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Tech Support Getting Even Worse 529

Posted by timothy
from the you-mean-it-was-useful-once dept.
ehiris writes: "Came across an article on CNN about tech support falling out of the useful category. The interesting quote: 'In part, the problem can be blamed on tech companies' attempts to cope with shrinking profit margins and a bad business environment.' Bad tech support makes life hard and new technology becomes undesirable to the general public. Which company has the best support? What are they doing well? What would you like to see improve about tech support?"
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Tech Support Getting Even Worse

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  • sigh... (Score:2, Troll)

    by adam613 (449819)
    Yet another thing Microsoft has forced the world to get used to...
    • Re:sigh... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LightForce3 (450105)
      Isn't that being a little, umm, narrowminded?

      I'm sure that Microsoft has poor tech support, but I'm also very sure that Microsoft is not the only company that does. There are probably dozens, hundreds maybe, of companies with even worse tech support.

      To blame only Microsoft for industry-wide poor tech support is rather biased and narrowminded, IMHO.

      Just my 2.55861 JPY.
    • Re:sigh... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @11:53PM (#3427333) Homepage
      Except I think this trend extends to realms completely outsite of Microsoft. The fact is that the market has spoken, and "cheaper" for the most part has won. How many people here regularly diss Apple products just because, "for the same money," they can get a more powerful (but less or un- supported) PC? Well, the saving come from somewhere, and much of that is QA and tech support.
  • As they say (Score:2, Funny)

    by The Smith (305645)
    Those who can, do

    Those who almost can, support

    Those who can't, teach

    Those who really can't, manage.

    • Re:As they say (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Knobby (71829) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:28PM (#3425317)

      Those who can't, teach

      As a university professor, I can assure you that there are a large number of folks in academia who could, but prefer the freedom of not having to. Personally, I'm pretty happy about being able to get up at 9am, go for a nice long bike ride, take a shower, wander in to the office, work on a grant proposal for the afternoon, kick around a few ideas with my graduate students, lecture, and then wrap up the day with a glass of wine and a few eager to please co-eds. How can you beat a life like that?.. Did I forget to mention that consulting gigs pay $75 - $150 an hour.. What a life..

    • Those who can, do
      Those who almost can, support


      This comment really hits the nail on the head. You shouldn't be so surprised that J. Random Support-Tech is a bit clueless. If he knew so much about how to keep your systems running, he'd probably have your job instead of working in some godforsaken cubicle farm call center.

      Cheers,
      IT
      • Re:As they say (Score:3, Interesting)

        by el_chicano (36361)
        You shouldn't be so surprised that J. Random Support-Tech is a bit clueless.
        If, in a given sample of support techs, technical skills are evenly distributed from inexperienced < -- > expert, what are the odds that that a random support tech is clueless? I'd say the odds are low as most support techs would fall somewhere in the middle and just as many clued-in techs would exist as clueless techs...

        If you got me randomly you would get 240+ undergraduate college hours (Poli Sci/History/Comp Sci), and a varied computer history: DOS, Windows, OS/2, Macintosh, Unix, Linux, mainframes, Novell, TCP/IP, PHP, Perl, C/C++, Cobol, Fortran, Pascal, Oracle, MySQL.

        I actually have enough "clue" where I was able to help one of our students fix the damage Gator did to her machine BEFORE I read in CNET about Gator using pop-up downloads on unsuspecting users. You have sinned by overgeneralizing, which requires some mighty big assumptions on your part and you know what they say about assumptions...
        If he knew so much about how to keep your systems running, he'd probably have your job instead...
        What is so great about your job? Are you a system/network admin who lives in a data center or NOC? Or a programmer who is chained to his cubicle cranking out code? Or some IT manager, ruining dreams and aspirations of the programmers, admins and techs alike?

        I am a hardware/software tech at a large community college. The job has its ups and downs but the best part is a varying routine and casual atmosphere (jeans and Hawaiian shirts are what I usually wear).

        Early in the semester you spend a lot of time supporting students and as the semester progresses those calls go down then instructor calls go up. Later in the semester you start doing other projects in between prepping for the next semester.

        Some days (like today) happen to suck -- WindowsUpdate/Symantec: lather, rinse, repeat. Other days rule -- coding dynamic pages using PHP/MySQL and going to Slashdot to do a little IT "research" :->

        Some days you get to set up the LCD projector for a presentation for some event. Other days you drive to one of the other campuses to train one of the instructors how to effectively use a piece of software. Other days you download and install the newest SSH or PHP to prevent a potential exploit from bringing down your server.

        Sure I get paid less, but I don't have to specialize so much I do the same thing day in and day out. I like the flexibility of my current position so much that I know that I would have to make substantially more money to work in many other IT jobs out there.

        Besides, I like two weeks off *PAID* during Xmas break and one week off *PAID* during Spring break...
  • by MissMyNewton (521420) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:04PM (#3425203)
    True story.

    Last year I had a data T1 fail, so I called the Business Support Group. Got a tech on the line and explained the trouble. He asked if he could put me on hold and look into it; I agreed and he put me on hold.

    After 5 minutes or so, my phone rings, so I park the line on hold and pick up the second call.

    It's the same tech from Verizon calling to let us know that our circuit was down! I explained that *I* was the one who just called him and he became extremely confused (as if he wasn't before).

    That was something else, lemme tell ya!

    • Well if he's ringing up lots of people telling them that - at least he's telling people of the problem! After you've rung about twenty people you forget what you've just been doing.
  • by Otto (17870) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:04PM (#3425206) Homepage Journal
    They make a good point in that article. If you know your stuff, you ain't gonna be working on phone tech support. Quite often, the guy on the other end of the phone knows no more (usually less) than you do about the product. They have a wide selection of resources on the product that might help though.

    Putting those resources online to let you solve your own problems really is the better solution.
    • Putting those resources online to let you solve your own problems really is the better solution.

      Oooooh, don't say that, don't even whisper that. The only way for OSS to make money is via support, remember?

      • "Oooooh, don't say that, don't even whisper that. The only way for OSS to make money is via support, remember?"

        This reminds me of som hilarious Dilbert cartoons

        Manager: We're discontinuing technical support for all our products. A recorded message will explain it to the caller this way: "In Order to serve customers better, we've discontinued technical support."
        Dilbert: How does that serve customers better?
        Manager: We'll redirect those resources to other areas.
        Dilbert: What other areas?
        Manager: Profits. That makes your bonus larger. Any other questions?
        Dilbert: Apparently I'm engulfed in evil.
        Manager: That's the spirit!

        And here's an even better one:

        PHB: Our new strategy is to make defective products and charge for technical support.
        PHB (wicked grin): Heh-heh...our user manual is totally incomprehensible. We didn't plan it that way - we were LUCKY!
        Dilbert: I'm so proud to be here.
        PHB: It all came together when I realised I hate our customers.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      If you know your stuff, you ain't gonna be working on phone tech support.
      That's what I throught at first. Then after 6 months of working in a convenience store to try to pay back my student loans and do things like eat, I got a call back from the local telco. So now I'm a T1 tech support guy. It's not what I want to be doing and I'd like to think I am very overqualified for the position, along with half of the people there. But I'm in an area with a an IT slump and it's the only job vaguely related to IT that I was able to get after finishing school. It beats working in a convenience store for a couple dollars above minimum wage.

      Putting those resources online to let you solve your own problems really is the better solution.
      The place I work for has made a big push to get most of the information online. The website has most of the stuff we go through on the phone, but a lot of customers (picture your computer-illiterate grandmother type) prefer to speak with somebody rather than go through the 'net. That and if your connection's down, it's kinda hard to look it up online.
    • Having worked in the OEM reselling business, I can tell you that 'front line' tech support people vary greatly depending on who will be calling the line.

      If the tech support line is set up so end users can call in when they have trouble, the people on the other end of the line will be the clueless idiots we all know and love. This is because the average customer calling in will have their problem solved by one of the following manners:

      - reboot the machine and/or redial
      - reinstall the software or drivers
      - fix the configuration (i.e. RTFM)

      These are certainly the vast majority of the issues and so when non-clueless people phone with a real issue, the chance of getting it solved by people who only know how to fix the above three is very low.

      On the other hand, for support that is designed for vendors, it is a different world. When a vendor phones a supplier for support, you can be fairly certain that a tech from the vendor will be phoning and that this tech has eliminated the obvious problems already. Because of this, support for vendors tends to be very good. Having dealt with supplier tech support myself, I can say that wait times are low (usually less than 2 minutes) and the competency of the person you talk to is high.

      The bottom line is that unless the end user gets smarter (highly unlikely) we cannot expect much help from the front line mainstream tech support personnel.
      • Another problem is that the tech can only be as smart as the person on the other end of the phone. If the person making the call is clueless then the tech is unlikely to get enough information to truly solve the problem anyway.

        For example, guy calls in and says, "the internet is down." That can be so many differen things it's all but impossible to troubleshoot. Especially if they don't know what a modem is and they think their computer is a CPU.
  • by Artagel (114272) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:07PM (#3425216) Homepage
    All of these companies have lots of money to trumpet their products. They roll out new ones every few months, and spend a lot of money to keep them rolling.

    I remember when I used to buy computers from DEC in the mid-80s. You would get a genuinely impressive series of well-indexed and comprehensive manuals. When you couldn't find the answer there, you could call technical support and talk to a technically capable person. If that person could not help you, they would put you through to an engineer.

    I also remember the first day that I got put through to a clueless, script reading, customer support representative at some anonymous call center when I called DEC. After that, I bought PC clones from Gateway or PCs Unlimited (eventually Dell). The only point of ponying up the big bucks was for the extensive documentation and support.

    DEC tried to become a different company via changed marketing and survive. It died. You cannot abandon your customers and survive.
    • Most of the bad tech support can be traced to Marketing pushing engineering too fast and then not supporting the tech support guys with enough money. I see it often where Q&A fails to catch a number of bugs because they try to be to market first. Tech support gets overwhelmed with calls. When your calls go from 10% of owners to 50%, something has to give.
      • by JordanH (75307) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @03:02PM (#3425445) Homepage Journal
        That's funny that you should say that. The most sensible place I ever saw Tech Support placed in an organization was under Marketing.

        I once worked for a company where the Tech Support organization reported to Sales/Marketing. I thought it was odd at first, but there were a lot of advantages. If you put Tech Support under an Engineering organization then the best Tech Support people always get moved into Engineering before long, leaving only script readers manning the phones.

        The Marketing/Sales organization always had access to Technicians who really understood the product. Engineers tend to blow smoke about the capabilities and shortcomings of the products. Sales could also tap the best Tech Support people for pre-sales technical support.

        Sales/Marketing in this organization also had the Technical Services arm. People from Tech Support could be called upon for custom programming, configuration and consultation with customers for hire. Sales/Marketing was intensely interested in these areas as it helped them design products. It may have led to some products being in somewhat of a kit form, with the real capabilities being revealed through programming, but that was actually a plus. Everybody benefits from having programmable, flexible products.

        Sales/Marketing has the most stake in Tech Support, as Tech Support works with the same customers that Sales/Marketing does. A customer who is unhappy with Tech Support is going to take it out on his Salesman. You might as well put the Sales organization into a position to actually do something about bad Tech Support. I've seen many companies where the Salespeople implicitly air the internal dirty laundry about Tech Support, complaining about how they can't get anything out of them, but promising to take it to the highest levels. Better to have the Sales people working together with Tech Support rather than as finger pointers.

        Finally, if you think about it, it made Sales/Marketing realize that supportable products was the best way to get and keep customers. There was less Sales/Marketing blaming and rushing Engineering and more working together to get out a product that could be supported.

        I've not seen that hierarchy elsewhere. This company had other problems, but that was one of thier highlights.

  • Check out the good old Rinkworks at

    http://rinkworks.com/stupid/cs_stuptech.shtml [rinkworks.com]

    Of course, most of the Computer stupidities [rinkworks.com] deal with stupid users (and they have some really funny stories), but the above page is about "role reversal" and stupid tech support being a pain for a computer-literate user seeking help.

    There is a section about stupid salespeople as well :)
  • Improvements. (Score:5, Informative)

    by saintlupus (227599) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:10PM (#3425226) Homepage
    What would you like to see improve about tech support?

    How about some training and a fair wage for the poor bastards that work in the call centers?

    I used to work as a support whore for Verizon DSL -- that is, until my entire call center was laid off. The jobs were moved to another center in Canada, where Customer Service employees were handed a database full of canned answers and told that they had to start handling tech support calls.

    In the meantime, the actual trained techs like myself were all out of a job. And the other center that was on the same level as us - same training, same subcontractor, same call queues - took a savage pay cut.

    The technology economy of today is based on some seriously thin margins - and frankly, once a company has your money, they are happy to screw you out of decent support to save a few bucks.

    --saint
    • by llywrch (9023)
      > What would you like to see improve about tech support?

      > How about some training and a fair wage for the poor bastards that work in the call centers?

      Heh. I could rant for several thousand words about the 18 months I did at Stream. (It started out as a fairly humane place to work at, & slowly degenerated into a sweatshop.)

      But since we're supposed to talk about suggestions for improving things, here's mine: I'd like to submit a list of management-types from Stream who should die a long, painful death. Mebbe that won't improve tech support, but those of us who had to work for these morons at least would believe that there is a God & some justice in the world.

      Geoff
      • All of my friends have at some point worked for stream. However the only two to actually enjoy it/stay over 3 months were a sadist who enjoyed tormenting the people on the phone, and was the master of the hold button.

        ("Yes [hold] you f*cking moron [/hold] your network does seem to be down. However, [hold] if you didn't have it shoved so far up your a$$ [/hold] I should be able to fix it.)

        The other one was a complete moron, and just read of the script. I seem to remember one of the managers thinking that she was the best employee they had.
  • Google Answers [google.com] has reasonably good [google.com] tech support for popular programs. It's even possible [google.com] to get an answer without losing $4, since other users who are unsure that their solution will work may add a comment rather than claiming to have the answer. In that case, you're only out the 50-cent listing fee.

    Another advantage of Google Answers is that you get to vent your frustration publicly instead of to a poor tech support worker.
  • There used to be a time when you could call up the phone company and get a person on the other end. No so anymore. Software companies are falling into line with other industries who have realized that fixed-costs are the easiest to trim. As profits gets slim, customer service gets slashed. Charming to the least.
  • Im surprised many places function as well as they do, to answer the question "What would you like to see improve about tech support?" I would like to see less dependence on Contracting agencies, more direct hire and less middle-men between the person inside the company or department who needs a tech and the person getting in contact with the potential. Anymore if you dont already know someone on the inside of a company your chances of getting hired are slim-to-none. This is especially true when it comes to tech support, anywhere from call center work to desktop support guys. This is not good for the company's or the techs cause it can create such a lack of compatibility between skill-sets and needs. If more company's were willing to go out of thier way and direct hire instead of relying on a contracting agency, whos primary concern is usually the margin they will earn from getting thier tech hired and is going to feed said company anything they want to hear to make that happen. Misrepresentation is the bane of contracting agencies, and the standard practice in most cases.
  • by citizenc (60589) <cary@glidedes[ ].ca ['ign' in gap]> on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:14PM (#3425246) Journal
    ... is that the hiring process, in most cases, doesn't include determining if the candidate can actually DO THE JOB. (That is, do they have enough experience?)

    Case in point: Here in Winnipeg is a company called "Convergys" -- they do tech support for several ISPs throughout North America. One of my friends recently got a job there doing phone-based technical support for Shaw. Now, this individual knows computer basics, but has NO clue what a router is, what IP tables are, DNS servers...

    Most places hire people based on "can you read from this script?", which simply isn't adequate.
    • ... is that the people hiring, in most cases, don't want to pay tech support people an engineer's salary. If the person can do much more than read from a script, they're overqualified, and won't be happy with the job or the salary.
      • If they paid decent, and let people DO more than just 'read from the script', end users would get better support and people may find the position a bit more fulfilling. Maybe not MUCH more fulfilling, but we won't know as long as people are only allowed to read from scripts, will we?
    • ... is because no one wants to pay for it.

      Think about it - everyone thinks short-term, and buys on price. Does ANYONE buy a PC because of the excellent support anymore?

      Look at the cheapest Dell desktop you can buy. What was cut out? The support. They only offer 90 days. How many people buy no-name crap at computer fairs and the like, or questionable goods from Ebay, since it has the cheapest price, and then attempt to get Microsoft to answer the phone when it doesn't work?

      Why are companies outsourcing to crap outfits? Product support has become something that is a checklist item that never turns up in reviews, for the most part... which is not surprising, since companies like Dell and Gateway pay the bills at the reviewer's magazines. Ever wonder why the biggest advertisers always get the best reviews? Has PC Mag ever said a negative thing about Dell or Microsoft?

      So companies find the cheapest way to pay tech-support "lip service" to their customers. This means that some half-asleep foreigner with a good American accent is going to answer the phone call... after a half hour on hold.

      Fact is that if you want good support, you pay for it - either in the product's price, or afterwards. Well, no one wants to pay for it the product price anymore.

      Tech support should be an option that people have to pay for - either the screwdriver guy in the neighborhood, a local third-party, or as an add-on from the company that sold you the gear in the first place.
    • by rusty0101 (565565) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @03:40PM (#3425565) Homepage Journal
      I have worked tech support, at one level or another, for my entire career. By that I mean everything from on site, or in shop repair of electroincs in the military and civilian life, through outsourced customer help desk for a still major PC vendor, through building suppportable updates to corporate systems, through global reach network support for a major bank.

      My experience is not comprehensive, but I do have a few insights.

      Don't make your first line customer support center into a profit center. I know, it costs money to run a fl customer support center, especially when you consider the hardware involved, but also payroll. Consider that a help desk generally hires temporary employees at $10-15/hr, (I suspect that they are paying the temp companies $20-30 per hour for these people) and for a large PC vendor, there are between 100 and 200 people taking calls 24 hours a day. It does add up quickly. On the other hand I have seen fl techs bill people for 10 different incidents in a single 20 min call, each incident costing $35 or more.

      Scripts (when written correctly) should help a fl either help you solve the problem, or get you to the right people. Howerver these scripts are written by people, who generally get their information by talking to the engineer of whatever project installed the piece that is to be supported. As a result, they are specific to that component, and rarely take into considerations interactions with other system components or even other software that a user may be working with. A good tech will recognize this, and be flexible enough to come up with his or her own set of questions to add to those in the scripts. However it is a rare tech support organization that will set up tools that such a tech support person can use in this way. On top of that if the tech is good, he or she is often promoted out of the tech pool to manage the lesser techs, or occasionally teach them. What happens when you pull the cream of the crop out of the interface to your customers? Your customers get the dregs as their first contact.

      Let your tech support become name recognized by your customers. Note that is not a "force" that is a 'Let'. Customers generally feel better when they "know" who will be at the other end of the line. As a customer, I am far more forgiving of my tech support person not knowing the answere to a problem I have if I can identify with them. If you have a policy that allows your tech support people to be asked for by name, or who are assigned to your customer's ticket while they are on shift, customers will not feel like they are getting the run around.

      I have yet to see a ticketing system that has built in data mining tools that will help a tech support person find similar problems and what their solutions were. In almost every case I have ever seen, a ticketing system has been a management tool used to see who is taking the most calls, and who is closing their tickets in the least amount of time. If you mean for the tool to be useful to the tech, on an other than individual ticket by ticket basis, that tool has got to have some built in help for the tech.

      Lastly follow through on support. Just because the customer claims that the problem appears to be solved, does not mean that it has been resolved. Schedule some time, or some people to follow up on a high percentage of tickets, and find out if the customer is satisfied. You don't have to ask page of questions on how the problem was handled. Start with the question, "Is the problem you encountered solved to your satisfaction?". Listen to the response. If the response is anything less than a hearty and happy "Yes." then you should start asking how the process can be improved, and so on.

      One problem when it comes to problem tickets, and escalations, is that no-one in a tech support queue types as fast as the customer speaks. If you recite off an error message, or a dozen field headers that are coming back with garbage, your tech support person will probably not be able to include them in the ticket. As a result, if the ticket is escalated to second level support, they probably will not have the data. If it is important to you that the data get into the ticket, take your time and make sure that the fl tech gets the informaiton completely in the ticket.

      This should be the tech support mantra I think:
      "I understand that for you, this problem is very important. It is preventing you from doing your job right now, and very well may be preventing your company from earning the revenue that is paying me. I also understand that not everyone that you have spoken with in the past has held this view. I also understand that the fact that you were on hold for one or more hours has made you feel that we do not take your problem seriously. I want you to know that the perceptions you have had in the past are not the perceptions I would like you to have going forward."

      Then again, I could be wrong.

      -Rusty
  • I had a horrid issue with a motherboard, lets just say I am now short one RAM chip and am in the possession of 80GB of data with a corrupt parition table in the front.

    Couldn't get ahold of anybody who spoke sufficent english who was able to understand that I wanted anything outside of the regular RMA. . . .

    d*mn fucking offshore tech banks. . . . >: |
  • MS Tech's (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ridgelift (228977) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:16PM (#3425252)
    Being a transitioning tech from Windows to Linux, I do rely on Microsoft's tech support from time to time. I have noticed a steady decline in quality of service over the last couple of years.

    For example, I have an ongoing issue with a client that is bordering on insane. They're running Windows 2000 Small Business Server, and twice they've had a blue screen of death while rebooting the server.

    Having talked over the issue with 7 different technicians, not only do we not have a solution, but there's conflicting advice. Also there are patches that are not available to the public because they're still not "prime time" (took 7 months for a hot fix to be made available for another problem with licensing. Seems that if Windows 2000 Pro workstations connect to SBS 2000 server, the licenses get gobbled up until no one else can connect, even though there's only 7 computers connecting to a 10-licensed server. The patch still doesn't work properly).

    It's a scary thing when a client is afraid to reboot the server in fear that they will be down an entire day. Thankfully in North America Microsoft will fix business servers that are down for free (MS Business Critical Support 10888-455-7422), so at least their weakening support is on their dime.

    Maybe we'll solve the problem next time the server BSOD's (8th tech's a charm!?!?) Or maybe the customer will let me move them to Linux.
  • by skurk (78980) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:16PM (#3425256) Homepage Journal
    This is an actual quote from my phone call to NextGenTel (Norwegian DSL providers) hotline:

    Me: "Hi, I'm having problems getting online here. The router WAN lamp flashes, it can't connect"
    Her: "Do you have the correct settings?"
    Me: "What kind of settings, it comes with a Cisco router, shouldn't it be preconfigured?"
    Her: "Yes, but you have to do some adjustments on you computer as well."
    Me: "Yeah, the TCP settings, I know".
    Her: "Amongst others, yes. Now click on the start button, and go to Settings.."
    Me: (interrupting) "Uh, wait, I don't use Windows."
    Her: "What.. Do you have a Macintosh?!"
    Me: "No, I use another operating system.. OpenBSD."
    Her: "Huh!" (silence)
    Me: "UNIX."
    Her: "Well, then I can't help. You must send our support group an email describing your problems in detail."
    Me: "I would if I could, but I can't get online!"
    Her: "Oh, yeah.. that's right.."

    Later on I discovered that the problem was their fault: The didn't have enough capacity for all the new users, so I had to wait 14 days (felt like ten thousand years) before my ping requests finally received some echoes.

    Maybe a bit OT, but I had to get it out.

    -skurk
    • After having a bunch of similar experiences myself, I eventually learned how to deal with first-tier tech support. The problem is that they're not really there to help you: they just want to follow their procedure.

      I presume you're tech-savvy: if you're calling them, it's because there's a problem on their end, right? Your goal is to convince them to fix it. But their goal is to pester you and do nothing to help, mistakenly assuming the problem is on your end. They are your enemy. If their questions are irrelevant, don't be afraid to lie to them. Give them the "standard" answer they want to hear.

      Remember: no matter what your network really looks like, you are running Windows 98 on a single PC. You do *not* run Unix. You have never run Unix. In fact you have never ever heard of it. Don't be afraid to feed them as much BS as necessary, if it will persuade them to move their asses and fix the problem with their network.

      • (* Give them the "standard" answer they want to hear. .... no matter what your network really looks like, you are running Windows 98 on a single PC. *)

        What if they start asking you to read from your screen very Windows-specific things?

        Lies sometimes backfire and make the problem worse, unless you are in sales and really experienced at covering your sneaky little rump.
        • But it helps that I *am* a tech support guy. I have frequently lied to the tech about what I see, I just quote what they want to hear from memory. I have led other people through the same kinds of procedures so often I can see the screens in my mind.
    • We sound a problem (ie: the antivirus forced us to use a compromised Sendmail version, no SSL and the NEED to use Red Hat). After solving all the issue ourselves (slackware, sendmail 8.12 and ssl where "unsopported") they wanted us to send them all the answers. Is this what we expect to receive from paid services or software?

      I'd rather preffer using free solutions. I'd have contributed back if the haven't charged us $900 for 1 year use of this product.


      From: Byron Go (TS-PH)
      To: Federico
      Subject: RE: InterScan VirusWall
      Date: 03 Mar 2002 12:47:34 +0800
      Dear Federico,

      Greetings.

      I know that this may sound inappropriate but is it possible for you to send me the sendmail.cf, submit.cf, sendmail.cf.delivery and submit.cf.delivery?
      I have been trying some things out but I am not sure what I'm missing. I am hoping that your 'assistance' could help me create the appropriate sandwich configuration for VirusWall with Sendmail 8.12.

      Thank you very.

      Sincerely,
      Sincerely,
      Byron James Go
      Trend Product Support
      Gateway Team
      TrendLabs

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Byron Go (TS-PH)
      Sent: Sunday, March 03, 2002 10:37 AM
      To: Federico
      Subject: RE: InterScan VirusWall

      Dear Federico,

      Thank you for the reply. I will have to be honest with you.. We have been encountering the 8.12 problem since the sandwich config is only for the
      8.9 to 8.11. The startup for the 8.12 is different and so far, only linux consultants and gurus have been able to let it start correctly. I will personally study the startup scripts for 8.12 and work out a sandwich configuration document that can properly start sendmail 8.12 to be disseminated in trend.

      Regarding SSL, this is a current limitation in the v3.6 of VirusWall. v3.6 doesn't have
      the 'internal' capability of supporting SSL. However, I will make a feature request for that. Whether it is already be implemented to v3.7, which will be released in a month or two, or will be implemented in the future, I'll let you know.

      I hope this reflects a positive action for trend.

      Thank you very much.

      Sincerely,
      Byron James Go
      Trend Product Support
      Gateway Team
      TrendLabs
  • I have found that online forums like MaximumPC's forum are very helpful. There are many users on there who answer questions just for the fun of it. Any person that posts a question on there usually gets 5-10 responses within half an hour.

    I think that it's better than waiting on hold on the phone!
  • by torklugnutz (212328) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:22PM (#3425283) Homepage
    I used to work for a tech support outsourcer, ClientLogic [clientlogic.com]. They had tech support for Dell, MicronPC, BellSouth, Logitech, and Sephora Cosmetics in the call center I worked in.

    I worked for Dell, and we had a 17 minute Average Handle Time (AHT) goal. If we spent more than 15 minutes with a customer, a flag would go off up at the Supervisor on Duty's desk, and someone would come by and have us put the customer on hold. Several techs were not knowledgable at all, but were so frustrating for the customer to deal with that they would give up. Thus, the worst techs had the best call times. Other techs would focus on getting the cust off the phone by dispatching parts.

    One man, about 70 years old, would call in about once or twice a week (looking back through the call logs), and he was simply inept at using the computer. This man had been sent a video card, sound card and motherboard. This was a simple case of techs not wanting to deal with this guy and his lack of aptitude.

    ClientLogic is just one outsourcer, there are others. Some companies, like Dell outsource to multiple companies, while maintaining their own base of techs, usually for their more valuable customers. We were given home and small business. Laptops, Servers and larger companies were handled by Dell directly.

    • One man, about 70 years old, would call in about once or twice a week (looking back through the call logs), and he was simply inept at using the computer. This man had been sent a video card, sound card and motherboard. This was a simple case of techs not wanting to deal with this guy and his lack of aptitude.


      you mean that if i just pretend to be a true computer illiterate i can get enough free hardware to build additional box's for no cost?

      woohoo where do i sign up!
  • One company I work with has an intra-company tech support for all the agents. The problem is the tech support sucks POO POO. The hold times are insane. Once you actually get a person, it is just a level one tech who can just look at the 10 page trouble shooting manual. If its not there, you get a problem number and a level two tech will call you back. Sometimes, that can takes DAYS. One time I was told a level 2 tech would call back by 5 our time, we waited till 7, called back and found out everyone had gone home. Teh support also will lie to you as well, which is always fun.

    Being tech oriented, I try to avoid calling tech support like the PLAUGE. However, some times I have to and it drives me bonkos. There needs to be a code word that lets the person know, "Okay, he doesnt need to hear: Click Start, Settings, Control Panel."
  • by LordOfYourPants (145342) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:23PM (#3425290)
    "The 27,000 respondents to the unscientific poll reported longer waits on hold and less knowledgeable technicians. It is also taking longer to find fixes. An increasing number said problems were never solved. "

    I wonder why..

    On the company side:

    Chopping Block Gods are hired to find where the fat in the company lies. Mr/Mrs. Chopping Block plugs a couple of numbers into his/her overpriced calculator and finds that the tech support people are working only 80% of the time and therefore 20% can be cut.

    Mr/Mrs. Chopping Block tells management this and says they can probably save the biggest money by getting rid of the more experienced (read: overpaid) techs since everyone is reading from a script anyway.

    3 months later you have an overworked call centre with clueless staff. The place is no longer fun to work at and the turnover rate goes up. Big surprise. As morale goes down you find staff taking longer breaks, more sick days, etc. The cycle continues.

    On the consumer side:

    Mr/Mrs "Informed" Consumer scans all ads in the newspaper looking for the absolute cheapest price for their pocket computer. He/she first finds the cheapest company that offers a pocket computer since they're all the same, then finds the cheapest model made by that company, then the cheapest store to buy it from.

    Mr/Mrs "Informed" Consumer does not consider how the prices got so low and may not ever have to as long as a) they don't need tech support, b) their product doesn't break. If either of these happens, they are in for a nightmare experience.

    I'm not necessarily saying that the cheapest products have the worst tech support/warranty scams running (some save money on big ad campaigns), but the cuts DO have to come from somewhere. Unfortunately, some of the cuts come from the quality of life for people who have the misfortune of working at one of these companies.
  • Dell: good
    At&t: poor
    Qwest: criminal
    • AT&T Broadband? Long Distance? IP Services? Wireless?

      Gotta tell us which one. :P

      I've been working for AT&T Wireless for about 6 months and it's the first call center that I've worked in that did *not* bitch at us about call times. The goal is to get the problem resolved on the first call. It's refreshing to *not* have a manager over your shoulder saying "You've been on that call for over 9 minutes. What the hell is going on?" They also do try to keep us with up to date training, which is another thing that's cool for a call center to do.
      The only people that are a pain in the ass are the ones that worked for MCI.

      Anybody that's ever worked for Worldcom/MCI is a total pain in the ass. :P
  • The decline in tech support is nothing new. For quite some time, I've argued to management and coworkers that the only kind of technical support worth having is per-incident support, where the company providing support gets paid only if the issue is resolved successfully. "Gold" and "Platinum" support contracts (where you can get help as much as you want) still send you through the same tedious process of explaining your problem, receiving instructions whereby you, the customer, spend even more time diagnosing the problem, following up to the company, receiving still more diagnosis instructions, ad nauseam. Personally, I'm sick of bothering to isolate a test case, telling the company the version of their software I'm using, only to be told to mindlessly upgrade to a newer version that allegedly fixes the problem. The last time I was told this, I asked the company in question if they could try my problem scenario in their environment with the proposed new version. They said "no". Their expectation is that I will take half a day setting up an environment, installing a new version of their software, setting up my test case, and making a determination. Paugh!

    I'm willing to bet that if the support vendor got paid when and only when my problem was resolved that I'd have received very different answers and a willingness to actually solve my problem.

    The idea that only big companies with high-priced products can offer good support is stupid. The company I've spoken of sells a very expensive database product with even more expensive support. If the support isn't per-incident, there's simply no incentive to do better.

  • IBM, HP, Cisco (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sivar (316343) <charlesnburns[@]gmai l . c om> on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:25PM (#3425302)
    A few examples of GOOD customer support experiences, to let people know some companies still care:

    I had purchased a copy of OS/2 3.0 from a friend. It was a boxed copy, still had all of the registration cards, manuals, etc. OS/2 did not like my sound card, which was a cheap SB16 clone. I called IBM tech support, and was rather horrified to know that I was a known OS/2 custoemr in their records (despite never using it before, not telling them about it, and my friend never tellng them about me. Odd) Anyway, the support person that I spoke with actually had a clue, and ironically shared a story about how he promised himself he'd never buy IBM again because of bad tech support in the past. Anyway, it two phone calls over two days, but IBM eventually had me download an experiemntal driver from their website and said that if that did not work, they would conference to determine whether they had to fly a tech to my home to solve it, or if there were a way to solve the problem more quickly. All this over a $50 copy of OS/2!

    My new HP USB scanner (4100C, I think it was) didn't work in my computer because there were two basic types of USB controller: The Intel one and everyone else. I had everyone else. I called HP tech support who, after about an hour, could not solve it. The tech eventually spoke with someone else and found that it was a known problem with my USB controller. Now, the company that I purchased the scanner from, Future Shop in Boise, ID. (USA), had gone out of business so I was pretty convinced I was SOL and out of $200.
    The HP tech then asked me if I had a working parallel port or SCSI controller. I did, so he offered to send next HIGHER scanner to me provided I sent the old one back, and that it would take 6-8 weeks to deliver.
    Well, 5 weeks later I called (6-8 weeks is usually a BS figure they give for safety so you don't bug them) and asked where the scanner was. Apparently the last guy had forgotten to ask for my credit card for collateral in case I did not send back the old scanner... So he sent the next higher up scanner after the one they already offered to send. A 6100Cse. So, I was getting a $400 scanner as a replacement for a $200 scanner. Not bad.
    The next day the scanner arrived, sent priority overnight and with documents explaining who to call to have my scanner picked up on HP's bill.
    That pretty much won me over to HP, other than their crappy PCs. I was very impressed at how far they went to solve the problem.

    Cisco:
    I have a friend that works for a telco in Pocatello, ID, USA. To make my point clear, let me give you some quick background: Pocatello has a population of about 45,000 people. It is in Idaho, one of the physically largest states in the USA with one of the smallest populations. The total population of the whole state barely exceeds 1 million and there are zero major cities within several hours.
    There was a problem with a Cisco router and my friend's work. Bad power supply, IIRC. He called Cisco about it and they had a replacement part to him TWO HOURS LATER! They had actually hired a taxi cab to deliver it that much faster. How they got a part to such a podunk little backwater town in two hours amazes me to this day. The have no offices anywhere near.

    DirecTV also has great support (the support guys get in trouble if they don't solve your problem--if they don't, ask to speak to a supervisor).
    • I've never dealt with HPs tech support personally, but ehres a story about my moms PC.

      My mom has an HP Pavillion sitting on her desk. For its day the little "look at me" sticker on the front was pretty impressive- most notably the quite fast at the time 366Mhz processor.

      Now, they had problems with the PC. A few calls to HP finally got a tech out here to get it fixed. Tech came, found it was the CPU, and replaced it.

      Now that I'm home, I notice when I use that PC that the POST reports a 300Mhz CPU. Damn tech after being a pain in the ass to get out here to fix the PC that was still under warranty, put the wrong CPU in the system. If I had been home when that happened, I would have badgered HP until they fixed it.
  • by dennisr (17484) <dennisr&spacerodent,org> on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:28PM (#3425316) Homepage
    In the early days of MS support was great. Circa 1991-1993 you could call for any product for free. They had a DJ playing music and reporting queue times while you were on hold. I remember I bought a new 14.4 BOCA modem and it was set to com3. My Packard Bell had a com1 but not a com2. Because of this DOS couldn't see the modem. I called MS and the guy on the phone knew exactly what I was talking about then had me write a DEBUG (remember the dos debug command?) script to re-assign com3 to com2 without changing the modem! I was impressed. Another time I called for help on time equations in Excel, again I had a great person that spent about 2 hours with me - basically teaching me Excel over the phone.

    Later when I became a MS Exchange consultant (1996) I was calling about a corrupt message store. The guy on the phone didn't know anything. That was the last time I called.

  • I'm fairly senior tech guy. I can sys admin and I can code. (I'm a better coder but that's besides the point).

    I would take a guy in a call center. That job stinks. It's an entry level job that tries to serve senior level people. It's not a surprise that it doesn't work out well. The only way to fix it is to pay very well.

    That model works in consulting. You give some comforts when you travel (the job is worse) but you get paid better. In support, you have to deal with more crap but if you get paid better you'll take the job.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Having worked at various ISPs doing tech support over the last few years, I've got a few interesting insights.

    1) Too many companies emphasize quantity over quality. By quantity, I mean the number of calls you take in a day, or average call times. At some places, if you can't resolve an issue within 15 minutes, you're required to end the call, even if you could fix it with a little more time. This is stupid, because customers will call back, get someone else, and have to explain their problem again, which wastes time and costs the company money. Companies need to be less afraid to let go of techs who can answer a lot of calls in a day, but rarely actually solve anything, and more afraid to lose good techs who know what they're doing.

    2) Interdepartment communication in most large companies is terrible. Very often, the only way to get something done is to make friends with people in other departments, and ask them personal favors, because following procedure might get the issue brought up at the next manager meeting, but it won't go anywhere from there, because it's not important enough to make a big deal over.

    3) Immediate supervisors of tech support agents usually know how to encourage and motivate their teams, because those people were probably promoted from tech support themselves. The manager one level above them may have a general idea what's going on. Anyone above that is absolutely clueless, and has no concept of what's happening on the floor. Immediate supervisors are powerless, and their managers have little actual power. This means the people in power don't know anything about tech support, and people who know about tech support have no power. It's a direct inverse proportion.

    4) Management assumes that tech support should be in an isolated box; they don't need to know about what's going on in the rest of the company. Thus, marketing comes up with a new advertising strategy, and tech support doesn't know about it. Engineering releases a new software version that works differently, and tech support doesn't find out until customers tell them. This goes back to the communication issue above, but it's more than just different departments not talking to each other - it never occurs to anybody that tech support needs to know about anything happening outside of tech support. Tech support needs to be given a little more respect - if you respect them, they'll respond to that.

    5) What's up with long hold times? If a hold time of over five minutes for any department is not an unusual thing, you need to hire more people! The company is losing customers (or just losing money, as customer service gives away free service to bribe customers so they won't leave) just because the hold times are so long. Sure, you need to take steps to ensure that techs aren't needlessly wasting time, but once those steps have been taken, it's time to increase headcount. Sure, it costs money, but how many customers can you afford to lose? You don't want techs sitting around waiting for a call, but usually there's something productive they could be doing. How about cross-training people so they can be moved between a couple departments as needed, as call volume demands? That way you don't have to keep hiring and firing.

    6) Many companies throw techs out on the floor with inadequate training. Usually they'll get a training class, but it's not enough to absorb everything they'll need. As long as it's clear who they can go to for help, this may be OK - it only takes about a month on the floor to figure out what's going on, and as long as the tech isn't spreading misinformation or causing problems, that's fine. New techs should not be held to the same expectations as seasoned techs, though - they should be held to the same standards of quality, but if it takes them longer to get an issue resolved because they have to ask three people for help along the way, there's nothing wrong with that.

    7) Monopolies don't have to care about any of this.
    • 8) Customers have unreasonable expectations about what tech support can and cannot do for them. Quite a few people call tech support when they should be paying Professional Services or the company consulting department a VERY large amount of money. 9) Many 'higher ups' assume that tech support don't know how to do their jobs; at a lot of companies, one email to a VP or so can get you thousands of dollars of consulting and product customization, after the poor tech support grunt explains that no, they can't write code for the customer. Examples of certain things, maybe, but no, not entire modules. 10) Most tech support departments aren't run as teams; Mary might know that anybody using OS A with software version B is going to get problem X, which is resolved by doing action Y, but if Mary cannot communicate this to the other techs, what's the point? 11) The customer is NOT always right. Managers need to back their techs up. I've personally spent DAYS repeating 'you're missing a semi-colon in your config file' to a given customer, only to have them escalated all the way up to the president, who sends a LEAD DEVELOPER to the site, who calls three minutes after going on-site, and says 'They had a semi-colon missing in their config file.' 12) Rein in your sales people. I've suggested time and time again that every call a tech support grunt takes, where the customer is irate because a product doesn't do X, but were LIED TO by the sales person involved, should result in the sales commission being taken away from the sales person, and given back to the client. 13) QA should be run side by side with tech support. QA often has REAMS of data on known issues, that tech support people wind up hearing about from customers, and spending weeks tracking down. 14) QA should be held accountable for BASIC FLAWS that are let through testing. And yes, developers should be held accountable for BASIC FLAWS that are in code that has been marked 'complete' and issued to QA, unless QA routinely handles non-complete code. Nothing sucks more than the deluge of calls that you get for the first month after a new release, as people call up and start explaining that half of the New Features! bullet points are simply wrong.
  • by Dominic_Mazzoni (125164) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:33PM (#3425336) Homepage
    I've been using DreamHost [dreamhost.com] for two years now, and I think that their tech support is phenomenal. They provide web hosting, with email accounts, shell access, secure transactions, etc.

    As a rule, they offer no telephone support. All of their support is via email, or a web form in case your email is down. They usually respond within an hour, and always within 24 hours. The people who respond are actual techs, and they actually have the power to fix things if they're broken.

    One of the nicest features about their support web form, though is that after you ask your question, there's a little choice control, with the question: "Please select your general expertise in the area of this request:", with options ranging from "Please explain everything to me carefully" to "I have a good understanding of this stuff" and even "Not to be rude, but I probably know more about this than you!".

    What a difference it makes! They don't waste their time reminding me to check my caps lock key when typing in my password, and similarly they don't confuse a newbie by talking about IMAP vs. POP3 (they support both, BTW, which rocks!).

    I really like this model - I would be willing to give up phone support from any company if their email support worked this well.

    And I highly recommend DreamHost for all of your web-hosting needs. And that's not just because if you say that "dmazzoni" referred you, I'll get a discount!

    • I have to agree. I've been eith Dreamhost for a few years now and the few times that I actually have had to contact their technical support, it's been great. The people responding to the requests are knowledgable about the problems and how to fix them. Dreamhost team - if you're reading this, keep up the great work!
    • Thanks for the pointer - Dreamhost look really good, and I've been researching web hosts for some time. Particularly impressive that they pre-install many optional Perl modules, include SSH and 100 MB space in the $10/month account, and have a very good knowledge base.

      They look particularly good for more complex Perl CGI systems, e.g. TWiki, a web collaboration system I'm working on (see http://twiki.org).

  • 1. Overall product quality: down
    2. Tech support: largely useless
    3. Marketing: too expensive
    4. Clue factor at 90% of tech companies: 0
    5. Experienced IT staff: laid off
    6. Salaries: down
    7. Benefits: gone
    8. Investment: way down
    9. New ideas: not approved, obstructed, suppressed
    10. Average workday: 80% meetings, 20% e-mail
    11. Profit margins: thinning
    12. Search for new qualified staff: failed
    13. Money spent: incalculable
    14. Projections: bleak
    15. Likelihood of reaching anyone except a receptionist at any company: 0

    Now, how do we know this is directly and completely the fault of management? They are the only people STILL EMPLOYED.

    When was the last announcement of several thousand managers being laid off? BZZZT Time's up!

    Each of these things is NOT happening in a vaccuum. At some point, these problems have to be fixed or all businesses are going to have problems.

    (and here come the apologists... sigh...)
  • by Papa Legba (192550) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @02:43PM (#3425375)

    From the article "We're still looking for the cheapest way to answer the stupidest questions," he said. "If you go out of the script, they have no idea how to react."


    This quote exemplifies the real problem that tech support faces. People computting beyond their means. I used to work tech support for an ISP. Our install software was good, Our POPs were fairly stable. Yet we still had a large call volume. The problem was the LUSERs that kept calling, and calling, and calling. Some of these people had call history logs that contained thirty to forty entrys, none of them due to anything we had done. I literally spent 15 minutes one night trying to get a woman to type her password in the same way twice.


    Why this is important, These people cost money. Every minute they are on the phone money leaving the company. We had a 800 number and of course I was getting payed. We figured it out one night that if a customer was on the phone with use for 10 minutes that wiped out our profit on them for the month. With aditional months getting wiped out ever 11 minutes. Some of these customers had call logs that indicated 15 to 20 HOURS of time on the phones with us. They had wiped out their profits for the next ten years and the profits of thrity of forty other poeple also.


    What tech companies have woken up to is the fact that these people make up, at worst 10% of your customer base, yet they burn up 50 to 60% of the profits a company makes.

    In a defensive measure companies are trying to ditch them. Unfotunatly people with a real issue of need are ditched with them also. This is a sad state of affairs, yes, but then the level of support required to maintain this level of helpfullness is destructive to the company.

    No other industry in america is expected to provide this level of support. Not car manufactures, VCR manfacturers, nobody. They are expected to replace defective product, which everyone should do, but GM does not have to have a help line to explain to idiot customers that the reason their car stopped after 300 miles is that they did not put any more gas in it.

    The level of support we see now is due to the tech companies brutally shedding this dead weight. It's harsh, and unforgiving, but it needs to be done. The tech recovery cannot begin while we struggle with all the dead weight we must carry

    As a further note, if you think these comments harsh go work a hell desk position. You will develope an abiding hate for human kind quickly. I am still puzzled myself on how most people managed to have ancestors smart enough to evolve to come down from the trees, let alone learn to walk upright.

    • GM does not have to have a help line to explain to idiot customers that the reason their car stopped after 300 miles is that they did not put any more gas in it.

      About 50 years ago, my Dad was running an auto shop. One customer got so irate when his nearly new car wouldn't start, he pounded on it with a sledge hammer. It was out of gas. He knew his car needed gasoline, (and religiously bought Shell gas from Dad), but that morning he forgot to check for the basics....

      Cars have a reasonably simple user interface, and the biggest change in it since the 1920's was the automatic transmission. Still, every car comes with a manual that explains all about running the car, for instance how to put gas in it. Software is much more complex and lacks a standard well-known user interface, and yet too often nowadays it is shipped without a manual! Yes, there is on-line help, if you can get enough of the product installed to reach it, and if it's any help. Too often it's so badly indexed you cannot find the right page unless you know exactly what the programmer called the function (which is not what it's called on error messages referring to it), or the help page is just plain wrong.

      But the software is usually marketed as being installable and usable by anyone at all. Even the guy who calls the help desk because his screen is dark during a power failure... If the company is going to come anywhere near fulfilling what it promised when it sold the software, it's going to need a help desk that is capable of dealing with morons and ignoramuses, and teaching them to use the product. It really takes more than script bunnies, but attitude and communications skills are a lot more important at this level than technical knowledge.

      Of course, the second problem is what happens when it's a knowledgeable caller with a real bug. Do you put him through an inquisition starting with "Is there power on the wall socket", and then chop it off at the 15 minute timer? Or does the front line person quickly recognize that here is a problem beyond his scripts and escalate it to a real tech? Does the company even have good techs available?

      Third, sometimes the clueless have actually run into the serious bugs that are hard to solve even with skilled geeks on both ends of the line. Not much chance of solving that short of a house call, until some skilled geek calls with the same problem. But after it's been solved once, how do the other reps find out about it? And does the company discourage the frontliners from admitting to the known problems?
  • but you don't have to be a genius if you have good reference librarian skills.

    A good tech support person ought to be able to fix common problems by ad libbing. If they don't know the answer, then they shouldn't give up, but rather should begin researching what they need to know in order to solve the problem (or determine what the problem is for that matter).

    A good call center would collect and organize this research and put it in a format that is easy for everyone working there to search.

    The only other thing they'd need to do is pay the tech support personnel well and not overwork them. Then people will actually want the jobs and you'll have no shortage of quality employees.
  • Reverse that Logic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by estes_grover (466087)
    'In part, the problem can be blamed on tech companies' attempts to cope with shrinking profit margins and a bad business environment.'


    Maybe, in part, the shrinking profits are because of bad tech support. Nothing makes me want to drop a product faster than bad tech support. On several occaisions I've called Oracle GOLD Support with a problem and the gotten the response: "Oh, that would be a known OS problem. You'll have to take this up with the OS vendor." Who, of course, blames it on the RDBMS software.


    Another problem might be the propensity for PHBs to demand that you call for Tech Support on problems you could solve for yourself with a bit of time. This would tend to flood Tech Support with fairly trivial questions and tempt those who manage Tech Support to man the front line support with less skilled techs.

  • Frankly, this may not be such a bad thing. Live technical support over the phone is an inefficient way to get things fixed, because it requires the simultaneous full attention and co-operation of at least two human beings per problem (you and the tech support person). Other modes of tech support, like e-mail, on-line chat, public on-line forums, or even (gasp) a quality printed manual are much more practical, since you don't waste your time on hold, and the company doesn't have to pay for so many hand-holders. (of course, better still is a product that is bug free and easy to use, so no support is required... but I suppose that's asking too much)


    Hmm, there's probably some money to be made in a service that would match new-users-with-a-problem up with knowledgable-users-who-know-how-to-solve-that-prob lem for a given product. Once the match is made, if the user's problem is solved, the company pays a small bounty to the person who helped, and posts a transcript of the episode to their on-line support site....

  • I attend a small midwestern liberal arts college. Most students here aren't really what I'd call computer literate. They can use KaZaa/Morpheus, they can read email, they can surf the web, but if anything goes wrong they're absolutely clueless. Most freshmen didn't own their own computers beforehand and bought new ones last summer. Naturally, that means that almost all of them have Dell or Gateway craptops running ME. But I digress.

    The school provides tech support in the form of "Residential Computer Consultants". These are students, one per dorm, that other students can call if they have problems. Sounds great, right? It would be, except that they're a bunch of clueless dolts. Case in point: last month, a friend of mine's girlfriend was having troubles with her HP box. Seems there was a hell of a lot of noise coming from the back of the machine. The RCC had been and gone, reluctant to open the case and having no theories as to the problem. Upon arriving, things became apparent:

    The noise started when the machine booted.

    If one actually listened close, the sound seemed to come from the graphics card.

    She doesn't have an onboard graphics card. Ergo, her card probably has a fan. Hmm, that noise reminds me of when the fan died on my old 133.

    Taking things to their logical conclusion, I opened the case and observed that the fan was vibrating (removing the card killed the noise, hmmm).

    Some tightening of the screws later, things were fine. It took me maybe 10 minutes at most.

    Moral of the story? Don't call tech support. Call some geek buddy. Chances are, they're had your problem before or worked with someone who has. They'll probably fix it for free out of pity, hell, they might even donate excess parts they might have lying around. I have before. Even better, for the geeks, it's a great way to pick up girls...

    ~Chazzf

    • Having been an RCC at Wash U in Stl (home of a formerly great archive, before the useful people left), I've got some tips for this type of situation.

      • Your geek buddy is a great idea. Leave the RCC out of it if at all possible, because he's got an entire dorm full of people calling him.
      • Know what the RCC's responsibilities are. At Wash U, general problems with a student's PC were not part of them. Network problems were.
      • If you have a problem that isn't the responsibility of the RCC, bribe them. Food, alcohol, whatever, they work. The RCC gets so many requests that aren't his problem that if you ask and offer a bribe, you'll be helped.
      • Find out who you can escalate to. Each Rescomp department has at least one or two people who can fix just about everything. The key is getting in touch with them. Note: they also accept bribes.
      • Distinguish yourself from the self-righteous students with a feeling of entitlement. Then the RCC would rather deal with you than one of the others, who calls Daddy to call the head of Rescomp to complain.


  • I've worked in various support organizations, and feel compelled to share my recipe for a good support team, and some of the factors that I know first hand can contribute to a bad one.

    1. Managers must EITHER know the product being supported, OR at least have the mental capacity to understand what the product is used for and slowly learn the product itself. (The best tech manager I ever had started off as an analyst, and knew the software inside and out. She knew what could and couldn't be done, and kept up as new modules were written. It was a dream to work for her.) If you're hiring a manager of techies and they can't do the job of the people they're managing, they aren't qualified.

    2. Hire intelligence not flash. If a guy is a moron but speaks well on the phone, there's no way he's going to be a good analyst. There are classes at community college to teach public speaking and diction to your "nerdy quiet types" (not to mention clubs like Toastmasters), but nobody can make you smarter than you really are. In these situations, I would refer the flashy not-smart guy's resume to the SALES department.

    3. Pay a good salary. Not a "competitive" salary, a good salary. Just because Joe Blow is paying $27k in a slow economy doesn't make people happy to be offered $27,500. In six months when the economy is all the way back, the $27k (and $27.5k) people will simply quit for more money elsewhere.

    4. Train your people. Yes, you should be hiring people with experience and brains, but that doesn't neccessarily tranlsate to instant productivity on what your company is selling and supporting. (ESPECIALLY if you're talking about specialized proprietary software.) Effective training is the difference between success and failure for software support folks.

    5. Tell the truth. Don't layoff 30% of the staff due to "economic hardships", then anounce record-breaking profits the next week. Besides being ethically questionable, it's in poor taste, and kills your team's morale faster than a 44 magnum.

    6. Recognize achievements. This seems trivial, but I worked for a guy for about 7 months who didn't say ANYTHING positive to me, ever. Not once. People are VANE. When they feel like they've done something special, they need recognition for it. It's a simple fact of human existence.

    Oh, and last but not least:

    7. MORALE, your greatest friend or worst enemy. If your team is feeling low, they're going to do shitty work. (Or, rather, perform at just high enough level not to get fired.) Don't let them get low! If you live by rules 1-6, you'll always be maintaining high morale, not "turning around" low morale. (Three guesses which is easier, the first two don't count.)
  • I do support for a large manufacturer of networking hardware, and frankly, most of the people I deal with who are disappointed with the level of support they've received don't have enough of a clue to properly make that judgement. Look--there are rules to what any technician can support. I support the hardware and the necessary software to give that hardware its basic functionality in your operating system. In your *supported* operating system. I'm not going to help you install your card under Linux, and I'm going to help you write a driver to make it work in a Mac. I'm not going to help you configure file and printer sharing for all of your systems just because you have one of our cards in one of them. I'm not going to help you resolve an operating system issue unrelated to our product.

    Lots of people don't seem to understand this. And this is how it is all through the industry. People call in and expect to speak to someone who knows every detail of their system and network inside and out, from 3rd party hardware to BIOS switches to operating system specifics to IP addressing to client/server configuration, etc. I don't know everything about Windows because I don't support it, I support the specific piece of hardware with our name on it. Ditto your router, switch, service provider, etc. You want somebody who knows everything there is to know about your network and systems and will configure anything and everything for you, fine, go hire one. Their hourly rates are 5-10 times what mine is.

    And if you have a question on some obscure technical detail of the product, it may not get answered right away, because I'm not an engineer. If you're trying to do something unsupported and are nice about it, I'll try to help you, but if you call up and act like a dickhead from the get-go, you aren't gonna get crap, as I'm under no obligation to help you. Being a condescending jackass isn't going to get you anywhere.

    And of course, there's the customer that's angry because no XP drivers are going to be developed for a product that was discontinued 3 years and he picked up on eBay for $10. And the customer who is upset because when he talked to his service provider or OEM, they told him everything was fine, or that the problem is with our product, and won't listen to any instructions as a result.

    Yeah, there're customers who are unhappy with the support they receive. But this isn't because I'm incompetent or we're trying to screw them. We support what we support, and we do it well. 95% of the people I deal with on a day-to-day basis understand where our boundaries lie and are quite happy with the support provided. Yeah, it's not like that with a lot of other companies, but the fact is, a lot of the people bitching about bad support wouldn't know good support if it bit them in the ass.

    (Of course, I make an exception for cable companies, as they generally have horrible technical support, but I wouldn't really expect the billing guy to know how to push a firmware update anyway.)

  • ...wait for it...Microsoft! (big surprise)

    I once called their developer support hotline for assistance:

    ...
    MS: What options did you choose in the AppWizard?
    Myself: I don't use the AppWizard. I code everything by hand.
    MS: (long pause) You can do that?!!
    ...

  • Need I say more?

    The problem was at their exchange despite their *repeated* insistence that it was on my end.

  • I work for a small company that sells web conferencing software, and I'm one of the senior techs in the (small) support department. We pride ourselves on providing quality support to our customers.

    Our support is paid for. Our customers don't get any help without a Maintenance contract. We try to make the contract's (a yearly fee) ROI worthwhile, by allowing free access to the newest version of our software to all customers who are on maintenance. The other half of that ROI rests upon our performance as techs when someone needs help.

    An added rub: Because of the nature of our product, we often find ourselves providing support to our customers' customers, many times without OUR customer being involved in the first place.

    This means that the best way for us to maintain business with our current customers is to make sure all of their customers' support questions are taken care of (and that they are notified of any problem with their server proactively). Over time quality support will attract new seat licenses and grow existing sites.

    This coincidentally allows us to initiate contact with customers who may have decided not to renew their support contracts. Since we never turn down a customer's customer who calls asking for help (whether our customer is paid up or not), we can help the caller reach a successful resolution.

    The idea goes like this: The caller (a customer's customer) now knows about us, and our quality "free" support that we gave them. Any negative word-of-mouth based around problems found with our software will be largely negated by effective support. Since we notify our customer that someone's had a problem with their server, whether the support contract is paid up or not, we've also got an opportunity to start a conversation up with the lapsed-contract customer, which gives us an in to possibly get them to catch up their support contract.

    All of this rambling is to prove the point the quality support drives revenue. The key to turning customers from a one-time sale into a repeat revenue stream over time is to provide a service that's worth paying for, and a quality service can drive sales of licenses and other one-time purchases. Companies without quality support lose my business the first time I encounter ineptitude. Other, smaller underdogs (such as the fine folks at Watchguard [watchguard.com]) who have incredibly clueful and proactive support teams have held on to my business over the long haul. I do everything I can to make sure my employer falls into the second camp.
  • PCWorld.com has an article here [pcworld.com].

    "In fact, of the thousands of readers who said that they had e-mailed questions to manufacturers about their malfunctioning computers, only 25 percent reported that the answer they got back actually solved their problem."

  • Competence costs money. It's easier to be incompetent but able to show the management where you've saved XXX million dollars in support costs.

  • Here's the transcript of a conversation I had with Gateway a year or so ago. The chats at the beginning were conducted with a piece of software called "e-Gain" that's designed to help techs be more professional in online chat and allow them to type less. The net effect is that the customer feel patronized and like they're talking to a bot.

    http://www.fahrvergnugen.net/journal/index.php?y ea r=2001&month=03&day=19

    (be gentle, it's only a K6-3)
  • The real problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    I used to do tech support for Erols Internet.. shortly before RCN bought em. This was a while ago, and yes pay sucked, but it was a start. Doing Tech support is a good inroad into the industry, atleast it used to be. It taught new IT people patience, and how to find a solution to a problem if there was no canned response available to resolve the problem. But like I said, this was a long time ago, when most companies actually had their own tech support call centers.

    I find these days, companies are either outsourcing, or completely dropping the tech support call centers, or merging tech support with customer service (which in the past really only handled billing and non technical related problems) Todays support/customer service groups are almost completely useless, their call volume gets higher, while companies are either cutting back on staff, or no longer hiring as their customer base increases.

    What this does, is put increased pressure on support staff to resolve a problem, or dump it off on someone else as fast as possible. When I say dump it off on someone else.. I mean blame say MS (if your an ISP), or anyone other then youself to get them off the call.

    Hell, even back in the day, as a senior support person who dealt with escalated issues, I was repeatably bitched at for taking too long to resolve an issue since I tend to go that extra mile to make sure a problem was resolved before finishing the call. But the company would rather I give a customer a solution, and tell them to try it and end the call, if that did not work the customer had to call back, and sometimes wait for hours on hold in the queue.

    Alot of bad tech support is from clueless people having the job dumped on them, but I suspect most of the problems come from teh fact, that the company VP's see tech support as something that they can live without, and would rather pump cash into sales and marketting, and deal with problems later. Which results in low support salleries, which in turn results in very high employee turnover, as no one wants to sit in a very high stress job and get paid peanuts. This in turn results in a knowledge base drain, where the people who actually did know something leave for greener pastures, and the only people left are those who are not as knowledgable but can read from scripted solutions, which rarely work.

    Anyways, enough of my ranting, I'm no longer in tech support due to the crappy pay, companies not willing to train their support people so they could possibly further their career within that company. I personally think that if companies invested in their employees (specifically support), those people would stay within that company in most cases, and that would result in better service.

    But VP's only see the bottom line, and to them tech support is a drain on their funds, so they will always try to cut corners there, which is why support will always suck
  • by ari{Dal} (68669) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @03:30PM (#3425533)
    There's a simple reason for the lack of good support for companies out there: companies are unwilling to spend the money and give benefits to retain good tech support employees.

    Raise your hand anyone out there who's worked some form of tech support/help desk in the past. I have. And just about anyone who has will tell you that 1) It's HARD WORK. even for those who know what they're doing. 2) it's DRAINING work, especially emotionally. Hours upon hours of abuse from some moron who put in his own phone number instead of the phone number he's supposed to dial, and being told you HAVE to fix problem X with program Y because its YOUR FAULT that it broke wears on a person.

    The stress leads to burnout. the burnout leads to quitting. The quitting leads to massive overturn, which leads to a scramble for new employees, who are rushed out with improper training, etc etc. It's a vicious cycle.

    Here's another reason:
    Any call centre type environment works on a lowest common denominator level. The tech support workers who DO know what they're doing are lumped in with joe blow who wouldn't know a modem from his ass; extremely disgruntled knowledgeable employees desert in droves for a job that will actually get them some respect ASAP. The low pay and high stress means that for the most part, only people desperate to hold down jobs apply. Call centres are desperate nowadays and take just about anyone who can fill out an application.

    No, i'm not saying that every tech support agent is like that. there are SOME who enjoy this work, and all the more power to them. But it's not easy, and it's not going to get any better. Career advancement potential is limited and so are the pay and benefits.

    I think I've ranted enough for now so i'll just leave off there and let someone else pick it up later :D

  • What's going on above them, usually they are the last to know about changes or marketting decisions, yes they are to blame as a group for not having the initiative to better this situation, but then again, some companies will fire people "telling the truth" because they simply don't want to hear it.

    There's also the fact that tech support is perceived like a receptionnist, Executives point of view: We need them, but they aren't "valuable assets". So who, that is competent enough and knows his stuff very well (and wants to help) will settle for a low-pay and crappy condition job with no gratification?

    Usually they take some interns or people that just finished school to do this, Most of these people don't have real job experience and they take 3 months to a year or two to realize that they have a crappy job. Most that stays are doing so because they don't know better, but the real competent people soon realize that they can do better, have better conditions, job and pay. Executives don't acknoledge that and they loose all their competent people (minus one or two that will be kept as group leader or trainers and will get ok conditions). And by the time the employee knows his stuff very well and knows how to answer most problems and get the "feeling" of the problem and not just looking up questions/answers sheets, they switch jobs because of what I just mentionned before, so basically they have a high cycle rate and almost no knowledge from the start.

    To sum it up: You get what you pay for.

    And to answer the question, one place you get very good support and tools is with National Instrument. I use their labview software and the tech support are knowledgable staff with CS degree or similar. Why are they doing this? I have no clue, but at least these people knows their stuff.

  • The trend nowadays is that a majority of major corporations are using offshore call centers, specifically located in India, to handle most of the calls. Talking to these people, you wouldn't even realize that they are not American. The reason this trend is picking up is that India has a great abundance of cheap labor and has a high population of highly technical people. In addition, it is rather cheap to do this with Voice Over IP. Typically what happens with these tech support is that, as many of you have mentioned, they read from a well prepared script. Any question that they can't handle, they pass on to "Second Level Support" ... ie back to the real support at the home office.
  • The only reason you need tech support any more is to get an RMA to return something. Everything else is useless. Woe to you if its a software problem because 9 times out of 10 you'll get a "we're aware of that and working on that fix for the next release.."
  • When times are tight, a middle management hit squad is set up to look for dead wood (by definition "the other guy"). If you've got a bunch of 20 year veterans on customer support, it looks like a real smart move to lay them off and outsource it the lowest third party call centre bidder.

    My employer did that about a year ago. As I said, it looked real smart - at the time. Something that occurred to me was that the same management cadre that laid off the guys with 20 year relationships with our most valuable customers were probably not the same clique in charge of tracking customer churn, or listening to the wails of the sales guys as word of mouth kills them before they get a foot through the door.

  • Demon (Score:2, Interesting)

    by number6 (38954)
    Demon Internet actually has pretty good technical support. I've always got onto a real person within a few minutes (normally less than 1 minute), and though they only officially support PC/Mac, they'll try and help with anything.

    Last time I was talking to them, it was because of problems connecting from my Ericsson R380 smart phone, and Zaurus PDA. About as unsupported a combination as you could get, but the guy on the end still tried his best to support me (as it turned out, we tracked it down to a problem with my phone, which still persists, which gives a good excuse to get a P800 to replace it).

  • by pgpckt (312866) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @04:19PM (#3425713) Homepage Journal

    I had a dell laptop (Latitude), and I called dell for tech support. I got the usual run around where I tried to convince them I am a technically competent person. Naturally, they percedded not to take me at face value and asked me irrelevent questions that had nothing to do with my problem (my com port was literally dead, I needed a new motherboard, and no Windows setting was going to fix that.)

    One of the many questions they asked me was if I had ever dropped my laptop. I foolishly answered yes, since sometimes I would pick up the front about a quarter an inch to release the cd-rom drive or battary and then let it drop.

    They told me that my warentee was void because I *dropped* my laptop! I said bullshit. After some intense arguing, they went back to their taped copy of the conversation, where I specifically admitted to dropping the laptop "half an inch", and the dell support policy said that anything up to a full inch was ok. They gave me such a hard time about it. That soured me against dell tech support for a long time.

    I still own a dell laptop (good machine), and every once in a while I have to call them because of some obscure problem. They still ask me all the standard questions. So annoying. Sometimes, I wish I could just yell "Look, here is the problem. Fix it.", but my mom taught me to be polite, so I usually have to go thru 5 good minutes of crap before we can actually talk about the problem.

  • Good experience (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mhatle (54607) on Sunday April 28, 2002 @04:20PM (#3425717) Homepage
    I've had pretty good experience w/ Direct TV. There was an access card problem with one of my recievers and the tech support person stayed on the phone with me for almost an hour and a half working out how to diagnose and solve the problem.

    Needless to say, I kept offering to hang up and call back.. (Some of the steps took 15 minutes for the sat to sync up and stuff..) She said, no thats fine.. your satisfaction is more important than our call times.

    Needless to say I was very impressed they were will to deal with me.

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