsoever. In the end it amounted to a $65 bill just to add insult to injury, and it was an independent techie who gave me the bad news. I will never, ever, ever, even consider buying Compaq in the future, and I will publicly heap scorn on anyone who does. Tech support costs money, but it's an investment. Good tech support is a good investment in your company's reputation, and in the long run (if you can make it there) that translates into future sales.

[ Parent ]
Compaq's been good to me (none / 0) (#59)
by jwiz on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 05:27:36 PM EST

Maybe it's only for servers that their service is so good, but they had a guy on site the next day when our (non-production) server wouldn't power on.

Turned out the switch was the wrong kind for the motherboard (I'm betting we had something to do with that, since we were installing a triple-redundant power supply).


[ Parent ]
Yah (none / 0) (#73)
by FlinkDelDinky on Thu Nov 23, 2000 at 01:55:01 AM EST

In response to you and the guy you're responding to. It's my understanding that Dell and Compaq home user boxes are kind of 'slapped' together and can seriously vary in quality even within the same product line.

Also, home user TS varies depending on who picks up the phone. However, once you get into the business end of the market things supposedly get much better (and more expensive). Most of the box makers make their money on the business side nowadays anyway.

Don't know about gateway though. I hear good things abouth their stores. I really think Apples or IBMs are tops in the TS field. I build my own boxes but if I didn't I'd go with with quality hardware and good TS.

[ Parent ]

Second parallel (none / 0) (#70)
by weirdling on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 01:24:04 PM EST

Both Apples and IBMs also run better and last longer. You pay for better tech support in the cost of the machine and you pay for better construction on the machine itself. I've got friends who own pcs and don't want to mess with them; they own Aptivas on my recommendation. Tech support hasn't been an issue for any of them because the machines don't quit. I have owned mostly Macs and have dealt with Apple tech support exactly once and they were very helpful explaining that yes, the problem was their fault, yes, the system in question had a faulty motherboard, yes, it was a known problem, and if I'd just bring it in, they'd swap it out for me for free, despite the fact that it was a year out of warranty.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]
When I was TS, and encouragement (4.00 / 3) (#29)
by mattw on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 09:15:18 PM EST

First, the short comment: switch. You won't want to have clients in 2 places, and you won't want to give more business to these people.

Another suggestion: move up the management chain. Try to get the contact info for a VP, and get ahold of them, especially a VP of customer service or the like. If you've documented names and events with times, all the better.

On a more general note, my first work was technical support at Netcom, back before their IPO, just after the release of their Netcruiser client. Technical support for products with low margins live and die on their ability to recruit talented transient workers, or to have a good escalation process and matching knowledgebase/documentation capability.

I had a lot of angry customers. I'd get people calling for the 12th time who got simple errors because their modems needed a register change in their init string, or because they needed some virtual memory (in win3.11, where they had 8 megs of ram and their VM settings were manually set to 0). I'd have customers in these cases who were told to "reinstall windows, then reinstall netcruiser". Ow. OW.

Anyhow, I helped pretty much everyone, but it wasn't until near the end of my tenure when callbacks were standardized with a procedure. The number of calls you took, and the amount of time on the phone was the all-powerful statistic. I watched absolute morons get awards (the same morons giving out reinstall-windows type advice) because they managed to spend all 8 or 10 hours of their shift actually on the phone, never mind how many times their customers called back -- because we had no ticketing or tracking system.

In order for any tech support system to work, it needs, at the least: a ticketing/tracking system, a good escalation path leading all the way to the CTO if necessary, and in most cases, some knowledge base system to disseminate fixes/patches/info down to the rank and file.

Contrast either experience to Cisco. I've worked with them a number of times over the past few years, and it has been a pleasure. They always help me right to the information I need. They have a clear escalation path, incredibly verbose tracking and notification, are incredibly quick, response, and generally very competent. It's one of the reasons I have a golden view of the company on the whole. Granted, I'm working with them under the purvey of a major partner, but still, they are evidence that it can be done, and done well.

Disclaimer: my stint at Netcom was in 1995, so it has no bearing on them now (if they still exist)

[Scrapbooking Supplies]
Netcom was the first ISP I quit (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by Skapare on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:11:27 AM EST

I quit Netcom as a customer around 1995 because of problems dealing with tech support. Of course there were the usual long queues made worse by there being no 800 number to call. But what really irked me, and broke the camel's back, was when 3 people in a row told me to reboot my computer when I was reporting phone lines that were a mix of ring-no-answer and answer-no-carrier. They simply didn't have a clue and they refused to escalate the problem because I told them I would not reboot my computer (the problem was most definitely not in my computer).

And then the accounting department never returned by calls or answered my e-mail. I had to have my CC company cut them off for me and backcharge them.

To some degree this is a problem with people ... really dumb people are often working there. But this is still principly a management problem. Managers are not committing the proper resources to be able to handle situations. Good people don't get hired (by paying them more). People don't get trained properly. And managers move on to leave the mess to the next guy.

And you're right about Cisco. Their support is the best I've ever worked with. They have things like a clearly spelled out schedule of escalation all the way to the president of the company. Management has made the commitment to support at Cisco. It's worth paying more to be supported by Cisco because that support has real value.

[ Parent ]
Part of the problem... (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by PacketMaster on Mon Nov 20, 2000 at 11:34:42 PM EST

Part of the problem is that often times people stuck doing TS are not the people supposed to be doing TS or are people who wear many hats. As the network admin of a small company (around 75 ppl) my job isn't so much a network admin as "the computer guy". I cover everything from "My enter key is sticky" to "Hey, the Internet's down at 3am". That is fine with me. I knew that going into the job. However what irriates me is the amount of people who remember that ONE time that you didn't give their problem the absolute priority no matter how many times later you help them that instant. Case-in-point -- I had a technician from the vendor of our rather expensive backup system in from Virginia in for emergency maintenance with the main database down and everything, halting production. A salesman comes into the server room wanting me to give his web service contract absolute priority. I tell him "I'll try to get to it this afternoon". I go back to the tech. We work all day and late into the evening to get this hardware problem solved so that if the mainframe dies we're not out, oh half a million in contract fees. Next morning, I dutifully look at the contract like I said I would. Major changes were needed because they were trying to promise something we couldn't deliver. I call the salesman back and tell him that I'd make some changes but they had to be approved by my boss because they were a major contract change and I didn't have the authority to approve it. He gets all worked up at me becuase I wasn't getting this done fast for him. Total value of the account - Maybe $1000 annually. So let's see, possible loss of $500,000 contrat data plus about 36 man-years of data entry or work to push through a $1000 contract. You do the math.... Yet to this day, the salesman is constantly CCing my boss and his boss to make sure anything little thing that I'm supposed to be doing for him is "getting done with all expedience". While this example isn't necessarily TS, it does fall into a category of work that plagues most IT workers. Like I said, I love my job and 90% of the people are fine with your work, but it's those 10% that really sour a tech worker. I wish a lot of people out there would realize that many TS workers have other tasks they need to accomplish and that your problem, while being severe to you, isn't necessarily what a tech needs to be spending his or her time on right at that second.

CCing someone's boss (4.25 / 4) (#41)
by bjrubble on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 03:25:48 AM EST

Where I work, you'll get a reprimand if you CC somebody's boss like this, and that's right on. In IT or any industry where people are capital and morale is fuel, a company that allows employees to undermine other employees is usually headed for some hurting. Your bosses should be smacking this guy around for wasting his energy, their time, and your attention with this sort of crap.

[ Parent ]
CC threat = weak (3.50 / 2) (#43)
by duxup on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 05:06:20 AM EST

I would have to agree with your statements regarding CCing someone's boss. That occurs to me fairly frequently.

I find the "CC threat" the first sign of an unprofessional customer or coworker. If they feel I'm doing something wrong and wish to bring it to the attention to my boss or myself I have no problem with that. The CC threat is nothing but an underhanded way of accusing someone of wrong doing or trying to make someone do something they you want without actually bothering or contacting anyone formally (lazy). It does nothing to fix the problem and only makes things confrontational.

To top it off it really doesn't resolve future issues either. Usually it's the same people who seem to live and die by the CC threat and they rarely understand the situation and the CC threat tends occur because they don't want to.

In my case my employers have always ignored the CC threats. If there is an issue it's best to contact their boss directly so there can be a dialogue and everyone can state their case clearly.

[ Parent ]
Reminders..... please don't talk about those :-| (none / 0) (#75)
by alt on Sat Nov 25, 2000 at 06:34:39 PM EST

Similar to the CC issue:

I suck at tech support (I hate dealing with customers.)

I had an incident occur which allegedly cost my company $15000. That was the amount of money the client owed us. The amount that it actually cost us was probably closer to $2000. (Bandwidth and Telco Costs).

That occured between 9 and 12 months ago.

Any time I do something to "displease" him, he "reminds" me of that incedent. In the interim, I've made the company in excess of $200,000 based on work to fulfill contractual obligations that he wouldn't have been able to fulfil otherwise.

I should probably remind him that I can quit and he can look for another employee to abuse.

There are always assholes in every company, and the shit flows all the way from the top.

[ Parent ]
A CC threat got him in trouble (3.00 / 2) (#53)
by GreyFoxx on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 10:37:19 AM EST

I use to admin a local Cable modem ISP, and while I was there a certain salesdroid would get very upset if I didn't drop everything I was doing (even during outages) and deal with him or his question which almost invariable required me to investigate something. He would CONSTANTLY CC all emailed requests to me to my Boss as well as my Boss's supervisor.

This went on for a period of a month (almost daily requests which should have gone through tech support and not the Admin office) until finally I snapped and replied (CCing all the supervisors) asking him if he felt that all of the people he was sending the email to really needed to read his whining and moaning every day. I asked him if he felt that he was somehow going to "scare" me into dropping more important tasks because I would fear "getting in trouble" with the implied threat of CCing everything to my bosses? I signed my reply with the following:

"I can bring you in a box of crayons and some finger paints if you wish to continue acting like a child in kindergarden, otherwise grow up, I have more than enough to deal with during the run of a day than your smug and childish behavior".

The next day I noticed that all of the Supervisors had emailed him asking him to stop CCing them as they had no need to see what he was sending :)

[ Parent ]
Gripes and tips from an ex tech support agent. (4.00 / 3) (#38)
by meldroc on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:48:37 AM EST

Yes, boys and girls, I used to work as a tech support agent for a company in the Colorado Front Range that provided outsourced call center services. My particular job was to help customers install, configure and use several peripheral devices made by a big computer company. Names will be withheld to protect the guilty, for they have many lawyers.

First, the gripes. Tech support people at my company were not paid well, were very poorly trained, and didn't get much support from management. The company did everything they could to cut corners. They did not hire enough agents to handle the queue, and when for some odd reason, the phones weren't busy that day, they sent agents home without pay. They decided to deal with their high turnover rate by forcing new employees who quit to pay $500 to the company, "to cover training costs." They bogged the agents down with policies requiring them to get extensive information from the customer (name, address, phone number, product, serial number, mother's maiden name, etc.) for even the most trivial calls. They made other stupid rules requiring the agents to jump through many hoops to exchange obviously defective products. Giving an angry customer a refund was nearly impossible. They also had management that constantly rode the agents to take more calls, reduce call times and callback incidents, and make quotas. I eventually got so stressed out I literally got sick at the thought of going to work, and eventually quit.

Now that you heard me gripe, here are some tips that you should keep in mind the next time you have to call tech support.

  • Be nice to the agents. They are trying to do their jobs as well as they can, in a very difficult environment. Don't make things even harder by being abusive.
  • Escalate the call if you have a non-trivial issue. First tier agents are poorly trained, as I mentioned earlier. They have little power to enact solutions that cost the company money. Agents will resist the request to escalate, as that involves lots of paperwork and attracts unwanted questions from supervisors. Nevertheless, you are the customer. If the agent can't solve your problem, tell him to find someone who can.
  • Be ready to describe your problem and symptoms in great detail. Tech support agents can't read minds, and it is surprisingly difficult to communicate technical concepts over the phone. They can only help if they know what the problem is.

Been there! (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by nordicfrost on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:59:02 AM EST

As many young IT-knowledgeable people today, I too has worked in the TS departement. I worked for two different companys, a large media company and a large outsourcing company in Norway.
At the media company, everything was hands-down. We answered the phone whenever it rang, and tried to solve the problem via phone or remote control. The nice part was that if this didn't help, or the problem was hardware, we could always walk down to the person having the problem and and do a re-image or whatever was necessary. Personal contact with the client, that is.
At the outsourcing company, I was a temp. The client was a large phone company in Norway, and the job was TS of their internal network. The network was shite, I didn't have much experience with NT networks but I quickly understood that this network was the handywork of some cheapass MCSE or a similar person who did not know much about networks. Anyway; the client was located off-site, so all TS was done via phone. This was a serious handicap, most users had a problem communicating with us and found it frustrating that we were so remote. I felt the same way, I wanted to help the people, but you just can't do the same job via the phone. We had one tech at the site who was constantly overworked.
But the worst thing was the attitude of som TS people. The TS people with the least knowledge was the worst when it came to yelling at clients. One would call them 'morons' after hanging up, with no respect to the fact that not all people know what the DNS IP number is. This person would call me a 'religious freak' when I hinted that Novell might be better than NT, and chew me out when the fault would be on that person's side.
The bottom line is, TS should be a service instituion. You are there for the client, and that's what matters. If you outsource the TS, you are giving it to an organistaion that only cares about money, no aboout service. The thing is that they just seem to care about service, through showing to logs and efficency. But in reality they would cut the service to you in half if there was a way they could get away with it.

Don't blame Tech Support, blame the company!!! (3.00 / 1) (#44)
by Chakotay on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 06:21:02 AM EST

Companies can give good tech support, but many choose not to, because that's cheaper. I work at a large corporation that does technical support for many big names in the IT industry all over the world. Personally, I support computer-related products for six companies in three languages. I'll tell you how it works where we're at.

First of all, most tech support agents are quite competent (I admit, some are not), and we in turn are supported by competent product specialists and quite competent supervisors. When we say "we'll look into it", we will look into it, or at least we'll make sure somebody looks into it and reports back either to us or to the customer. I also do email tech support, where in most cases this is much easier. Just forward it to the supervisor, and he'll forward it straight on to somebody who can actually answer the question.

I too have had horrible experiences with technical support, but only where the tech support agents hired were totally a-technical dimwits who had received programming instead of techincal training. In the company I work for most part-time tech agents are university students, and quite a few full-time agents are university drop-outs. Nothing wrong with the intelligence level there. Most tech agents actually have a lot of technical knowledge too.

Why does it work so well in this company then, when it goes so wrong for others? Because we do so many different projects. We don't only support really technical computer-related stuff, but also presales information for those products, support for monitors and universal remote controls, and there are even 10-15 people staffed on a project that involves booking flights for travel agencies. That's where our non-technical staff is. When people show technical skills, they're promoted from non-technical projects to more technical ones. Works almost perfectly.

Anyway, don't flame all of technical support when there is also definitely GOOD tech support out there. Blame the company for hiring pre-programmed a-technical drones instead of thinking, intelligent, technically savvy people. But oh, wait, those technically savvy people can get much better jobs with a better pay-cheque too! *sigh*

Sometimes I do wonder what the hell I am doing in tech support when I know much more about computers than most of those people claiming to be system administrators who call me sometimes. Give me whatever he earns, and I'll do a much better job than he dos. Geez.

Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

$$$ (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by duxup on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 06:36:44 AM EST

I've worked support for around five years now. I've been unfortunate enough to work for companies that are so bad as to explicitly asked me to lie to customers for them (legal implications there). I've also been lucky enough to work for my current employer who truly provides great support.

From your description I can't imagine you have much choice but to move the accounts to another ISP. They've obviously proven they can not be trusted in any way shape or form and from the sounds of it the TS manager had no intent to take responsibility for past or future problems. To me it sounds as if you're just rolling the dice if you stay with them and can guarantee yourself some future problems. Since it sounds as though your staying with them they also have no incentive to improve, and I wouldn't expect them to.

Also $1,000 a month really might not be that big of a deal to them. I'm often confronted with numbers by customers and in the end unless they're some very special people (and I already know who they are), it doesn't matter. We are usually doing all we can for them and tossing numbers around won't resolve issues any quicker. Such discussion with TS personnel just takes up time better spent on other issues. I would direct such discussion toward sales personnel who may have more of an interest in those lost accounts and probably know whom they can contact who would be more interested as well.

You noted that Abacus has some really good prices. My guess is that this really is more the root of the issue. In my experience money goes a long way in support. My current employer provides excellent support and accordingly customers pay through the nose and several other orifices for it. Accordingly support is a great portion of revenue for the company and it has every incentive to make customers happy who pay for it to continue paying. This revenue enhances the bottom line and enhances the pockets, training and loyalty of the support staff. This is in direct contrast where at other companies support is just something "mooching off the bottom line." That last line came from CEO a memo at a company I once worked at.

Of course not everyone has orifices to pay money out of. Thus I would suggest shopping around. When you find possible competitors I'd convey your past experiences and do your research on them. See what other people say about them too. When working with my clients and company partners we often discuss issues that we all deal with. I often get very valuable info from them. If I hear one customer complain about support or a poor product, I'll probably hear several others too and know to avoid it.

Tech support (2.00 / 2) (#47)
by pkej on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 06:59:54 AM EST

Many companies only try to sell, selling is all that counts (hence bonueses to salespeople). The tech support end, otoh, is often the step child of the organization.

That is especially true for stuff with small margins.

You see, people don't want to pay much for stuff, they want it cheap. If you are cheap, then you don't get any service.

Then there are companies with large margins, but still has poor tech support. They're just lazy or greedy.

Tech support isn't a priority. In fact a lot of service isn't priority these days, because everyone is obsessed with margins and initial cost, and don't think long term.

It's a symptom of bigger problems in an organization if the tech support is bad.

Do you know anything about the companies tech support? Is it outsourced? Is it done by educated people? Is tiered? Do they have different pricing levels for different support?

All these, and several other factors, might influence the way your recieve tech support. A few is under your control (ie. the money part), the rest are indicators of which value the company place on it's customers.

Why Tech Support Sucks. (3.50 / 2) (#55)
by Alarmist on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 10:53:47 AM EST

A lot of large companies (Dell and Time Warner among them) outsource their tech support departments. That's right, folks, the people you talk to when you call their number are not employed directly by those companies.

Chances are, those TS guys work for one of the large TS outsourcing companies--an outfit like Stream, for instance. I know something about Stream, as they have a call center about five minutes from where I live and I know people who work there. Here's the way it works:

Stream gives a prospective employee a skills test. This test is very easy. If you pass and get in, you get to sit in a cube for 8 hours and answer calls. You also have support software that acts as a script; basically, this program is doing the troubleshooting and you're reading the answers to the client. Not as low-status as flipping burgers, and the pay's marginally better (about $8/hour). In return for having to deal with clients, many of whom know nothing about computers, you have to deal with management that wants you to only use the program (and not any other knowledge you may have, no matter if you're right and the software is wrong, as has happened to someone I know that works there) and a shift schedule that means you don't work the same hours, but rather different hours every two weeks or so.

That's why a lot of TS is crappy: it's low pay, few opportunities for advancement, and no incentive to do the job right. You can get canned for being an ass to customers, but you can't get canned for pure incompetency because you never talk to the same customer twice and nobody expects TS to be good anyway.

Fight the Power.

** UPDATE ** (3.00 / 3) (#56)
by farl on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 01:33:58 PM EST

Spoke to their Sale Manager. Although he acknowledged that their TS manager might have made me a guarantee, they were still not liable for it. Unfortunately there is no person above him besides the owner, and he refused to give out the contact information for the owner. (Lucky for me I have access to real estate databases and could find that out anyway).

Submitted a claim to the BBB. Will be submitting stories to the local news and newspapers.

I love ya, man, but... (none / 0) (#63)
by chickenhead on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 07:57:50 AM EST

There are guarantees and there are guarantees.

The deal you made with your client--"It'll be up and running in 7 days or I eat $1000 plus $100 for each additional day"--is worth money.

The deal the tech support guy made with you--"I'll get it fixed by such and such a date"--didn't specify an "or else" clause. So it's not worth money.

Legally and morally, the vendor's actions were highly suckful but they don't owe you money, other than perhaps a refund of what you paid them. They'd owe you money if you had a contract that specified performance penalties, the same way your contract with your client did.

Long story short, in your place I would not have assumed that the hosting company was backing up their promise with a dollar amount unless they actually said they were doing so.

[ Parent ]

This is not a simple problem (4.28 / 7) (#57)
by Rasputin on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 02:02:05 PM EST

First, let me state for the record that I am one of those "managers of TS" that everybody around here seems to believe is a twit. I've also spent way too many years as a developer, systems architect and a bunch of other things, so I'm not technically incompetent (although my pre-frontal lobotomy is scheduled for Jan :)) My team does software (network) support for several products, so if your specific problem is hardware, you can stop reading this reply now.

There are problems with outsourced front line support units or call-centers and for a variety of reasons there isn't much we can do. The biggest problem is the churn in those positions. The only people you can get to take those jobs are new into IT/IS because they have no idea what the job is really like and they're the only people that will work for a wage that's actually economical for the company providing the service. As they either get training and experience, or they burn out, they leave and you get to start over with new people on the phones. Sometimes you get good ones, but that's pretty rare. If you know a solution for this I've got a very well paying position for you :)

Even for a company that derives a significant piece of income from support contracts (such as the company I work for) you just can't afford to pay that much for front line support people. Generally, you can only charge a small per centage of the purchasing price of the software for support and if the support budget goes above that point (or gets too close), somebody is in trouble. Most companies also expect support billing to make up for the difference between the actual cost of producing the software and the selling price. When you allow for the cost of escalation engineers (who actually have a good understanding of the product), sustaining engineers, infrastructure (servers, software, etc) there isn't much budget left for people to answer the phones. With the number of companies willing to step up and provide the front line service for less than could be done in-house, it's no wonder we outsource this stuff.

I can only speak from my own experience here, but if the people answering the phone can't provide the solution, you need to either have the case escalated to a more senior person who can do what is needed or you need to be speaking to a surpervisor. Telling TS that you'll drop their company if you don't get satisfaction is actually more likely to hurt than help. The person on the phone can't do anything about it, and in most cases neither can that person's supervisor. Everything these people can do is very tighly restricted by contracts and policies. They step outside those lines and they get to find a new employer. Guess how they will respond to you at that point.

I'm fortunate in that I'm responsible for the senior support people (3rd level). It's not an easy job, but it's not nearly so stressful as the front line positions. If a customer problem gets to us, it gets solved. Fortunately, we've noticed that there are a lot of people calling TS for self-inflicted problems, and we generally receive about 10% of the call volume the front line people deal with. We have a running joke about sending some of our customers targets they can stick on top of their shoes before they try to do anything :) It's actually important to keep in mind the number of customers who end up phoning TS because they didn't know what they were doing. After you've listened to several hundred customers tell you "I absolutely checked that and it's right" only to have them admit later "oops, turned out it was that" it takes an amazing amount of patience (and gullibility) to continue believing the customer when they say they checked something, especially when what they claim to have checked is the cause of the reported problem in 99% of the cases. You might very well be the 1% that did in fact check that and have a new problem, but it's going to take some work on your part to convince the TS person of that.

The only other comment I will make about contacting TS is make sure you have all the information and more before you call. If you want to see why, follow along almost any mailing list that provides user support to FreeBSD or Linux or almost any other open source software product. These are (in theory) the people most likely to have a clue, and it's incredible the number of times you'll see a problem report like "I get a whole bunch of error messages when I try to build a custom kernel" with nothing else. You tell me how to diagnose that without asking for a lot of information, probably over a series of communications. Now imagine how much fun it is when the person is on the other end of a phone, yelling, and has no clue how to get the information you want and why can't you solve the problem now.

I guess my point is try to treat the TS people on the other end of the phone the way you like to be treated. If you're nice to these people, occassionally they can do some extra things for you to improve your situation. Irritate them, and you'll never get anything beyond unwilling assistance.

Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.
Tech Support could halve their reply time.... (3.00 / 3) (#60)
by 0x00 on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 06:56:29 PM EST

if they lowered the frag limit from 20 to 10, allowing the map rotation would speed up. We all know they reply during the precache.



I dislike that evil clown in q3a.

I agree with Rusty - change ISPs (3.00 / 1) (#61)
by chaoskitty on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 07:36:07 PM EST

I started colocating a server (it's right above k5's VA Linux box) because I was tired of dealing with a layer or two of non technical people between me and the sysadmins at my previous ISP.

At first, it was supposed to be just for me and my geek friends (what server could be better than one set up by, and for, geeks?), but people started asking me to host, set up email, and so on.

So I started charging for it. I don't charge less than other ISPs, but people still swear by me, because they know that if something important happens, I'll be on it, even if it's 3:00am.

My point is that some people care much more about being able to talk with me directly than price.

After all, is it more economical to pay $25 a month, or to pay $5 a month but spend several hours trying to get an ISP to do something for you?

Find an ISP that will give you a direct line to a tech person. If you represent 25 clients, that's the least they can do.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for (3.66 / 3) (#64)
by Ummon on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 08:16:56 AM EST

Despite what you may believe, tech support is an option. Just like bigger hard drives, more licenses, or any other feature you have to pay to get.

If you want good tech support, you pay for it. If you don't want to pay, then quit your bitching.

Sometimes this cost is hidden, but usually not. Quality products come right out and say, "If you want support, it's going to cost X per year". If you don't see this, ask for it. If they don't offer it, start worrying or look elsewhere. If you can't get additional support, start looking for another product because that one sucks.

No, you pay for what you get (3.00 / 1) (#65)
by error 404 on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 09:48:05 AM EST

There is a difference. If you got what you paid for, the BBB would be out of business.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen a lot of companies that come right out and say "good TS will cost X/month" and follow through. I've seen quite a few that say "TS will cost X/month" and then after you call a few times you think "Hmmm, for less than a day's worth of TS, I can buy a dead chicken to wave around and get better results."

What I've had work, in general, is to find a good company to work with. Takes research, including talking to people and lobbing a few technical questions over the wall to see how they respond before you sign a contract. The contract may have a seperate item for the TS, or it might be rolled into the basic product. It probably won't be the cheapest company, although it also probably won't be the most expensive either. And then they will probably get bought out by some bastards and you have to start over...

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]
SLA (Service Level Agreements) (none / 0) (#76)
by vanbo on Sun Nov 26, 2000 at 03:29:21 PM EST

I don't know what you are talking about, ALL companies that I review at my company MUST submit SLA's or they are not considered. If it's an ISP, they will state the uptime of the network, the connectivity to the internet, and the uptime of the servers (if applicable). If it's a printer manufacture, and they say "1 year warrenty" we make them tell us if that's onsite, next day, etc. The moral of the story is, if you don't tell the company what you expect, and then you get less then what you expected, who's fault is that?
[ Parent ]
Don't Blame Technical Support (3.50 / 2) (#72)
by gblues on Wed Nov 22, 2000 at 03:57:55 PM EST

Technical Support representatives are at the bottom of the management food chain. They cannot make meaningful guarantees. They usually cannot talk directly to engineers. Depending on the management setup, they may not even be able to guarantee a callback. Any promises they do make (such as yours on day 5) are based on good faith that the guys up the food chain will take care of the situation once they send it up.

I have worked for several clients, supporting everything from major computer vendors to sucky ISPs to printer manufacturers. It's all the same. On the front lines, all you have to work with is what management gives you.

At JPS, more often than not we were in parrot mode trying to explain why they couldn't connect. Of course, we couldn't tell them the truth--that JPS was too cheap to invest in high-quality equipment that could handle the load of their customer base. We had to make up stories about bandwidth shortages, modem incompatibilities, and server reboots (among other things).

The other thing to keep in mind is a modified version of Kaa's Law: for any sufficiently popular product, most end-users are idiots. They will not read the manual, they will not do research; and as a direct result, they buy the cheapest product available with unrealistic expectations of what that product will do. And then bitch to technical support when the tech says it needs service.

The best you can do is to not fall into the above category. I don't think you did, your case sounds like a genuine management fsckup. Switch ISPs (for all the sites you host through them) before you get burned again.

... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
When Tech Support Doesn't | 76 comments (75 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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