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Another way to reduce the cost of tech support

I think that companies deliberately make it so painful for customers to call tech support that customers simply stop calling after a while.

Case in point.  I was one of the first people in my area to get a cable modem connection (Time Warner's Road Runner).  As you might imagine, the "early adaptors" tended to be computer geeks.  And yet, whenever I called the Road Runner Help Desk, the technician automatically assumed that I was a total idiot.

I could present twenty different pieces of evidence to show that a problem was originating with Road Runner's news server, or one of their routers, or whatever -- and the technician would still INSIST that the problem was on my end, and that I simply needed to re-install the TCP/IP stack on my Windows machine.

Eventually, I just became totally frustrated, and I stopped reporting network problems.  I think that this was their intent all along.

J. D. Trollinger
Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Usually technical support at frontline (ie. customer support line) have little/or no expenience on their support area. I was once reporting a GPRS network problem to my telecom company. It was okay to ask me if my end configuration is okay at the first time. However repeatedly go through the configuration on each call is not a thrill thing to do (I already told them I ran by this couple times from another support people already, and they keep inconsist my end configuration has gotten some problems. And yes, they thought I am a idoit). From that case all of the support people can enable to do one "code segment" - "check the configuration on user end, if not work, then try to refresh the GPRS status on my account in their database".

I called them over 10 times and finally they escalated the problem to "engineer", which in the end the problem was really a network error. I am not sure if it can reduce the their cost of technical support, but I am sure I am frustrated.    

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Most of the Help Desk people are reading a script. Therefore, they treat you as an idiot because they are following a script.

I have had the guy tell me that I had to re-install windows and the dial-up software because that was the process he had to follow. He agreed that because I got the message "Server Dropped Connection" that in all likelyhood the problem was at their end, but the script says X and he can not raise the issue any higher until I did X.

I hung up.

James Ladd
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

I worked on a help desk for nearly 3 years, and they have a tough time.

A help deskers life is completely measured, and it doesn't pay to think.

If you do a lousy job, but follow the scripts and procdures (and cut off people when the lines get to busy) then you can get good stats and appraisals.

Try to do your job properly (ie. actually helping people) and you'll barely scrape by.

I never did very well as a help desk.  My poor performance stats where only tolerated because of a steady flow of very pleased customers praising my work.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

On, another point.

Since 99% of people who call help desks are idiots, its safe to assume that the perso on the other end is a idiot.

Everybody knows that smart people would have posted to a web discussion board for a worthwhile answer.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

There's this amazing series running on BBC 2 for the moment called "The Secret Life of the Office" that gives you an inside look at the helpdesk (among many other things). Prepare yourselves for discovering incredible new depts of incompetence.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Ged Byrne wrote:

"Since 99% of people who call help desks are idiots..."

In general, this might be true.  However, the percentage varies according to the type of technology.  For early-adaptors of broadband connections (my example), the percentage is much lower.

J. D. Trollinger
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

I used to work doing tech support, and no matter what kind of technology they were using, almost every user calling for support is a consumate idiot. Companies do an excellent work selling high tech products to housekeepers, nannies, moms, grandfathers, and to the village idiots. They're the bulk of their sales, and there is no such thing as "early adopters", except if you are cooperating doing beta testing.

The small percent of people who actually knew what they're doing, usually were very responsive once they figured they were talking with a "good" tech. I was part of a special team -spec ops :-)- who only attend difficult cases. That team was later disbanded (too expensive), but luckily I was longer out of there.

anon when dumb
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Are the callers actually stupid or are the products they are talking about designed in such a way (read: poorly) that it takes a rocket scientist or computer geek to use them?

It would seem to me that if there is a majority of "idiot users" out there then the companies should listen to them and make better designed more useable products...

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

"there is no such thing as 'early adopters' "

Early adaptors are the people who embrace new technologies as soon as those technologies become available on the market.  In terms of stupidity, early adopters follow a normal distribution (just like almost any other human characteristic).  The normal distribution is definitely shifted toward the intelligent end, though.

Tech support would be much better if the technician could make a judgement as to whether or not you (the caller) were an idiot.  If you're not an idiot, you would be referred to the next level instead of having your time wasted ("Did you check to see if your computer is turned on?  Is it plugged into the wall socket?" etc.)

Maybe your customer profile could contain a rating -- say from 1 to 5 -- that describes your level of technical sophistication.  Wasn't customer relationship management (CRM) software supposed to solve these types of problems?  What happened?

J. D. Trollinger
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

'Maybe your customer profile could contain a rating -- say from 1 to 5 -- that describes your level of technical sophistication. Wasn't customer relationship management (CRM) software supposed to solve these types of problems? What happened? '

I think it what's that word again?  Oh yeah, Management!

Greg Kellerman
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Anyone that counts on software to solve people problems is a fool.

Joe AA.
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

"Early adaptors are the people who embrace new technologies as soon as those technologies become available on the market."

Agree with that (adaptor like in adaptation, or adopter like in adoption?), but when a company actually have a tech support dept, its because they want their product to be mainstream. Usually, they've already spent mountains of money doing marketing and the such, so, that's why I don't believe in these things early adopters exists at all.

(hope anybody be able to understand what I've said, because I don't)

anon when dumb
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Anon you said: "...almost every user calling for support is a consumate idiot. Companies do an excellent work selling high tech products to housekeepers, nannies, moms, grandfathers, and to the village idiots. "

Nice to know you consider housekeepers, nannies, moms, and grandfathers idiots. Please tell me what company you work for so I can add them to my list of companies I prefer not to give my money. Maybe if your company had designed a product that the users could figure out more easily, you'd have been out of a job.

I can't stand being around people like you that think anyone in a different line of work is an idiot. Let me clue you in. . . lots of computer professionals laugh at the tech support people behind their back, because while the support reps they think they're experts, they're really beginners working in an entry-level position; they're at the same level of expertise as the average CompUSA floor rep. They think they're experts because they know so little that they don't even know what else exists besides their narrow experience.

Believe it or not, just because someone has trouble with your product, that doesn't make him an idiot.

Troy King
Wednesday, July 17, 2002

My friend has the same problem with RR.  He keeps losing his connection to various parts of the network (gateway, news server, etc.) but when he calls in they tell him that it's his computer and to reinstall the TCP/IP stack.  Then, after a few days, everything just magically clears up. <sarcasm>That's the first time I've ever seen a computer repair itself!</sarcasm>

I told him to switch to Bellsouth.  That's what he's going to do when he moves into his new townhouse.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

My second point was said with tounge in cheek, but there is a point.

Regarding Early Adopters, I've encountered 2 types.

The first type are the hobbyist enthusiasts who are generally interested in the product and stick out like a sore thumb.  If the support operator knows their stuff (which is tragically rare) then they will spot this type.

Unfortunately, the majority of early adopters who phone support are of the second type - those who do it for status.  The want the latest gee whiz gizmo that they read about in their lifestyle magazine so they can bore people at parties.

Theses idiots are also vain, which means they will willingly lie to avoid revealling their ignorance.

It is a popular sport among cynical tech supporters to ask these people made up questions to these type for sheer entertainment value.

"You've checked the flux capacitor, it needs 88mph to work"

"Yes, obviously <smug little chuckle>"

Ged Byrne
Thursday, July 18, 2002

====Begin quote====

No one appreciates being treated like an idiot.

I was forwarded to the "National Help Desk." The person who took my call had no recognizable knowledge of the Road Runner network, networks in general, computers, or networking. I described the problem as plainly as I could: I had connectivity. My modem was on, connected to Road Runner, and working. My computer was plugged in, on, and connected to the modem. I could connect to Road Runner. I could retrieve e-mail. I could ping successfully. I could NOT reach any site beyond the servers via HTTP, FTP, or ping.

Stating all that, it would be apparent to anyone with some modicum of networking knowledge that the problem was on the network, not in my computer. Why then, do you suppose, did this person insist that she could not help me unless we first ran down her checklist that began with resetting my modem? That question is rhetorical; I know the answer. The answer is that the customer is assumed to be an imbecile who knows nothing about what they are calling for, and the "help desk" personnel are trained chimps who have been taught to read a script, and given no autonomy in dealing with customers that have an IQ that is actually measurable.

Topping the cake is the customer service response e-mail I received while the problem still existed. It was on an unreachable server. 2 hours later, the service returned, and the local Time Warner / Road Runner support people had confirmed what I told them 2 hours ago.

How much time would have been saved if I had been able to speak to someone who actually understood what I was saying and was able to act on the information I had provided? I know for a fact that it does not take 2 hours to track down a server / router that needs to be rebooted / replaced. I know it's not practical to hire technically savvy people to man your first tier of support, but if reading from a checklist is all they are able to do, why not simply mail a copy of the list to each of your customers and do away with them altogether? I would appreciate hearing from someone who can actually answer some of these questions.

"Based on your recent experience with technical support, how likely are you to use Road Runner telephone support again?" Utterly preposterous. What other options have you given? Service goes down, can't use Web-based support... am I supposed to mail you a letter? Hah. DSL is now available in this area, and Sprint has been courting those of us who could benefit from it. TW / RR is not the only broadband solution in town anymore. Perhaps they should act as if they had a customer base to protect. Thank you for your time. Hopefully someone will actually read this, rather than simply shipping it off to the bit bucket in an effort to protect someone else's feelings.

====End quote====

I wish the Coyote would eat Road Runner
Thursday, July 18, 2002

I agree, but support issues aren't limited to RoadRunner.  In my area Verizon DSL buys addresses from Genuity (yes, the Black Rocket (tm) people) to provision them out to their business class customers (of which I am one).  When I contracted for my static IP addresses, I was told that I couldn't run my own DNS server.  When I asked them why, I was told "because those addresses aren't reverse-DNS compatible".  On further digging, I was told that the real reason was that nobody would be able to reach my DNS server if my DSL connection went down.  After I pointed out to them that if my DSL connection went down my web server wouldn't be reachable and that the unreachability of my local DNS box would be a non-issue, they finally admitted it was because they didn't want to support customers running their own DNS servers.

After about three months, Genuity "lost" my addresses.  Verizon Business-Class support (with a level 3 tech) was prompt, courteous, and knowledgeable.  Apparently, Genuity told the Verizon tech that "sometimes routers just lose addresses" and then told me that Genuity used older "RedBack" routers and had to replace them relatively frequently and that what he thought had really happened was that some 90-day-wonder had just forgotten to put my addresses back in.  Total downtime for my site: one week, including reprovisioning time and DNS propagation time.

Anybody had a similar experience?

Chris Woodard
Friday, July 19, 2002

Why not simply mail a copy of the list to each of your customers and do away with them altogether?

Well, apart from losing it too many people are incapable of making the link from "There's no lights on my computer" and a piece of paper saying "If they're are no lights on your computer, try plugging it in." to plugging it in.

Jack V
Friday, August 02, 2002

Well... don't you think that someone should develop an application with an excellent and intuitive user interface so perfect that even a complete idiot could use to report a problem with their computer not working???

Ok, I'm feeling trollish today... but there was one manager I know that actually suggested this!!

Joe AA
Sunday, August 04, 2002

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