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Towards Better Technical Support

By Control Group in Op-Ed
Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:50:24 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

You'd think that the tech/geek/computer crowd would be a pretty hard-headed, rational, pragmatic, no-nonsense sort of crowd, wouldn't you? I certainly would, and I'm one of 'em. But every now and again you read a discussion like this. I know, I know, one doesn't go to the other site for great conversation, but that's hardly the only place I've seen this topic discussed, and they all seem to go the same way.

One the one hand, you've got the "tech support sucks" crowd, saying that support is their job, they should be expected to deal with whatever users need. How dare they put on their "elite" hats, as though esoteric knowledge of computer Black Magic makes them better than the average guy. There are plenty of well-educated, intelligent people who call tech support, are they "dummies" too? "I get paid to market product, not to know how to maintain a computer." Besides, if the software worked, maybe you wouldn't need to take eighteen months of training in how to use it.

On the other hand, you've got the "it's the luser's own fault for not knowing better" crowd, saying that if just one more moron calls in because he couldn't figure out his ELECTRONIC computer needed to be PLUGGED INTO THE WALL to work, they're gonna go nuts. If the users would take the time to think about what's going on, or—GOD FORBID—read the information on the screen, tech support wouldn't have to be such jerks.

Finally, you've got the "I know more than the tech, lemme talk to someone who isn't retarded" crowd, who explain that they know their system isn't the problem, there's a downed router at their ISP. This bunch generally complains about The Script, and that if they mention "Linux" they get stonewalled. "If the guy would just learn to recognize my l33t 5k1llz, I could tell him what the problem is, and how to fix it." They tend to complain about outsourcing "best shoring" tech support, and call the people on the other end of the line "support monkeys." The so-called "techs" probably got fired from their last McJob and figured "there's lots of money in com-poo-ters."

The mind boggles. I'd bet good money that you read those, and sympathized with one of them. A little voice in your head was saying "damn straight" about one of them. Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly innocent, here—I did my best to present each group in an equal light, but I'm sure I didn't fully succeed in masking my own bias.

My preferences aside, though, there are a couple things about the situation that are just about unarguably true. First, that it's less than ideal. Far too many people spend far too much time complaing about tech support from one side or another for it to really be working. Second, and more importantly, each of the three main groups has a point! Pick the one that made you say to yourself, "oh, I hate those people," and try (painful though it might be) to look at it from their point of view.

Say you work a help desk, and there's nothing you hate more than the supercilious user who can't be bothered to learn the first thing about the machine he has to use. Put yourself in his place. It's possible that he's just a jerk in general, but probably he's just a guy trying to get his job done. His boss sets deadlines, and he's doing his best to meet them, just like you. He's got plenty on his own desk, and he just wants to get through it so he can go home to his family, watch the game, and relax for a bit. But first, he has to get this bloody spreadsheet to generate a regression line. No one bothered to find out if he knew how. No one in his area knows, either. He's struggled with it for more than an hour, and he finally has it. The chart appears. It worked! All he has to do is label the lines, and—BOOM, BSOD. #$@*! Is it surprising he just wants the help desk to fix it? He doesn't want to hear about how it was probably his own fault, he doesn't want to hear that he did something stupid, he wants it to have worked, and it didn't, and he knows he'll have to do it again, and he wasn't hired to generate charts anyway, and you're the computer guy, and JUST FIX THE DAMN THING ALREADY.

Or maybe you're an end user, and your application crashed. You're about to fire off a curt email to the help desk, but stop for a second. Think about it from his point of view. Think about how much email the help desk gets, almost all of it demanding they fix something, adjust something, or install something. Your department doesn't quite have enough people to go around, the help desk doesn't, either. Sure, it's possible that the guy at the help desk is the infamous Bastard Operator From Hell, but odds are good he's just a guy who's good with computers, trying to make a living with that skill. He'd probably love to make your system run just the way you want it to. But you're not the only person he's supporting, are you? You're about to send out an email saying "[x] isn't working, and I can't get anything done." He gets tens, dozens, maybe hundreds of these a day, on everything from Word to Lotus Notes to Oracle. He knows perfectly well that your computer gave you an error message, and knows he's going to have to email you back to find out what it was, and you're going to be even more annoyed as time passes. He doesn't want to deal with angry users. He already knows it's his job to fix the computers, he doesn't need you telling him that. Yes, your problem is important, but he's also got an open issue with the VP of sales, who's about set to fart fire, someone was just "sent this file in order to have your assistance," database load is peaking, and he's already going to be here all night configuring a new server, so if you could just back off for a bit, he'll take care of it as soon as he can.

Perhaps you're someone who knows computers. You'd never claim you know everything, but you know what you know, you're aware of what you don't know, and you've figured out what the problem is: their DHCP server is down or flaky. You call tech support, you each say "hi," then the guy says, "OK, I'm going to need you to reset your modem." Before you put on your "I'm smarter than you" suit, think about that guy's job. Sure, it's possible he's a clueless drone who couldn't care less about your problem, but odds are he's just a guy who'd love to deal with a competent user...but how can he tell? Remember the adage about how you can tell how much someone knows about computers by just asking them: if they say "nothing," they're completely clueless. If they say "a bit," they know more than 95% of the population, and know how much they don't. If they say "everything," they're almost as clueless as the first guy, but don't believe they are. So, how many people do you suppose the support guy deals with every day who tell him they already know what's wrong, he's clearly an idiot for not listening to them, and if they don't get to talk to his manager right now, they're going to file a complaint. Of course, when he kicks them up to the manager, who discerns that they're "scanning" faxes by placing them against the monitor and broke off their "cup holder" last week, who do you think the manager's going to blame? The support guy is tired of people explaining to him how much smarter than him they are despite the fact that they clearly couldn't solve the problem on their own. And if he hears one more guy just "mention" he's a doctor of esoteric-discipline-of-the-day, he's gonna scream, so if you could maybe just HIT the reset button so we can get ON with it, we'll BOTH save time.

Can't you see being any one of these people? What they're saying isn't unreasonable. They've all got good points; they've all been burned by someone on the other side. They're not jackasses or morons, they're people in a situation they don't like , doing the best they can to deal with it. People dealing with broken equipment, malfuctioning software, or a towering workload are unlikely to be in the best possible mood, and can you blame them?

And no one seems to realize the (to me) easy solution. Be polite. We all know that the majority of people are basically decent and helpful, but they're also susceptible to frustration and anger. The user/tech support interaction happens almost exclusively in that sort of situation. It's also no secret that people respond better to requests than demands; more flies with honey, and so forth. So maybe—just maybe—you might bear in mind next time you're involved in one of these exchanges that the whole thing will go faster and be less obnoxious if you can approach the situation calmly and politely. If you've been on hold for 45 minutes, you've got a right to be irked, but taking it out on the poor guy who ends up with your call isn't productive, so don't. Just work with him to get your problem solved, and if you still want to take your shots about the hold time, ask for a manager. If he can't (or won't) give you one, and you're still dead-set on taking a stand, send a letter.

If a user has just "lost" all his email (by selecting it all and hitting delete), don't sigh and give him your "what did you THINK the delete key did??" look. Say something more like, "yeah, I hate when I make that mistake; it only takes one press of the delete key, and everything you've highlighted is gone. Luckily, it's set up to save them in your trash until you close the program, so you can get them back without too much trouble." With luck, he'll remember, and it'll never come up again. Even if not, you haven't lost anything, have you?

If the tech you call begins running through a script which details everything you've already tried, why not just play along? It'll probably take less time than convincing him you don't need to, and with less frustration all around. If you're really pressed for time, you're still best off not acting superior. Try just introducing the problem by saying "here's what's happening, and I've tried X, Y and Z to fix it, with no results." But bear in mind that, quite often, the guy is required to go through the script, and no amount of ranting on your part is going to change that.

I've been in all of the above positions, and courtesy goes a long way. No matter what sort of rationalist, realist, pragmatist image the tech/geek/computer crowd has, we still respond better to the courteous than the curt.


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


o ...am a user who hates the hell desk. 19%
o ...am a help desk staffer who loathes the lusers. 12%
o ...take tech support calls from condescending jerks. 10%
o ...am a Shiny, Happy Person who gets along with everyone. 57%

Votes: 82
Results | Other Polls

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Towards Better Technical Support | 104 comments (88 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
Tech Support needs to be fragmented (4.60 / 10) (#2)
by ph317 on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 02:53:32 PM EST

The underlying problem is that there are really two reasons to call "Tech Support", whether it's about that Veritas Cluster Volume Manager software you're running on your E15K at work, or whether you're calling Time Warned because you're cable/net access is "broken".  I'd like to call these categories "Helpdesk" and "Problem Reporting", but you can call them what you will.

"Helpdesk" questions are when you're calling up because you know that you don't really know what's going on, but something's not working as you expect.  It is quite likely your fault, but you need help understanding how to fix your problems.

"Problem Reporting" is when you know exactly what's going on, you've already done core-dump analysis or packet sniffing or whatever low-level technical analysis might be warranted, you've determined that you've done your part up to spec, and that the product or service actually has an outage, bug, or fault of some sort.  You're here to report the problem to the guys responsible and ask for any workaround or patch they may have to fix the broken behavior of their system.

If all companies would have two seperate numbers to call for these two distinct classes of calls, and users could be relied upon to make this distinction clearly in most cases, this would solve a lot of problems.  Of course the two departments will get calls of the wrong type and have to bounce them to the other department, but hopefully through proper user education you can keep this to a minimum.

Then again, maybe most people who should be calling Helpdesk always start out thinking they should be calling "Problem Reporting" and then you're stuck back at square 1.

Trust (4.85 / 7) (#4)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 02:59:05 PM EST

The problem with your view of problem reporting is that the companies can't, and won't, trust user's error reporting. If they did just that, they'd lose more time until they discovered that the fault is really the user's. Knowledgeable people like us are a drop in the ocean.

There's a reason companies have those call-scripts we find so obnoxious. It's the best for them and 99% of their users.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]

riiiiiiight. (4.75 / 4) (#26)
by eudas on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:48:37 PM EST

you are much too optimistic.
All you would get on the "i know what i'm doing" line is get clueless users who really don't know what they're doing, and maybe occasional calls from users who really do know what they're doing.
ie, in other words, you'd just have two support numbers instead of one, and instead of one department being responsible for issues, you'd have two that blame the issues on each other.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

in your defense (4.00 / 2) (#69)
by eudas on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:46:31 AM EST

in defense of what you're saying, i have noticed that time warner support does play a message when you dial in for support letting you know if there are any current issues and what areas they affect, so if you are calling in about an internet connectivity loss in your neighbourhood they can just let you know up front that they are already aware of it and working on it and it will be a few hours before it is back up so just hang up now and don't increase the call workload any more than it needs to be.

they also do try to route general issues to certain segments which works a bit but i am sure that also results in as i mentioned calls going to wrong divisions and a little bit of the blame game between them.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

No such thing as an E15K[nt] (3.00 / 1) (#96)
by axxeman on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 06:55:19 AM EST

Tho I'm sure you knew that :)

Being or not being married isn't going to stop bestiality or incest. --- FlightTest
[ Parent ]

My view on the subject (2.50 / 6) (#3)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 02:54:56 PM EST

I think computers are like cars, in that people should be trained to use them. Sure, there are people who learn to drive on their on, but they're a minority and they might crash the vehicle in the process. The basic bits should be known by everybody, such as putting discs inside drives.

The root of the problem, IMNSHO, is that many, many people, specially lawyers, doctors and such, want the damn things to do what they want, but won't "waste" any time of their own in learning how to operate them.

Fortunately, I don't deal with this kind of people. Anyway, your article sounds too much like a rant to me, I wouldn't vote it up like that.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p

Sorry, I was trying to avoid that (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by Control Group on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:14:36 PM EST

I was attempting to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek about something that many people find infinitely frustrating, but without being ranty.

Clearly, I didn't pull of the second part well enough. ;) What would you change to unrantify it? Or is it simply unsalvageable in your mind?

"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]

It can be saved (3.66 / 3) (#7)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:26:48 PM EST

I'd cut the article's size in about half. There's not much wrong with the ranting, actually, except that there's too much of it. It repeats itself someties.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
I hear you pal (1.00 / 1) (#29)
by bigbtommy on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:59:49 PM EST

I've got two fscked Windows boxes downstairs that are in the process of repair (think nasty, nasty Windows XP crap). And yes, I'm hoping to go to law school. See not all lawyers are dumb, ignorant fucks who can't use computers.

Only the ones that use vi.
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]

Computers are like cars? (3.50 / 2) (#40)
by X3nocide on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 05:04:53 AM EST

But the entire interface is artificial. What prevents the existance of a computer that is controlled via speech, and gives the results via speech?

On the other hand, cars are cars. They have an engine, a transmission and wheels. You'll need a method of increasing or decreasing speed, whether it be a dial or a throttle or the standard pedal system. Cars are not generic multipurpose devices, but transportation utilities.

Even within GUI design, there are infinite ways to allow the user control. Using an application's menu in Windows is not the same as in Mac. The user interface is almost completely arbitrary.

[ Parent ]

My ISP (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by omghax on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:19:11 PM EST

constantly has problems. They ARE improving, to give them credit, but back when I had dialup the latency spikes were abhorrent, my connection constantly dropped, the server would sometimes refuse incoming connections, etc. Now that I have cable the DHCP server crashes and the DNS goes out.

Calling the tech support does no good no matter what the problem, because "noone else has called in about this". I wonder still if that excuse was really true.

Their support is made of dumbasses (2.75 / 4) (#8)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:28:46 PM EST

Get an ISP which pays for people who are actually capable of resolving problems.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
nobody else has reported this problem (none / 0) (#28)
by eudas on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:59:36 PM EST

sometimes you have to say "noone else has reported this" even if someone else HAS reported it because if you do you get in trouble. customer service is like politics in this respect; if you espouse something that has not yet receive approval as the party line, you are probably going to get burned for it.

what i usually say instead is something along the lines of "i've not receive any official word of a problem of this sort" or something similar; that way, i can dodge the question without lying.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

yes you are the only one having the problem (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by metalgeek on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:04:27 AM EST

a hint to users, if you call in and the wait time is short, it's almost always your computers fault, not the isp.
If it was the isp's you wouldn't be talking to me, you'd be on the phone waiting for an hour to talk to me.

"K5 is a site where users have the motto 'Anyone Who Isn't Me Is An Idiot, And Anyone Who Disagrees With Me Is Gay'." skyknight
[ Parent ]
I don't mind tech support people (4.00 / 6) (#9)
by iasius on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:30:43 PM EST

what I do mind is some of them telling me obvious lies. Whether they know it's a lie or not is beside the point.
If I call a tech guy because I have a problem with my sdsl line that never appeared in over a year of usage and that guy tells me that problem is a now feature and it can't be another way I get angry. Not because I hate tech support people, but because here I am, willing to listen to their ideas and they tell me I'm lying.
Hey, I know you're not supposed to get 1 second ping delays with an sdsl line, it has never happened in over a year, but now this guy tells me, it has always been like that.
Same with another (later) problem with my sdsl line. Suddenly I get 10% less bandwidth. Along with many other customers (as evidenced by a private support board). I call tech support and they tell me I shouldn't complain, this is now normal. ARGH!
Either the guy on tech support didn't know the first thing about sdsl, or he just didn't care.

I guess I'm one of the "If the guy would just learn to recognize my l33t 5k1llz, I could tell him what the problem is, and how to fix it."-people.

the internet troll is the pinnacle of human evolution - circletimessquare

Except I don't know how to fix it myself (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by iasius on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:33:33 PM EST

I just know when they're not really trying.

the internet troll is the pinnacle of human evolution - circletimessquare
[ Parent ]
That's your clue (4.33 / 3) (#11)
by cbraga on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 03:58:15 PM EST

to get another ISP.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Would be, the others are worse (4.00 / 4) (#12)
by iasius on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 04:15:06 PM EST

the internet troll is the pinnacle of human evolution - circletimessquare
[ Parent ]
I had months of aggravation from Road Runner (4.00 / 5) (#14)
by HidingMyName on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:09:51 PM EST

Eventually I told them that if the problem was not fixed, I'd put a line monitor on and if I found the problem was their fault I'd bill them for the analyzer and my time in small claims court. They quickly flipped a switch somewhere and put me on a working circuit and I've been happy ever since.

[ Parent ]
No. You're the guy they lied to! (5.00 / 10) (#18)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:11:26 AM EST

As a tech support person my first rule of my job is: never lie to the customer. Apart from being against my moral code it's just good sense to be completely upfront with the customer.

If I cannot work out what the problem is, or if I think that there is a problem with the product and the customer needs help then I'll escalate the call to a higher level of tech support.

The reason I do this is:

  1. I don't have to lie to the customer.
  2. The customer has a greater chance of having their problem solved, or at the very least they'll talk to someone with better leeway to compensate them.
  3. There's a greater chance that the customer will find a solution that makes them happy with my company. A happy customer is a loyal customer and a loyal customer spends more money with your company. If my company gets more money there's more chance of a payrise/bonus. Mercenanry? No, just good sense and especially not so if combined with points 1 and 2.
If you are ever lied to by a tech support representative be smart: this person is either unethical or they're under huge amounts of pressure. You need to be able to delude them into thinking that you don't realise they're lying to you so that you can get the following information:
  • their name (if you can get their full name all well and good, often you just won't get this)
  • their employee number (if you can!)
  • a call reference number/caller ID/customer care number/call tracking number so that you can identify when you called
Make sure that you write notes as you go, but don't let on your doing this! As with a good log file on a computer, make sure you put the date and time of the call in each of these incidents so that you keep chronological order of this evidence.

Armed with this evidence speak to a supervisor. Things will be done because of your meticulous recording of information. If they don't handle the matter satisfactorily this is where you write a letter to your local government fair trading or consumer affairs department using the evidence you recorded during the phone calls. Send a copy to the head office of the company and make sure you keep a copy for yourself. You'll often find that this scares the company into fixing the problem and/or offer you compensation for the problems you've been having!

Look, I realise that this is blowing my own horn, but as an experienced tech support rep I know how most call centres are structured and I know how to get what I need out of them. I've used many tactics over the years to get what's needed from these support lines! Where most people get frustrated I merely use the system to get what I want. The advise I just gave was basic stuff that all customers should be doing!

Yours not so humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

As far as I can see... (4.55 / 9) (#13)
by johnnyfever on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 04:52:21 PM EST

This kind of problem is not by any means restricted to tech support. The fundamental problem here is that people do not have the slightest respect for others. People are selfish and impatient. They really just don't give a shit about anyone else and don't care to start giving a shit.

Although I whole heartedly agree with the sentiment in your article, the sad truth is that you will never succeed in instilling respect in most people.

I've Done It Their Way (3.33 / 3) (#15)
by CheeseburgerBrown on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 05:38:25 PM EST

I've done it their way, but tech support still sucks.

I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski. Personally, I pref
ISP tech support and more! (4.85 / 28) (#16)
by kitten on Tue Aug 12, 2003 at 06:58:02 PM EST

I had Earthlink DSL for a good eight months. During that time, I had maybe 40% uptime, and when it was up I'd get over 50% packet loss most of the time.

It wasn't my machine. I tried four different machines running three different operating systems. It wasn't the router machine either - I tried plugging the CAT5 directly to the NIC. It wasn't the DSL modem itself - I tried two others known to be compatible. I reinstalled my TCP/IP stack more times than I can count, rebooted, revamped, recapitulated, regurgitated.

To put it as simply as possible: The problem was not on my end.

All I fucking wanted was for them to run their little line tests to figure out what and where the problem was, and to fix it.

And I learned some things during the course of my first two calls:

1. Don't mention Linux. Ever. The millisecond that word comes out of your mouth, you'll hear "Oh, sorry, we don't support Linux." If you run Linux, or anything other than Windows, and you know the problem is not on your end, just tell them you run Windows.

2. Play along with their stupid script. Yes, I know it's annoying. Yes, it's a waste of everyone's time. But the only way they'll do what you want is when their script has ended and they're out of options, and are then forced to escalate to someone who can actually fucking fix the thing.

You don't have to actually DO what they're telling you to do. When they say "Okay, let's try resetting the modem by turning it off, and back on!" just go "okay," and stare out the window for thirty seconds and then say "Okay, it's back on." It's not like you haven't tried that about a billion times already.

The exception to this is when they're asking you to do things that are dangerous or stupid. I had one tech who, after I played through most of his script, decided it was a problem with my registry settings and was in the process of telling me how to screw around with it. When it gets to that point, either tell them you aren't going to do that, and why (be polite), or just hang up and call back and get another agent who isn't a fuckwit.

3. If you have a network, and you're confident it isn't a problem with the hardware, tell them you don't. They don't want to hear that you have any setup other than outlet, bridge/modem, NIC.

Try just introducing the problem by saying "here's what's happening, and I've tried X, Y and Z to fix it, with no results." But bear in mind that, quite often, the guy is required to go through the script, and no amount of ranting on your part is going to change that.

This is unfortunately true. I see this as a company problem more than a problem with the guy you're talking to. The company needs to allow the tech agent the leeway to determine whether the caller is an idiot or not - if I call up and say "Here's the problem, I've done X, Y, Z, A, B, C, Q, R, and S," and it's clear you know what you're talking about, the agent should be allowed to forgo The Script. Telling me to reset my modem after I just told him I've tried that (along with everything else) is a waste of my time, his time, and the company's time. He should be allowed to cut corners or just get to the bottom line if he feels it's appropriate.

Moving along.

I do understand that not everyone is technically inclined, and that many people just want to get on with their job and not listen to some tech guy bitch at them.

However, the excuse "I'm not a computer guy" doesn't hold water. Computers are a part of the office today, as much as the copier, fax, and coffee machine. They aren't going away. To not be technically inclined is one thing - to be fundamentally ignorant of what you're doing is inexcusable.

If your job requires you to work with spreadsheets from time to time, and you can't manage to do this without fucking something up bigtime, you are not qualified for the position you hold. If your job requires you to use email, and you can't do that without deleting half your inbox because you don't know what you're doing, you are not qualified for the position. If your job requires that you work with a document on your boss's computer and you can't figure out how to get it through the network without wiping his Outlook database, you are not qualified for the job.

Accidents happen to everyone, even those of us who have a clue. I'm willing to overlook things like this once, maybe twice. But when someone is calling me every other day with the same sort of problem, that says to me that they are not qualified for the job. I should not have to remind the same person four times in a week that in order to see what's on the screen, their monitor has to be turned on. Fire the clown and get someone in here who can write a document in Word without deleting their "My Documents" folder.

(Although I wonder how well that would hold up in traffic court. "Sorry I ran that red light, Your Honor, but I'm really not what you'd call a 'car person' or a 'law person', you know? I just want to get where I'm going, I shouldn't have to know every little road law there is!")

mirrorshades radio - darkwave, synthpop, industrial, futurepop.
Sounds like a ship of fools (3.00 / 1) (#48)
by scruffyMark on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 09:40:07 PM EST

If your job requires that you work with a document on your boss's computer and you can't figure out how to get it through the network without wiping his Outlook database, you are not qualified for the job.

That may be true, but if it's even possible for you to do that accidentally, then your boss is unqualified to the point of endangering the whole company.

[ Parent ]

eg-fucking-xactly!!!! (3.50 / 2) (#49)
by sal5ero on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 11:48:34 PM EST

However, the excuse "I'm not a computer guy" doesn't hold water. ...


... without deleting their "My Documents" folder.

[ Parent ]
Ever considered that 90% are not qualified? (2.50 / 4) (#61)
by Quietti on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:45:26 AM EST

News at 11: 90% of the population is not qualified to do anything, is too dumb for their own good and still ends up having to get a job because we are living in a capitalist universe that requires them to pay for everything.

Eliminate money, then all those dimwits no longer need to occupy any position anywhere; only those that have talent/interest into anything end up getting a job anywhere. How about that?

The whole point of civilization is to reduce how much the average person has to think. - Stef Murky
[ Parent ]

How do I become qualified? (4.00 / 3) (#70)
by pin0cchio on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:46:56 AM EST

If your job requires you to work with spreadsheets from time to time, and you can't manage to do this without fucking something up bigtime, you are not qualified for the position you hold.

How do I become qualified? What if I know how to work with spreadsheets in OpenOffice.org Calc, but the corporate standard at pretty much every employer is some $500 program that I can't afford while I work in fast food while waiting for a real job?

If your job requires that you work with a document on your boss's computer and you can't figure out how to get it through the network without wiping his Outlook database, you are not qualified for the job.

So how does the average person become qualified? Most people fresh out of college with tens of thousands of dollars of debt cannot afford several computers and Microsoft Exchange software.

If I'm missing something fundamental about the training that employers are willing in 2003 to perform on new employees, please help me.

[ Parent ]
if you know openoffice... (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by sal5ero on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:02:35 PM EST

What if I know how to work with spreadsheets in OpenOffice.org Calc, but the corporate standard at pretty much every employer is some $500 program that I can't afford while I work in fast food while waiting for a real job?

If you can work well with OpenOffice Calc, you can work with Excel etc without deleting files and other fuckups.

[ Parent ]
Tech support (4.90 / 10) (#17)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 05:40:14 AM EST

As a tech support guy I've already given much of my thoughts on the matter.

This story makes many good points. Some additional ones are:

  • The "script" is often necessary. Though I don't use a script in my job, I often have to run customers through a series of predefined diagnostic steps. Though customers often say "I've done this already!" I go through the obvious because:

    1. I often need to work out what the problem is that the customer is seeing, even after they've tried to explain it to me! Customers often don't know how to define the problem correctly and if I don't work out what the actual problem is then we often start trying to solve a problem other than the one the customer has.

    2. I don't want to miss anything. You don't want to troubleshoot a comms error on a peripheral when the device just turns out to be turned off! It's better to get the obvious out of the way and then go onto the more esoteric, think-outside-the-square stuff later.

  • If you want to talk to a supervisor, all well and good. The tech will get a supervisor to call you but be aware:

    1. A supervisor is usually quite busy and often won't be able to talk to you right now! It might take a while for them to get back to you.

    2. A supervisor is usually a non-technical manager-type person. He won't be able to solve your weird technical problem!

    3. If you're unreasonable (a good tech usually knows when someone needs to talk to a supervisor) then you might be unofficially flagged as a troublemaker. If people think you're just out to make trouble you'll often get less support than you might want: the company might see that you're going to cause problems and give you the bare minimum of support they must legally give you - and no more!

  • Under no circumstances scream at or make personal threats to the technician who's trying to help you out. I handle these callers with a warning that I don't have to put up with this behaviour and if they don't cease the abuse then I'll terminate the call. If they don't then I really do terminate the call!

  • If a technician can't work out the problem he'll put you up to another level of support. Be prepared to wait for a call because if the problem is this difficult then it may take time to research the issue and call you back with a possible answer.

  • Never tell a technician "it's your job". Try to imagine how you'd feel if I walked into your place of employment with a problem and demanded you solve it because "it's your job!". Not pleasant, is it?

It's essential that you understand that in the tech support world, politeness gets you further than screaming, raving and looking down your nose at the technician trying to help you. After all, you're the one with the problem you need help resolving, not the technician who's being paid to assist you!

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".

Script (4.50 / 6) (#20)
by bugmaster on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 10:07:28 AM EST

I should also point out that, more often than not, the tech support guy on the other end of the line knows perfectly well that The Script is useless -- but there is nothing he can do. All the calls are monitored, and a single deviation from The Script will get him fired on the spot. So, both of you have to suffer through pointless steps (restart the software, reboot the computer, unplug the router, etc.) until The Script runs its course; then, you can actually start asking the techie meaningful questions.

Basically, think of The Script as a really complicated, cumbersome, and entrenched handshaking protocol. It's really not needed, but it's the standard, so there's nothing you can do.
[ Parent ]

All calls monitored? (4.00 / 2) (#76)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:50:57 AM EST

What, they have one manager for one technician? That doesn't make sense...

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

at the call center/sweatshop I worked at... (4.00 / 1) (#87)
by clover_kicker on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 04:44:23 PM EST

...the call recording gizmo records random calls. That's not quite true, it records a couple of calls for each agent/coolie/slave at random times during the week.

The team leader would listen to these calls. There's a functional PC in the recording room, so the team lead listens to the call while looking up the same information as the agent/serf/slave.

If there was an obvious discrepency between how long it took you to handle a call and how long the team lead could have looked after it, they'd haul your ass into the recording room and "coach" you.

It's a lovely work environment, it really is. Some departments don't even shackle their agents/slaves to the desks/oars.
I am the very model of a K5 personality.
I intersperse obscenity with tedious banality.

[ Parent ]

You do tech support? (3.00 / 6) (#31)
by grouse on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:07:51 PM EST

And I always thought you were a big fish. I guess you are not.

You sad bastard!

"Grouse please don't take this the wrong way... To be quite frank, you are throwing my inner Chi out of its harmonious balance with nature." -- Tex Bigballs
[ Parent ]

Well, that's your misconception, not mine! (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 04:31:17 AM EST

ta1 bù shì dà yú.

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]
Have you ever wondered why they are so many calls? (3.54 / 11) (#21)
by Big Dogs Cock on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 10:26:05 AM EST

Ford manage to ship reasonably complicated cars to people but I don't see them having a huge helpdesk operation. Why is it that almost all devices can be successfully operated by most people without all of this fuss? I don't see a copy of "DVD players for Dummies" available on Amazon.

The answer is obvious: computers are too difficult to use. How do I turn it off? Click on the Start button of course. Right. Until programmers start doing their job and producing systems which "just work" rather than "just about work" people are always going to get frustrated.
People say that anal sex is unhealthy. Well it cured my hiccups.
To all those people ranting about the Start button (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by vrt3 on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 05:29:12 PM EST

I acknowledge it's somewhat clumsy, but it's not that bad... would you rather have a Stop button next to the Start button?

When a man wants to murder a tiger, it's called sport; when the tiger wants to murder him it's called ferocity. -- George Bernard Shaw
[ Parent ]
Stop button (4.00 / 3) (#24)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 05:59:57 PM EST

Sounds good to me!
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Me too... (2.00 / 1) (#41)
by squigly on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 05:33:56 AM EST

I think "off" might be a better name though.

[ Parent ]
Sir, you're missing the point. (4.50 / 4) (#39)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 04:52:37 AM EST

We're now stuck with a crappy UI design element because of some Microsoft designer who thinks in cliches.

When I first saw Windows 95 I was startled to realise that they'd just slapped Windows Explorer over the top of the file system. Then I saw how they'd implemented aliases shortcuts and I wondered which moron had designed the UI and which moron had signed off on it. After all, the Mac had one way of organising the filesystem (you wanted to remove your program? you put it's folder in the trash) whereas Windows had the underlying filesystem and a registry and this stupid Start menu with a programs menu which competed with the filesystem. To remove programs you had to go to Add/Remove Programs. I got caught out with this - I just removed the program by deleting the folder it was contained in, and I don't think I was the only one who got caught out on this!

I'm used to it now. What's definitely ironic is that most people I support now have a harder time trying to use Mac OS X than they do with Windows XP! I'm afraid Mac have flushed their famed UI design reputation down the toilet on this one - IMHO they've dropped the ball. What a pity.

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

Apple menu (4.50 / 2) (#67)
by pin0cchio on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:36:35 AM EST

whereas Windows had the underlying filesystem and a registry and this stupid Start menu with a programs menu which competed with the filesystem.

Mac OS 7.5 through 9 didn't have a registry, but it did have both a file system and an Apple menu, and the Apple menu performed almost exactly the same function as the Start menu of Windows 9x, with the exception that Mac programs usually didn't try to install aliases in the Apple menu.

[ Parent ]
Not quite the same (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:54:53 AM EST

It's an Apple menu, not a "Start" button. I think that it's somewhat more intuitive (e.g. to shutdown a Mac, you go to a "Special" menu and then shut it down, better than a "Start" button). I do see your point however.

Incidently, one annoying thing about the Mac is that you have to rebuild the desktop file every now and again because it goes out of sync with the filesystem. I forgot about this... at least it's not quite as bad as the Windows registry!

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

Apple is no better (4.00 / 1) (#84)
by Eccles on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:28:51 PM EST

It's an Apple menu, not a "Start" button. I think that it's somewhat more intuitive

...except that it looks like decoration, not a button. It's only because people are shown that it has a special function that they know to look for Shutdown there (as of OS X.)

A better solution, perhaps, is designing computers such that they can respond to a physical off-switch, and forcing program design to accomodate a shut-down demand (without losing data) at any time. Almost everything else in life turns of by a switch; why not computers?

[ Parent ]
Computers these days can do that. (nt) (4.00 / 1) (#91)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:12:04 PM EST

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]
Mac registry vs. Windows registry (none / 0) (#104)
by pin0cchio on Thu Aug 28, 2003 at 06:39:34 PM EST

one annoying thing about the Mac is that you have to rebuild the desktop file every now and again because it goes out of sync with the filesystem. I forgot about this... at least it's not quite as bad as the Windows registry!

You're right. The Mac desktop database is somewhat analogous to the Windows registry, except for two details: the desktop database doesn't store application preferences (which are stored in a separate file), and Mac apps have "bundle" information in the resource fork that lets the Finder (the Mac's shell) rebuild the desktop database automatically. I haven't used a Mac since Mac OS 8.1 was current, but holding Cmd+Option as soon as the Finder starts to load was a lot easier than reinstalling all the apps on the system, and this is why the desktop database is so much nicer than the Windows registry.

[ Parent ]
I beg to differ. (3.00 / 1) (#75)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:44:50 AM EST

The Apple Menu was more like the Windows Control Panel than a start menu.

His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.

[ Parent ]
I beg to differ. (4.00 / 1) (#94)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:20:52 PM EST

The Mac Control Panel was more like the Windows Control Panel (that really should be the other way around...) than the Start button. I think his comparison is OK.

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

Computer Driver's Ed? (3.66 / 3) (#56)
by Kadin2048 on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:42:52 AM EST

The key difference between a car and a computer is that a car only has one function which it has to perform, one set of controls, and is used only by a user base that has completed a fairly substantial amount of initial training.

The home computer, on the other hand, is rarely a single-use device. It is expected to do any number of tasks, and its interface changes constantly depending on what is expected of it. Users generally have little to no formal training, and expect not to have to.

I would expect that if every computer user was forced to complete 20 or so hours of class, including 8 hours of individualized, one-on-one training, before turning on their PC for the first time, you'd see a significantly lower volume of tech support calls.

Now I don't want to seem the Microsoft apologist -- I think their UI sucks, period, and having to go through the Start menu to shut down is just the tip of the iceberg. But making a multifaced device like a computer easy to use is no easy task, inherently harder than a single-use device like a car, DVD player, or Cuisinart. It's simply unfortunate that the company behind the world's leading computer UI isn't very good at it.

[ Parent ]

An Extreme Situation (4.37 / 8) (#25)
by Juppon Gatana on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 06:15:36 PM EST

If the tech you call begins running through a script which details everything you've already tried, why not just play along?

Sometimes that simply can't be done. Back when I was using Verizon DSL -- thank God that's over -- I had some of the worst tech support nightmares ever.

First of all, the wait time for Verizon tech support ranged anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 and a half hours, my longest wait time ever (at that point, I just hung up). I'd say on average it was about 30 minutes. Several times during the two years I was with Verizon, my modem lost the DSL signal for one reason or another. When this happens it is very easy to see, because the modem's "DSL" light starts flashing. This has nothing at all to do with any of the computers connected to the DSL modem, as it is a reflection of the connection between the modem and the phone line before any of the end user's computers or hardware is involved. There are 5 computers in my house networked to the DSL connection through a Linksys router and a hub. Verizon, however, doesn't support routers. So the first thing they'd need me to do would be to hook the DSL directly up to my computer. Then I'd try to connect, but oops, Verizon's magnificently shitty connection client isn't available for Mac OS X yet, so it was of course not installed in my primary OS. Then I'd have to reboot into OS 9, and then another problem surfaced. Because I was working on a new computer, i.e. one that I purchased after I set up our router, the connection client wasn't installed in OS 9 either. And because I couldn't get online, I wasn't able to download it. So then I had to go on a hunt for the CD I got when I signed up for DSL. Eventually, I found it, installed it, and confirmed that yes, my modem's failure to receive a signal WAS the reason I couldn't get online. The thing about Verizon is that everyone I spoke to flat-out refused to help me unless I followed this retarded procedure, and I couldn't fake it because they needed the error code that their connection client returned when I tried to connect. The error was the same every time I my modem had no signal, but I didn't think of simply copying it down until I was ready to switch services. When I lost all service for four straight days, I decided it was finally time to move.

I'll not get into how it took five weeks longer than advertised for Verizon to install DSL in our loft, but I had to call them at least three times a week for those full five weeks because they simply failed to do anything without constant complaints. One of the prize moments, though, occurred two days after I initially put the order in for DSL. I called back just to make sure the installation appointment was scheduled for when I thought it was, and got a call back from a manager saying "Your DSL installation and order has been cancelled as per your request." I had to go through the whole ordering process all over again. I didn't know it, but that guy was doing me a favor.

I never got mad at the tech support people at Verizon, but I was really pissed off that the idiots who set up the system and required all of their tech support people to follow such a difficult and inefficient procedure. Now I'm with Panix, which has a competent tech support strategy and extremely little to no wait time. I've never had a problem with them.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
Bad tech support is part of the business plan (4.66 / 6) (#30)
by HidingMyName on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 08:13:15 PM EST

Many tech vendors don't worry about repeat business, and often deliberately design their call centers to have long waits for tech support. Let me tell you a story of SCO from 1990 or so. Our shop was a development shop, and we had a relatively pricey SCO tech support package. We discovered a bug in their libraries that caused them to fail on some boundary conditions. When I called in I waited the typical 90 minutes got the typical "Did you plug in your computer" level questions, gave a description of the problem and was scheduled for the call back. They called me back the next day and put me on hold for 15-20 minutes before I spoke to someone a bit more clueful, but still not a real developer. Finally about 1 or 2 days later, they called me back, put me on hold for 15-20 minutes again, before connecting me with a real engineer, who thanked me for my bug report. I don't know if they ever fixed it, I wrote a work around eventually.

Another experience was with Abit, my lab bought 4 Abit BP6 motherboards, which happened to be manufactured in a run with incorrect capacitors. When I called them about RMA'ing the motherboards (after a fairly long wait) I got a remark about how times are tough and that it might take 4-6 weeks of down time to fix their problem. I wound up RMAing a few of the boards at a time, but damned if Abit will be selling me any products soon.

So while tech support problems often come from the customer's side, often times the vendors are far from perfect.

The best advice anyone can give you (4.75 / 8) (#33)
by Tatarigami on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 09:28:06 PM EST

If you need five-start support, don't choose a one-star pricing plan.

Want to know why frontline staff don't know much? Because they're expensive to train, they burn out quickly, and the company needs a lot of them. They're there to answer the simple forgot-my-password issues Joe Sixpack calls in with, and act as a filter to make sure only genuine problems get escalated to second level or higher.

Why can't you skip the script? Because customers -- not you, of course -- lie. And make false assumptions. And jump to conclusions. And forget inconvenient details. Try to look at this way -- the frontline staff are there to make sure no-one undeserving gets to waste the valuable specialist time you need.

Of course, if you or your company are paying for a gold support plan, the provider will be happy to waste as much second level time as it takes to solve the problem.

Tech Support Jobs just aren't cool enough (5.00 / 2) (#35)
by HidingMyName on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 01:47:58 AM EST

Of course, if you or your company are paying for a gold support plan, the provider will be happy to waste as much second level time as it takes to solve the problem.
In my experience this just doesn't hold true, since tech support is not a glamor job that competent people aspire to. Furthermore, in my experience the big firms just pocket the the difference and hire more flunkies rather than a dedicated skillful person, since the skillful types won't take the job. I mean would you want to have 3 years of kernel development or 3 years of tech support for kernel developers on your resume?

[ Parent ]
True, but if you pay the competent people they'll (4.00 / 2) (#44)
by cbraga on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 12:19:18 PM EST

do tech support. Therefor it is possible to have competente technical support and if no one has it it is because of the cost.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Money is not the answer (5.00 / 3) (#47)
by scruffyMark on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 09:18:45 PM EST

Competent people want jobs that challenge them intellectually, and tech support ain't it.

Contrary to what most MBAs believe, humans (i.e. those without MBAs) won't automatically choose the highest paying job, above some relatively low cutoff salary. They will choose the job that is the most fun and interesting, or the one that offers flex time so they can be with their families, or that lets them work outside, or whatever nonmonetary advantage.

So, for a job as boring, yet stressful, as tech support, increasing the salary will not get you very much better staff.

[ Parent ]

Only true in an ideal world (4.66 / 3) (#57)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:56:35 AM EST

In a world full of jobless people, I've know graduated engineers doing tech support. Not ISP level tech support. Engineer level, such as supporting banking applications or production plants. Still tech support though. Boring, stressful and not challenging but better than no job.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Even in bad economies good people find work first (4.00 / 1) (#77)
by HidingMyName on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:54:10 AM EST

And good people avoid dead end jobs or limit their career potential. Most good people I've worked with think hard about the long term impact on their career of the experience they will be getting, and evaluate that as an important part of the job criteria. It is true that if even good people can't find work then they may need to take jobs that they would ordinarily avoid, but typically they are working like hell to escape, frequently "midnight engineering" some hobby/product to keep fresh and provide an escape path. And if they are forced to do dead end work, they generally charge the maximum rate and quit as soon as they find something better. I'd be sceptical that you'd be able to get say Don Knuth, Brian Kernighan, Dennis Ritchie, Kirk McKusick, Linus Thorvalds or Bjarne Stroustrup (plug in any big name here) to man a help desk at an affordable price.

[ Parent ]
True but you missed my point (4.00 / 1) (#78)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:25:39 PM EST

  1. - I never said anything about affordable prices
  2. - I never said anything about big names. You can picture the lower end of the bell-curve of competence.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Let's think about what the points really are (4.00 / 1) (#79)
by HidingMyName on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 12:42:22 PM EST

I was addressing the proposition that (1) you could get good people to work tech support by offering them more money than they would get otherwise and (2) your proposition that the amount of money they would get otherwise would be 0, since they can't find jobs. However in in practice :
  1. Tech support must have bounded cost, or your company goes under and there is no more tech support ever.
  2. Big names are an extreme example, but even little names don't like being treated like the left edge of the bell curve. People who are good are not complacent being treated like the left edge of the bell curve seek to escape postions that treat them that way. Sometimes people who aren't good can develop an exaggerated sense of self worth, however, they seldom escape the left edge as they don't add value.

[ Parent ]
I think the reality is somewhere in between (4.00 / 1) (#81)
by cbraga on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:08:02 PM EST

It wasn't a good example of mine to imply that the amount they'd otherwise get would be zero. They'd find jobs. Just jobs that aren't as good. I think that tech support can pay somewhat more than the marketplace average in order to compensate for the job's shortcomings. They'll do it if they want reasonable people employed. Then people would be attracted to it, not as a career, but as something they can do for a year or two while they improve their education or keep looking for a better job.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
My reality in the middle (4.00 / 1) (#100)
by starX on Mon Aug 18, 2003 at 04:27:28 AM EST

I recently graduated with honors myself, and while my majors weren't in CS, I have a minor in the subject, more experience/competence than most of the majors in the department, and despite the reality of the job market, I'm sure that I could have gotten a programming job somewhere.  The reality of my life was such that I needed money, I was unable to move out of the area, and said area is a technical wasteland.  Working Tech support was a God send because:

1) They paid more than minimum wage (which is extremely uncommon in my area).

2) They offer benefits.

3) It didn't require any effort on my part, so I was neither phsycally nor mentally exhausted when I got home, so I had no trouble "midnight engineering".

In the end, I don't think anyone LIKES working as technical support, but the grim reality of life, especially when the amount of professional experience you have is limited, is that sometimes you have to take a job that sucks in order to get by.  All you can really do is hope that you manage to get one that isn't SO bad.

Yes, I filed applications on a regular basis in the months before leaving town, and while it doesn't quite count as much as having professional experience, most companies don't mind that you've been keeping yourself busy working on open source projects, and DO realize the nature of the economy//harsh realities of life.  

And yes, it IS a dead end job, but you know what?  It is a JOB (read: paycheck), and it's a hell of a lot better than some of the other alternatives out there.  

"I like you starX, you disagree without sounding like a fanatic from a rock-solid point of view. Highfive." --WonderJoust
[ Parent ]

Yeah, I worked along side a good dozen (4.00 / 2) (#90)
by scruffyMark on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:21:57 PM EST

I'm a graduated computing scientist (honours, no less) and I did a couple of months of tech support - not even very technical tech support; income tax software. As you say, I did it for the money - better than no job at all.

But not better than a challenging interesting job, even for less pay. If someone had offered me a programming job during that time, even at a significant pay cut I would have been all over it.

Priorities go: (a)earn enough to live in comfort (b)enjoy life, including time spent at work (c) make fat buckets of money. Tech support satisfies (a) but not (b); even if it did satisfy (c), it would be second choice to a job that satisfied (a) and (b)

I may be a slightly extreme example of non-consumerism (or whatever you want to call it), but I don't think that what I'm describing is in any way out of the ordinary.

[ Parent ]

you are missing something (4.53 / 15) (#34)
by turmeric on Wed Aug 13, 2003 at 11:14:40 PM EST

you fail to analyze the relative socioeconomic position of tech support people vs users.

furthermore you fail to analyze the hierarchical power position of tech support people vs users.

third of all you fail to mention tech support rleation to the company and how the things that tech support do are controlled by the company.

tech support, in effect, is a 'cost savings' initiative started by megacorp intl inc llc to keep users from talking to 'people who matter'. managers or whatever. meanwhile they can keep shipping crap products that work like crap.

the only solution to cus support is the macintosh way. make it so friggin easy that most of the time you dont need tech support.

your little flower-child advice about 'be polite' is a joke to the people you are trying to reach. they are caught in the jaws of an interminable and gargantuan system that changes about as readily as a rock gets eroded.

tech support actually works just fine from the perspective of the people who designed it and implement it. it rides that fine line between a customer being so pissed off they never buy again, and feeling like they can still make use of the product to do what they want to do.

if you want to change tech suppt you will probably have a hard time if you just work within the tech support system and ask the users/workers to just 'shape up and fly right'. they are not getting payed to shape up and fly right. they are getting payed to churn calls, to churn incidents, to push numbers on a graph so that some middle manager can impress his idiotic regional manager and get a promotion or a transfer. and a stock fraud ponzi scheme or two.

the users dont want to pay for crap that breaks and doesnt work right. and yet often they have no choice. vast lands of software are monpolized by a faceless corporation that probably doesnt even remember it has a product in that 'market space'.

so you see. buyers are paying for something they dont want or need. tech support people are being payed to do the opposite of what they know is right. all so that snidely q bosses'son assmunch can "make" money and prove to his tennis buddies that he is not a 180 pound waste of water and fatty tissue.

u gotta lot more on your hands than you explain about

The macintosh way? (4.00 / 2) (#74)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 11:34:57 AM EST

I'm a big fan of Macs, and even Apple's customer service, but their approach to customer support is to get you to buy the extended warranty. You get Applecare, you get quality support. No Applecare, apple no care.

His men will follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiousity.

[ Parent ]
well then (none / 0) (#101)
by turmeric on Tue Aug 19, 2003 at 11:16:34 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Rant Rant Rant (4.71 / 14) (#37)
by bugmaster on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 03:34:52 AM EST

For some random reason, I happened to post an entry on by blog earlier about a similar topic. For your convenience, here is the (somewhat abridged) text:

A German group called Relevantive published a Linux usability report, which has just been translated into English (as seen on Slashdot). As part of their final analysis, the German team categorized the users into three groups: inexperienced, experienced, and professionals.

The description of the "inexperienced" group reads as follows:

1. Group: Inexperienced performers
Users with procedural knowledge that is strongly dependent on an accustomed environment.
  • They cannot mentally differentiate between OS, desktop environment and application.
  • Their skills were acquired in heterogeneous system environments with a limited freedom of use and a limited amount of applications.
  • They mainly use program menus, and RMB / context menu only where it is already known from former situations.
  • Alternative ways of usage, e.g. drag&drop or RMB / context menu are only applied in contexts where they have been used before (e.g. file manager), but not in other contexts (e.g. place a program icon by drag&drop).
  • If a certain way is not successful, they try the same way again until they finally realize that it does not lead to the goal.
  • They continue with a certain way even if it does not seem to be the right one. As a result, they get "messed up" and need a long time to get back to their initial situation.
  • They are reluctant to try out new ways and cannot foresee the results of their actions.
  • They are goal orientated and not interested in understand how they get there ("Now it is working").
I couldn't have said it better myself (and not for a lack of trying, mind you). In my opinion, this group constitutes about 90% of computer users everywhere, and 90% of people in general.

What does this mean ? It means that, if you are responsible for administering a moderately large network of computers, you really only have two choices:

  1. Lock down every single computer with an iron fist. Create a customized desktop for each user, and then revoke all admin rights. Make a set of icons on the desktop, one icon per task. Train the users to click the icons.
  2. Be available on call 24/7 to answer users' questions. 99% of the questions will be the same, often from the same user; be prepared to answer each question as if it were fresh and new. Users will blame every problem on you personally ("you didn't tell me what to do when this dialog box pops up !"), so prepare some stock answers.
Most people, notably the Linux community, like to think that there is a third option:
  1. Educate users to the point where they can "foresee the results of their actions" and stop repeating the same action over and over again like some mindless automaton.
This option is an illusion. Users are not interested in anything but their immediate goals; thus, HOWTO guides (such as my own WinXP Install Guide) are completely useless, since users will never read them. By the same token, descriptive error/warning messages (such as "you are running out of space on your hard drive") are also useless, and even harmful, since they will derail the users from their beaten path by forcing them to make a decision -- which is something users are not equipped to do.

Which is not to say that this situation is unique to computer usage -- it happens with any moderately complex system. For example, I myself probably fall into the "inexperienced" group with respect to car maintenance. Which is probably why repair shops make so much money...

a thought (5.00 / 2) (#66)
by eudas on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:26:49 AM EST

you might be able to get something interesting if you explored why car mechanics provide the same diagnostic/repair services yet make so much more money than tech support monkeys.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

totally (4.00 / 2) (#68)
by calimehtar on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:45:46 AM EST

That is exactly me when I try to use Linux or anything unixy.

It reminds me, though, of why I like mac os 9 and adobe photoshop -- applications designed to be so transparent and intuitive. They encourage you to try things since most mistakes are preceded by a "you are about to do a really stupid thing" dialogue so you can back out.

As opposed to Linux where some things that may be necessary to getting your system configured properly, "su root" for example, are very risky and will allow you to completely delete your filesystem, in the worst case, without any warning.

Photoshop, while it is a tool for professionals, takes most people only two years or so of use before they get to the point where they need no help to use it... and all that with only occasional reference to the help function. Windows should be so straightforward.


The center is missing

[ Parent ]
Fourth option (4.33 / 3) (#82)
by FeersumAsura on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:12:30 PM EST

This was used where I used to work. They would attempt to train you three times, each time giving you more personal attention. If you couldn't learn to use a computer after a reasonable amount of time you were sacked.

By training I do mean proper courses taught by professionals.
It didn't work the first time.
[ Parent ]

Institutional tech support (4.00 / 4) (#42)
by livus on Thu Aug 14, 2003 at 06:05:36 AM EST

has its own added beauty which is that there almost seems to be no correlation at all between the jobs/renumeration of the tech support staff and their performance.

Furthermore you both have the same employer, and they know that short of actually leaving your job you have no way to access any tech support other than themselves. I have seen this reach Kafka-esque proportions, such as the time I had no write permissions on a drive which I was meant to update daily, and it took them over three weeks to "believe" me and change it at their end.

HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

things not to say to tech support (4.50 / 6) (#52)
by metalgeek on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:24:46 AM EST

these are thing you should not say to technical support:
  • "I don't know much about computers/I'm not a computer person" - We know, we don't care, just listen
  • "I'm a Doctor/lawyer/I'm more important than you" - You are going to get bad service now, you pompus prick
  • "I've been waiting on hold 10 minutes/an hour" - No you haven't I can see on my phone how long you've been on hold.
  • "This is all your fault now fix it, I'm not doing anything to my computer" - yes it is your fault, now shut up and listen to me.
  • "my computer can't connect to the internet" - that says nothing, it's used by people to describe everything from email not working, to connection problems, to they can't turn on their computer.
  • " my grandson/neighbors kid/nephew told me that this is your fault because.." - the kid's a moron, do you want to trust him, or someone who has been doing this job for over 3 years?
  • "I'm gonna sue" - I don't care, and no your not.
  • (if told there is a problem) "tell me when it's going to be fixed/call me when it's fixed" - sorry, I don't know and my time is not spent calling every person who calls me back to tell thm a problems fixed, do you want hold times to double?
  • "Reimburse me for the 2 hours I couldn't connect" - ok sir, 365 days * 24 hours / 200$, come down here and pick up your 2 cents please.

And trust me, theres many, many more.

"K5 is a site where users have the motto 'Anyone Who Isn't Me Is An Idiot, And Anyone Who Disagrees With Me Is Gay'." skyknight
Re (4.60 / 5) (#60)
by djotto on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 06:21:17 AM EST

"tell me when it's going to be fixed/call me when it's fixed" - sorry, I don't know and my time is not spent calling every person who calls me back to tell thm a problems fixed, do you want hold times to double?

Maybe a list of current known faults on the system, and their estimated recovery times, should be data that's available to you? Maybe your processes could be improved to better answer the questions your customers are asking?

I wish my cable suppliers would replace the 45 minutes of "all our operatives are busy, thanks for holding" that I normally get with an automated known-faults list. If my fault was there I'd ring off before I ever reached a human, reducing the strain on the helpdesk - mostly all I want to know is "is this my problem or yours?"

[ Parent ]
my fault or yours? (3.00 / 1) (#72)
by eudas on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:51:28 AM EST

see also: http://www.kuro5hin.org/comments/2003/8/12/14949/0811/69#69

you're right, it does help when people just want to know 'my fault or yours?'

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

your right to a certain extent (4.00 / 2) (#86)
by metalgeek on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:59:07 PM EST

however theres lots of times when things happen quickly and go away quickly.
like when our dial up pool went down for 5 minutes, by the time we get it back up, there was really no time to put a message on our system. if it is a prolonged problem, it's there, but people still wait on hold to tell us theres a problem, it's amazing sometimes.

"K5 is a site where users have the motto 'Anyone Who Isn't Me Is An Idiot, And Anyone Who Disagrees With Me Is Gay'." skyknight
[ Parent ]
"I'm a Doctor/lawyer..." (4.50 / 4) (#63)
by Karmakaze on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:35:28 AM EST


I do tech support for a product marketed exclusively to lawyers.  I spend much of my day either talking to lawyers, or assistants/spouses/children.  It's not really as bad as you might think.

One of my stock replies to "I'm a lawyer, not a technical person" is "That's ok, sir, I had a job once where they tried to have me read over contracts, so I know how that feels.  We'll just take it a step at a time and I'll walk you through this."

By and large, the ones that apologize for not knowing computers very well are not bad calls.  They're starting out acknowledging that I know something they do not, and are willing to listen to what I tell them.  It's the ones who don't know how to use a computer and attribute it to the tech's (alleged) ignorance that are a problem.

I had a "regular" (callers who get your extension and keep calling you, whether the problem's in your area or not) who called me every morning for two weeks straight.  Every day, he had a new problem/question.  The thing is, every day, he remembered what I had told him before, and each problem was one step more advanced.  He was learning.  By the time he had everything set up to his liking, he did know how to use a computer much more fluently.  So, every now and then you do get a caller who listens and learns.  They're out there.
[ Parent ]

dont know, dont want to know (none / 0) (#71)
by eudas on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:49:43 AM EST

i find that 50% of the people who say up front "i'm not a computer person" are using it as a line that means "i don't want to learn how it works, just make it work". the other half are actually willing to pick up a bit of new info, even if they forget it 10 minutes after you hang up.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

Yes, but: (4.00 / 1) (#85)
by Control Group on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 03:45:18 PM EST

They often do mean exactly that, and that's not particularly encouraging. However, I'd rather deal with someone who at least admits he doesn't know what he's doing as opposed to someone who either thinks that he does when, of course, he doesn't.

"Oh, nothing. It just looks like a simple Kung-Fu Swedish Rastafarian Helldemon."
[ Parent ]
In my own defense (4.80 / 5) (#62)
by Karmakaze on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:05:37 AM EST

who explain that they know their system isn't the problem, there's a downed router at their ISP.

I would like to say, in my own defense, every time in my whole life that I've called my ISP/Tech Dept to find out whether they had a router (or etc.) down, it was something down on their end.  Of course, my the time I get through, they usually know about the issue and don't have to bother with the script.  It's just: "Something's down isn't it?" "Yep" "How long should I give you before I try again?" "Couple of hours." "OK. thanks!"

That said, right now I am working tech support/customer service (not quite as bad as help desk, but our customer base is more or less by definition not technical).  The best technique I've come up with to date?  Aggressive cheerfulness.  I find it gets the problem fixed faster and ends the call more smoothly than anything else.  I worried at first that I would sound like some kind of perky spaz, but I found a balance pretty quickly.

tech support (5.00 / 2) (#64)
by jettero on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 09:53:44 AM EST

I have some thoughts on support. It is harder to do than you'd think. It's the same thing over and over and it's all your fault. Most callers do not want to learn anything new and each has different needs.

However, I've discovered that the secret to surviving tech support is to not force the situation. I started creating categories actually. As listed in the diary, they're not terribly mature.

My favorite example from the post though, is the story teller. The best way to handle a caller that really wants to tell you everything they know? Don't interrupt them. Let them tell their story... just do something else if hearing it won't help.

I intend to redo those categories at some point, but I can sum up my entire tech sup strategy: They're frustraited because their computer isn't working. Find a way to let them release that frustration or you'll end up frustraited yourself.

Spell out Blue Screen of Death (3.00 / 1) (#65)
by Fon2d2 on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:23:40 AM EST

Always spell out acronyms on first usage. I didn't realize what BSOD stood for at first. That was confusing.

They're just another media manifestation (2.00 / 2) (#80)
by RobotSlave II on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 01:05:05 PM EST

Tech support. There are those who knows and those who are led by the nose. That's what computers are all about isn't it?

Tech Support Failures (4.50 / 4) (#83)
by 0xA on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 02:22:38 PM EST

I have a serious problem with some of the tech support services out there. When I call tech support I am usually doing so for a client's problem. I've taken responsibility for it and it needs to get sorted out. When it doesn't get sorted out, I'm the jerk.

My best ever story is one that involved Telus DSL. I worked for a company that ran retial tanning locations at the time, part of my duties was making sure the store's computers worked. One of our stores in Edmonton, which happened to be the test site for our new POS (Point of Sale) application had Telus DSL. The developer needed DSL access so he could work on issues with the app. One day it broke, no more DSL at all. The store manager called me, I got on the phone with Telus and got them to send out a tech. This was by no means easy, I was working in Calgary (350 km away) so I had to do quite a dance around the script. I had to do this three or four times, they replaced the modem, rewired the building, all sorts of stuff, nothing working.

About three weeks had passed, I finally managed to get the call escalated at Telus and they replaced some switches and other DSL equipment in their head ofice. Still Nothing. Thier statement was now that it was the PC that was broken so I built a new one then drove up there and switched them. Still Nothing. Telus support was now telling me that it would probably never work, citing the presence of a "bridge tap" on the line. That it worked fine for six months before hand is just unimportant. When I related this to my boss he looked at me like I was a complete fool. The project had been held up for 5 weeks at this point, it was a mess. I had probably spent 20 hours on the phone about this, never mind the trip up there and everything else.

I decided to give up and started caling around for other options. I had just finsihed a call with a rival ISP when the store manager called me. She had taken the initative and called Telus support herself. They fixed it for her, In under 5 minutes. I don't think I have ever been that angry. What kind of idiot did I look like?

This is just one story, I have a bunch of them though that it the worst. I can understand mistakes or oversights happen but a complete breakdown like that one amazes me. I talked to more than 10 people about this problem and nobody could figure out what it was (I still don't know). It is even worse when it happens in a position where I am responisible to other people over it.

When people say tech support is bad, they mean it. I've never seen anything else like it. It won't be untill companies start getting good people on the other end of that phone and good infrastructure to support them that it will get better.

Before I get indignant for you... (4.00 / 1) (#92)
by Ta bu shi da yu on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 10:15:07 PM EST

... what was the problem??? You don't say!

Yours humbly,
Ta bù shì dà yú

AdTIה"the think tank that didn't".
[ Parent ]

It Didn't Work (2.00 / 2) (#99)
by 0xA on Sun Aug 17, 2003 at 06:06:59 AM EST

Like I said, the DSL was broken, no internet access.

[ Parent ]
luck of the draw (4.00 / 1) (#95)
by metalgeek on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 02:31:27 AM EST

sometimes it's the luck of the draw, the person you get may be good or may be bad, or the person you get may see something the previous 5 techs have missed. it happens, at least telus did something for you, rather than immediatly say it's your fault.
(I realize that yes everyone should know most everything about the product that there supporting, but in reality it just doesn't work that way.

"K5 is a site where users have the motto 'Anyone Who Isn't Me Is An Idiot, And Anyone Who Disagrees With Me Is Gay'." skyknight
[ Parent ]
There's hope for civilization after all (4.00 / 2) (#89)
by The Only Computer In Wyoming on Fri Aug 15, 2003 at 08:02:57 PM EST

Control Group, well said! It's refreshing and encouraging to see that there are still a few more folks out there who appreciate the importance of keeping PAYING customers happy, cutting some slack to overworked support folks, and generally trying to minimize the horror that is tech support for all concerned.

I've been all of the types you described - the pimply, arrogant young snot who verbally abuses customers who don't know as much as I do (I'm still pimply and arrogant, but the young part is but a fading memory); the equally arrogant super-user who resents having to call a lowly support drone; the clueless newbie who needs to be told not to touch the big red switch that says "DO NOT TOUCH THIS SWITCH"... It makes a big difference when you walk a mile in the other person's swivel chair - you can appreciate what they must be going through too.

You know what really baffles me? People who get into a service profession who DO NOT LIKE TO SERVE. Why on earth do you think it's called service? For the love of humanity, go find another job where your hostility will be an asset rather than a liability. For the rest of us, there's nothing more rewarding than a customer sobbing with relief and asking to marry you when all you did was show her how to to press the <NUM LOCK> key so she could type in her numeric password.

Great technique to cool off a tense customer: agree with them. When I have someone ready go postal, I start 'em off with "OK, I have just the solution for you. No, it won't be difficult at all. The first thing you're going to need is a really big hammer..."

You're right on the money about folks who apologize for being clueless, too. Again, put yourself in their place - most of my customers are real estate accountants, and after 11 years supporing their software needs I still don't have the first clue how they do their jobs, and I tell them so: "Don't worry about it. I bet I know less about charge variances than you do about database corruption..."

If you're ever looking for a job, CG, give me a holler - my department needs more people like you.

wypbs <underline> 002 <at> bornagain <period> com

DO NOT LIKE TO SERVE (none / 0) (#103)
by Hillman on Tue Aug 26, 2003 at 11:22:21 PM EST

Call me when it's not the only job in town to pay for school. When my employer will treat me with respect, I'll cease to do the minimum for their customers.

[ Parent ]
The obnoxious question (4.00 / 6) (#97)
by epepke on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 07:39:59 AM EST

I'm going to have to ask it. What reason is there to assume that better tech support is desirable? I tend to think that tech support is just right in the economy of pain that has come to surround the computer biz. It's like a heroin addict's fix.

People claim that the purpose of a corporation is to make money. This is a stupid observation when it is applied to corporations, though it may be true of single proprietorships. De facto, the purpose of a corporation is to provide slots for weasels who are good at making it appear that they personally are making or saving the corporation money.

Consider two companies:

  1. Company 1 offers a product for $600 that just works. It's intuitive to use, and there is little need for technical support. What little technical support is needed is given for free.
  2. Company 2 offers a product for $500 that sort of kinda almost works but not quite. They also provide basic support for $100 per annum, gold support for $200 per annum, or super ultra professional support for $400 per annum.

Practically everybody in the world is going to buy the product from Company 2. Not only that, they're going to view anyone who buys the product from Company 1 with utter contempt, saying how products from Company 1 cost three times as much and are unprofessional toys.

There are various reasons for this. First of all, nobody who buys a product really believes that they are going to have any problems with it. Oh, sure, some of those other lusers might have a problem, but I'm uber-smart. Look at my country club membership. Furthermore, that extra $100 comes out of this quarter's budget, look how much I saved, CEO!

Second, the people who buy products in business aren't generally the people who use them. However, they are generally people who like to look down on the people who use the products and consider them superior and unworthy of the country club bonuses that their superior intellects deserve. Any need to buy support later can be given into grudgingly, with the blame laid on those stupid, stupid workers, not on the middle manager who made the decision.

Third, the frustration of an underling having to deal with technical support, especially when it consists of someone pushing buttons labeled in Punjabi for $3 per hour holds a special thrill for the middle manager. They like to see their underlings suffer as much as possible.

Fourth, even the underlings play the game. Who amongst us has not felt a special thrill upon finally being able to speak to a human with English-speaking skills? That thrill would be nowhere near as sweet were it not for the pain in getting there. Every worker everywhere has a stock of ego defined almost exclusively by their perception of their unique and special abilities to overcome problems. When the problems are not natural, they need to be invented.

Fifth, experiences with technical support persuade people that it is a necessity. It becomes a truism that all products need support. Therefore, the companies who have immensely large (though not necessarily competent) technical support groups give middle managers orgasms. The fact that the need for mammoth technical support is generally a sign of shitty design in the first place never enters their pea brains. If it did, it would be instantly rejected due to cognitive dissonance.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

Conflict of Interest (3.00 / 1) (#98)
by A synx on Sat Aug 16, 2003 at 01:45:04 PM EST

There is a reason people who hate serving are hired into service jobs.  There is a vested interest in having bad technical or other support, as long as it's not easily predicted by potential buyers.  Once you call the technical support number on your dime, the company will make more money if they waste your time before solving the problem.  If it's the company's dime, and you are calling an 800 number, then they will make more money if the people on the other end of the line are either incompetent or rude enough to make you hang up early.

Because of the clear profit to be made, and the fact that humanity and morals evaporate when a hiring manager realises their name will never be slandered for the acts of the people they hire, often times I would think companies seek out misanthropes to try to make it as hard as possible for the customer who has no choice but to buy their service.  It's about as nice as extortion, but good people can do bad things in a bureaucracy.  The Holocaust was a bureaucratic error, for instance.

Who can be quite the jaded Functionalist at times.

tech support (none / 0) (#102)
by dzimmerm on Thu Aug 21, 2003 at 06:04:00 PM EST

I did tech support for 17 years. I enjoyed it. The reason I enjoyed it was that I liked fixing stuff. The other reason I was able to enjoy it was I assumed the client/user knew more about the problem than I did.

Sure, I might know a lot about computers, but the end user knows a lot more about the particular computer that is having the problem. I would draw out the end user and try to get every piece of relevent information from them that they knew. In the process I often found out what was wrong with the computer or what procedure needed to be modified to solve the problem.

Some folks would call this basic people skills. What I have found it he majority of tech support folks lack basic people skills. Couple basic people skills with good technical knowledge and you can succeed and enjoy tech support.


Towards Better Technical Support | 104 comments (88 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
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