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ISP's Slapping Techs For Lending A Hand

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the hostile-workplace-environment dept.

The Almighty Buck 331

Mike writes "Broadband Reports is running a story about how several large ISP's have reprimanded, even fired techs who offer support in BBR's forums in their free time. BellSouth is the latest ISP to forbid any official tech support representation. Instead of sculpting PR guidelines for techs to follow, they're scaring them into submission."

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Truly horrible (2, Insightful)

ekrout (139379) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833262)

With war and hatred so predominant these days, it's hard to believe that during the Holiday season, people are actually discouraging kindness.

Re:Truly horrible (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833271)

can it newbie

Re:Truly horrible (4, Funny)

Mattsson (105422) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833406)

Those bastards where helping the customers!
Of course they should be fired.
Can't have serviceminded employees. That would be good for company reputation.

Re:Truly horrible (5, Insightful)

Shalome (566988) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833431)

Kindness is one thing, good business practice is another.

For example: a licensed tech provides off-time support in a relatively unofficial capacity, which causes the user to do something that royally screws his connection/hardware/software/downloaded pr0n/etc. User calls official tech support and demands retribution, seeing as how one of the company's techs told user to do something that "broke his stuff."

I've been in this situation before, and it ain't pretty for anyone involved, no matter how good the tech's intentions were.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for kindness and helping others. But I also understand the corporate position of "no unofficial tech support by official tech supporters."

Waiver? (1)

giantsfan89 (536448) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833459)

If the tech isn't working, then you wouldn't think the company would be held responsible. What about a signed waiver form when doing off-the-clock jobs? Maybe that's hard to do on messages boards...

Re:Waiver? (2)

Shalome (566988) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833549)

The company may not be held legally responsible, but imagine Mr. Irate User calling up screaming to talk to "YOUR SUPERVISOR, and THEIR SUPERVISOR, DAMMIT!" Most companies do what they can to please the end user. Even if the tech signs a waiver of responsibility, the perception on the part of the user is still that the company is responsible for the tech's actions, because, conceivably, the company trained said tech, and said tech was conceivably acting on behalf of the company.

Re:Truly horrible (5, Informative)

The Madpostal Worker (122489) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833480)

Employees volunteering time falls under a very gray(well actually not that gray) area of the Fair Flabor Standards Act(FLSA). The general consensus is that empolyees cannot volunteer time to their employer: almost always this falls under the definition of Hours Worked. The ISP is most likely worried that some point down the road their Tech (who was originally doing this of their own free will) will demand compensation ( and the requisite overtime) for their "voluneered" hours.

You know if I was the employer, I would do the same thing.

The Department of Labor Elaws [] has some easy to understand interpretations of various FLSA previsions.

Re:Truly horrible (5, Insightful)

NerdSlayer (300907) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833471)

With war and hatred so predominant these days, it's hard to believe that during the Holiday season, people are actually discouraging kindness.

Okay, let's take a step back for a minute. First of all, this is DSL, not saving the whales. The terrorists haven't won just because these guys can't post.

The truth is, running a company is hard. Wouldn't you rather have your job for the "Holiday season" that some free webboard tech support?

Part of the problem here is that it can be dangerous to have your employees posting as a representative of your company without any standard of what can or cannot be communicated safely.

It appears from this article that that some companies are setting up a policy that forbids this sort action by their employees. In a large company, this can be necessary. How well do the managers know their employees? Are they just spouting off about how much they hate their employers? Are managers going to scour the web for these people's posts?

It's true, it would be nice if this were allowed to continue, but I certainly understand why for liability's sake most companies don't want to be involved. This certainly doesn't warrant front page slashdot news. I know we all hate corporations, but often times companies get big because their the best at what they do, or at least good at making money while doing it.

Some day you kids will go off to college, and then, you might even have to get a job at a corporation, too.

Jesus, people. This isn't microsoft sacrificing babies in the parking lot every morning.

Attention moderators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833514)

Erik is a very well known troll. Mod down accordingly.

Re:Attention moderators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833539)


I post what's in my heart. If this upsets people on occasion, then they regard me as a "troll". But more often than not, my comments are interesting or informative and usually a bit funny, too.

My goal is to make people smile and enjoy learning. Combining education with humor has great benefits.

I never mean to offend anyone, but every once in awhile it happens because I tend to be very objective and candid.

I am always open to new ideas and enjoy constructive criticism, but blatant name-calling isn't very nice.

Thank you for listening,
-- ekrout

bleh (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833266)


Wanker (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833295)

if you're gonna take fp, at least brag about it

Sounds about right to me (1, Flamebait)

I Am The Owl (531076) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833267)

It seems perfectly reasonable to me. If these techs start offering tech support in their "free" time, they're pretty likely to start demanding that it be included in their "paid" time.

That would make the companies liable to make up for their employee's overtime wages that they never even asked for, imposing financial hardship upon them. So it only makes sense that they would root out the troublemakers in such a fashion.

Re:Sounds about right to me (3, Insightful)

FuzzzyLogik (592766) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833286)

Bah, this is rediculous, they aren't on the clock, they aren't getting paid for it, they know this. So now anyone who works on open source software in their free time they're going to demand pay as well? No, i think not. If someone likes helping people, or writing software or solving problems (which is usually the case) they can do that in their free time and not get paid for it, why would they think that?


You stupid troll (2)

krog (25663) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833291)

Information, like free time, should be free. If these techies offer support in their free time, anyone who'd get in their way is subclassing Hitler.

Re:You stupid troll (3, Insightful)

SlamMan (221834) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833367)

As long as they aren't representing themselves as employees of the company while doing it, sure.

Re:Sounds about right to me (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833309)

If these techs start offering tech support in their "free" time, they're pretty likely to start demanding that it be included in their "paid" time.

Many people understand the distinction between "free time" and "work time". Why not try this solution?

1) Inform employees that responding to inquiries via public forums does not count toward work hours.
2) Having stated that, allow employees to respond.

Employees want to complain? Be my guest. Please see point 1.

FYI, if you read the article, it has more to do with legal actions and public image than employee compensation.

Re:Sounds about right to me (3, Insightful)

futuresheep (531366) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833486)

It seems perfectly reasonable to me. If these techs start offering tech support in their "free" time, they're pretty likely to start demanding that it be included in their "paid" time.

The key part you're missing is that these techs ARE doing this in their free time. It's not that they're being asked to visit these forums while off the clock. The only reason the company caught up to them, is because they identified themselves on a public forum as company employees. The company is worried about being asked for a paycheck, it simply doesn't fit along the company line of using answers to technical questions that have been reviewed and OK'd by management.

Re:Sounds about right to me (2)

futuresheep (531366) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833500)

Oops, I meant the company ISN'T worried about being asked for a paycheck.

See what not having my replies passing management review does?

Re:Sounds about right to me (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833553)

Oops, I meant the company ISN'T worried about being asked for a paycheck. See what not having my replies passing management review does?

I would have commented on it, but company policy prohibits that on a public forum...

Re:Sounds about right to me (3, Interesting)

Rebel Patriot (540101) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833501)

You remind me of my uncle. When he was 15, he needed a job, so he went to a construction sight, grabbed some tools, and got to work. This was completely on his free time. Later, he expected to get paid for it. Guess what happened! You're right! He didn't get paid for that time he worked there, but he was hired on the spot.

breach of personal privacy (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833284)

Anything they do in theyre spare time in theyre lives is theyre business, outside work outs its outside the contract, sue them. If that is the USA attatude towards towards its employees, then dont work in the US, take your brain elsewhere.

Re:breach of personal privacy (2, Insightful)

FuzzzyLogik (592766) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833331)

the fact that you're an anonymous coward makes me not want to say anything here but i will anyway. This isn't the United States attitude. I think the companies are just ticked they aren't getting the free service, and for some reason they think they might be held reliable in some way. Other than those excuses, i don't see why this is happening. Certain companies are just companies, they think with their wallets than with their brains. I am curious if they could sue though. Then again, i'd just take my expertise elsewhere, where it will be appreciated rather than take advantage of or questioned.


Re:breach of personal privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833384)

Work where you are protected under law then. Move to the EU or elsewhere. THey have very good laws for human rights and also workers. Not to mention other good things like healthcare, transport, comms :D

Re:breach of personal privacy (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833394)

You got something against the name anonymous coward? Wtf difference does it make, its just a fucking name like FuzzyLogic, SO fucking what? you fucking idiot .

WHy should I make an account when I can post like this? Grow up you AOL Looser.

Re:breach of personal privacy (0, Offtopic)

Lasalas (628720) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833467)

It's not a name, it's a status. Posting anonymously automatically gives your posts less credibility. and status

Re:breach of personal privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833512)

Oh, yes, Mr. I-created-a-600000+-troll-ID a minute ago, that makes all the difference.


Re:breach of personal privacy (3, Insightful)

chaidawg (170956) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833416)

The things they do in their spare time are not their own business if they do it in the name of the company they work for. By identifying themeselves as employees of said company, they are no longer acting as private individuals, but as representative agents of a corporation.

Re:breach of personal privacy (4, Insightful)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833442)

"Anything they do in theyre spare time in theyre lives is theyre business,"

RTFA. The main complaint of these ISPs is that these people (in their free time) say "I'm a tech support person for XYZ ISP and..." Their free time doesn't seem so free any more if they seem to be acting in their official capability as XYZ tech support. And if the information is harmful, does the poster get blamed or the employer they all but claim to represent?

Re:breach of personal privacy (1)

drpatt (557639) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833527)

This comment was "insightful??"

A lot of companies stipulate in their employee contracts that employees can't moonlight in the same line of work that their employers pay them to do. I doubt the US is unique in that.

There saving company time and money (1, Insightful)

GaLupo (583949) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833298)

By helping out ppl they save them selves time on repetitve questions and they help reduce the amount of tiem adn moeny spent by comapnies on tech support

Re:There saving company time and money (5, Funny)

Shalome (566988) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833464)

And apparently, the above post is what happens when our communities save money on things like "teachers" and "textbooks."

In related news (*wink*) (5, Funny)

ekrout (139379) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833299)

In related news, Linus Torvalds, head honcho of the Linux kernel hackers, recently fired a half-dozen developers for going above and beyond normal code writing. Linus found them in multiple IRC channels offering computing support in their free time, which was a clear violation of the Linux team's No Assistance or Help (NAH) policy that was adopted in the mid-1990s.

Re:In related news (*wink*) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833329)

If I had a mod point, you'd get it!

Whats funny is that many companys have NDAs....

Re:In related news (*wink*) (2, Funny)

user32.ExitWindowsEx (250475) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833434)

Shouldn't it really be the RTFM policy, not the NAH policy?

Thats the reason I was fired (5, Interesting)

dcstimm (556797) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833305)

I worked for a dial up ISP, I did techsupport, I would aways go way out for the customer and I would help fix all the problems they were having with out service. ALot of times I got offers to go to their house and fix their computer, but I always told them I couldnt. But I also Build and fixed computers on the side and I recommended this ISP to alot of people. So one time on the phone I was talking to someone I build a computer for and I guess the manager heard me talking about the computer I built for them over the phone, and word got to the owner and I was fired. They also got mad at me for telling people they needed a new HARDWARE based modem. I had alot of calls that people complained about disconnections and slow connection rates. SO I would recommened them to buy a USR hardware based modem, for some reason the ISP I worked for didnt like this so I would always get in trouble. Im glad I dont work for that company any more, they were more into making a profit then helping their customers.

Oh well..

Re:Thats the reason I was fired (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833314)

The USA has no laws to protect workers?

I suggest you move to work in the EU as they have very strict laws protecting people.

Its called Brain drain.

Re:Thats the reason I was fired (2)

slipgun (316092) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833438)

I suggest you move to work in the EU as they have very strict laws protecting people.

Many would say too strict.

Bandwidth costs money... (3, Funny)

BSOD from above (625268) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833333)

they don't want the customers to use bandwidth, it lowers margins.

Re:Thats the reason I was fired (2, Informative)

FuzzzyLogik (592766) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833363)

This is sad, because it's exactly what i did, though i didn't do it on any company time. It's a good recommendation. I used to have random disconnects with a software modem, normally while playing games and such. The cpu just couldn't feed the modem with the information and disconnected me. So i bought a hardware modem fromo USR and never had a problem since. I also did this for other people and it fixed their problems. I don't think it's much of a problem any more with newer computers, but it was a problem on my p166. I just keep moving my USR from new computer to new computer :) and i keep it around in case my cable goes out (good ol comcast)... I too would be glad to not work for that ISP anymore.


Re:Thats the reason I was fired (1)

HD Webdev (247266) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833454)

SO I would recommened them to buy a USR hardware based modem, for some reason the ISP I worked for didnt like this so I would always get in trouble

Probably bean counters were the problem. After all, you were increasing customer's bandwidth use by x%.

Re:Thats the reason I was fired (4, Insightful)

swb (14022) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833463)

Maybe management didn't want you mixing your side business with your day job.

Generally speaking, most places dislike their employees generating business from their customers or doing business on their time.

It's a simple case of liability (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833308)

The ISPs don't want the potential liability of having their employees giving out anything other than the "company line," whether in an official capacity or not. I can't really say as I blame them. What if ISPTechA is posting on BBR and the advice he gives leads someone to wreck their hard drive? What if ISPTechB makes an offhanded comment about how ISPTechA sucks goat nards?

You've probably seen plenty of usenet posts with long .sigs about how "the opinions of this post are that of the author and not the employer." Some companies handle it that way, and some are a bit more draconian by forbidding non-official contact across the board. But it all boils down to liability.

Re:It's a simple case of liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833415)

"The ISPs don't want the potential liability of having their employees giving out anything other than the "company line," whether in an official capacity or not."
This may be true, but those same companies do not mind some of these idiots spouting pure bullshit on company time and claim it is Technical Support. See how the worm turns? Woot! Where did I put that URL?

Re:It's a simple case of liability (3, Insightful)

Technician (215283) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833453)

The company I work for has a warning out regarding "Official company position". All my posts have no refrence to my place of employment. (OK maybe a generic refrence - I do hardware, not software) Once in a while if I see genuine wrong information on Slashdot (very rare), I may post a link to the official company website showing the disputed fact instead of giving "My opinion IMHO". I never provide an opinion on the company or it's direct competitors. It keeps me out of trouble and many times allows insight in the industry not colored by company position. From the article the company had no problem regarding generic tech support postings only. Just don't get into anything regarding if the company is fair, doing well, biased, cheating, etc. That will raise red flags whether the info is true or not. Don't do water cooler talk outside your company. EVER!

Re:It's a simple case of liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833546)

I beleive one should be free to post what he wants when he wants. I you start posting that you think that product X from the 'company line' is not that good, that's your opinion. Don't expect those who write your paycheck to be happy with that.

Dammit, will those company listen up to personnal phone lines to see if anything wrong - as per their opinion - is said about the company ?

- company: Who were you talking to last night on the phone?
- employee: Oh that was my mother, her modem is...
- company: fired.

The Samaritan Effect (5, Informative)

pgrote (68235) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833310)

I have had SBC DSL since they offered it. I was an early adopter and paid for it heavily with downtime and mysterious router issues. Add to that I actually signed up for static IP addresses and bandwidth guarantees and I feel into the black hole when it came to support.

The techs working undercover on Broadband Reports helped me out and since then, two years, I haven't had a single issue.

This raises the interesting prospect of if they weren't available I would have cancelled and taken my business elsewhere. Where I am located there are multiple companies and solutions available, so I am lucky.

99.9% of the techs on the boards do it for their own gratification. I call it the Samaritan Effect. It's what online support used to be back in the days of the BBS and message networks. Personal handholding on issues that others could learn from.

Each time a tech takes the time to answer a question, solve a problem or offer advice it lightens the load on the overworked phone staff.

The techs enjoy it because they find, gasp, satisfaction that they are making a difference in their jobs. Most of those folks are not customer facing getting their orders from ticket systems, etc. It provides them a chance to make a difference.

Yes, there are negative implications on doing this, but for the most part it works. Providers should read the Cluetrain Manifesto [] for more exposure to what they should be doing.

Re:The Samaritan Effect (2, Insightful)

sco08y (615665) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833364)

It's like that with a lot of new technology. Early adopters are self-interested altruists: they realize that if they help the pioneering companies out that they will be help to establish their favorite technology. Established technology is worth more than technology noone's ever heard of, so they are indirectly investing in themselves.

If you look at the history of companies like Apple, for example, you see this effect can be quite pronounced. If we Mac-heads had let Apple die, our investment in skills and hardware would all be worthless now!

Unofficual support (1)

eth00 (612841) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833316)

I can see them not allowing for official support, they may start trying to claim they are working and go for overtime or something. However, they should tell them to use a different login on after hours support. Some people just like helping others...I know I spend a few hours a night on a tech support irc channel helping out all sorts of problems that are easy to me. Unfortunatly in this money hungry world you have to always watch your back.

Uncool (0)

Sh0t (607838) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833319)

That's pretty damn gimp considering the trouble most non computer savvy people have getting started and troubleshooting.

Don't see anything wrong with this (4, Interesting)

unterderbrucke (628741) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833323)

Companies just want customers to go through the traditionial support lines in order to provide statistics about problems. If everyone uses BBR's forums, then the company doesn't have statistics about problems with it's modems, then it doesn't know to issues patches or not.

Seems common sense to me...

Re:Don't see anything wrong with this (1)

alecto (42429) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833336)

More like companies don't want their poor performance or tech support illuminated in forums they don't control.

It's a lose-lose situation. The customers and potential customers lose vital information about ISPs and the companies come off like jackbooted thugs.

Re:Don't see anything wrong with this (1)

giantsfan89 (536448) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833375)

I work for a university, and we provide Internet service, so that makes us somewhat of an ISP. We are members of the IBM ThinkPad University program, and cannot support every laptop or desktop that students bring with them. There are simply too many applications and hardware configurations.

When talking to students, many of our techs offer to help off the clock, and they usually even get paid more than at the help desk. They can use their knowledge and help people, even though the official university can't support everything and everyone. I think even though techs are not officially representing the university in this work, they give the impression that there are people who work for the university (usually other students in this case) who care about students getting problems fixed.

ISPs want good PR, not bad, right?

The wave of the future... (5, Insightful)

JakiChan (141719) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833326)

You know, when when I first read some of the semi-near future cyberpunk stuff (like SnowCrash and Gibson's "bridge trilogy"), I thought the way the future was being portrayed was simply taking things to an absurd level with excessive litigation and examples of corporate bad-citizenship. Now everywhere I turn it seems like the predictions are spot on and the bleak realities that we read as fiction are slowly becoming truth. As much as I like SciFi that paints the future as full of Shiney Happy People, I think the reality is that we'll all end up living on a bridge or in subway tunnels someday...

Re:The wave of the future... (2)

TheOnlyCoolTim (264997) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833493)

There were at least as many "Good" corporations (the Mafia, the corporation that made the mech-enhanced guard dogs...) as "Bad" ones (Rife, The Pearly Gates) in Snow Crash. And remember in Snow Crash the world is still transitioning from the death of Nation States. If you read The Diamond Age, it's a depiction of how it eventually ends up, and yoÅÕï8t to find out what happens to Y.T.


Re:The wave of the future... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833526)

(like SnowCrash and Gibson's "bridge trilogy")

How do you get bridge from sprawl? It's the Sprawl trilogy. Wtf did bridge come from?

is...? (3, Insightful)

MarvinMouse (323641) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833327)

Free time during work time or when they go home?

The employees should be allowed to do pretty much anything they want when they go home. (apart from selling non-disclosure agreement secrets.) This is kinda like firing a doctor for curing someone without charging them. Seems kinda silly to me.

But then again, the tech market is in a slump, and they may need the money.

If this is during work though, it's somewhat understandable (note: I am not condoning it (IANCI).). Some offices prefer you work for them during work hours, and not work for free online.

As well, if these techies are giving out details that they aren't allowed to (due to some agreement or another). Then again, it is understablable (IANCI). Businesses have their "intellectual property" that they'd prefer to sell then give away.

Seem odd though for a company to do this and risk the bad press.

New? to who? (5, Interesting)

Papa Legba (192550) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833332)

Must have been a slow news day. I love it when people report on an ongoing trend as if it is "New" all of a sudden. What is their next news flash? That moisture, when it falls from the sky in the form of rain, tends to get things wet?

I worked for a dial-up ISP for several years. In 1999 they closed our forums so that the techs could not answer questions that way. The only way after that to get tech support was to call us or to send an E-mail. No public forums allowed. At the time it was justified by saying that we were only following an industry trend.

What this article should have pointed out is that the shutting of access to a help forum has more to do with the disinegration of the item being supported. You only restrict access if their is a problem. This is a bigger indicator that the broadband networks are overloaded and are starting to self destruct more than it is a new indicator of customer service. Look for some major system failures in the next year (like anyone with any industry knowledge didn't already know that).

On the internet, no one knows you're a dog (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833335)

...or a support tech.

The easy way around this is to answer questions under a fake name.

Heck, they can even explain the whole crappy situation in their sig if they want.

"Official Capacity" (5, Insightful)

tmark (230091) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833342)

Is the key and operative term used in the article. It makes perfect sense for these companies to want to have some control over what will get said by THEIR employees and hence as THEIR _Official_ representatives. There are lots of techs out there who are quick to say/write/post things that are offensive/incorrect - policy guidelines notwithstanding, and there's no good way for these companies to retract/correct them. How many times have _you_ dealt with a surly/incompetent/incoherent tech that reflects very poorly on their company ? Could you imagine the company having a policy that, say, only fluent English speakers are allowed to post, without that company being open to lawsuits ?

I don't blame these companies a bit for wanting to be able to control what their company says and how their company is portrayed. The article says nothing about the companies prohibiting the techs from posting in an unofficial capacity.

Some thoughts.. (1)

erktrek (473476) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833343)

I can see (but not necessarily agree with) companies discouraging techies from offering free support IF they are trying to charge for such services.

On the other hand, having employees participate in such forums can take the sting out of that company having a mediocre (or over worked) support group.

What about disgruntled employees posting FUD?

Understandable... (5, Interesting)

nuxx (10153) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833346)

I can sort of understand this. From my skimming of the article, it looks like the employees were offering their time in an official capacity while off hours. This is somewhat of a no-no, because then the employees are presenting themselves as representatives of their employer, during a time which they are not at work. This could potentially cause all sorts of problems for the company, since the employees won't be working within the offical support model framework that the company uses. (eg: Solution for X is Y, etc.)

This is akin to an employee offering up advice to people on the street corner, off hours, saying that it's the offical position of his employer. It would introduce all sorts of legal headaches if something gets broken, someone gets misinformed, etc.

I fail to see anything in this article that says that employees cannot offer tech support off hours, it just says that they can't do it and say it's the stance of their employer, as indicated by "As of December 31, BellSouth employees will not be allowed to lend a hand in any official capacity." So what's to keep someone from helping out without saying it's their company's line? Nothing.

Re:Understandable... (1)

FuzzzyLogik (592766) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833400)

True, but does it say they were doing it for the company in which they worked? Or for some general website that helps users? I haven't read the article, my stance is usually objective anyway so it doesn't matter. If they're not on company time, and saying they work for such and such, yes, that's a problem. But if they simple answer simple questions, or help trouble shoot something, i don't see why this is a problem, as long as they don't say they work for such and such company. All in all i agree with your post, good job.


Its the correct move. (5, Insightful)

nlinecomputers (602059) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833348)

Techs who provide support in a non-authorised manner and therefore unsupervised manor should be prohibited from doing this.

I personally have seen incorrect information posted on BBSs. Yet if the poster IDs him/herself as an employee of company X and that incorrect information causes damage the company could be liable. The article says "So instead of spending twenty minutes drafting clear corporate policy on public forum relations protocol, some companies clamp down on such activities; sometimes brutally." No they took there 20 minutes and elimiated a potential legal loophole. Running a proper BBS forum would take a lot of resources and I can understand why a corportaion would want to clamp down on this.

This isn't the evil empire. This is CYOA. And considering the amount of stupid and incorrect information that can be found out there I don't blame them on bit!

Why can't they be like TiVo (2, Interesting)

RevMike (632002) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833349)

I've spent alot of time participating in TiVo forums. Glad that TiVo is a little more farsighted in this area. There are quite a few TiVo employees on the TiVo boards, and the always are able to provide the best information.

Shouldn't be allowed (2)

Trusty Penfold (615679) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833351)

The corporate world is all about politics, not technology. The people that know the technical answers cannot know the politics behind the problems.

It could be very bad for the company if a moonlighter helps with a security issue, say, when the offical company line is to deny its existance.

People should do what their job descriptions says they should do.

All Aboard! (2, Insightful)

GGardner (97375) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833359)

The Cluetrain [] is leaving the station!

Things never change.... (2, Informative)

KristsInferno (630282) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833371)

This also reminds me of a semi-large MSN Tech outsource that did the same thing both on and off the clock. The MSN motto for support was "Get that customer off the phone!" Actually helping the customer fix their issue was frowned upon if it took more than 60 seconds. As an employee, the techs were also forbidden to, in any way, say that they represented MSN in a public forum, even while on the clock! I, for one, still rate a company largely on thier customer relations. Too bad there isn't a big ISP that taps that demographic...

Re:Things never change.... (2)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833477)

"The MSN motto for support was "Get that customer off the phone!""

Hell, that's the motto on 99% of the call floors out there. Even when I worked for an outsource company for Dell (supposedly focused on customer satisfaction... apparently my satisfaction issues with their controllerless modem don't count...), there was much more pressure to "clear the que" than to solve problems. To the point where it's easier with most problems to tell the customer to do an FFR (FDISK, FORMAT, re-install, doo-dah doo-dah) simply because you can get them off the phone while they're formatting.

maybe the issue is CONTROL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833373)

Big companies seem to like centralized control.

Pretty standard, actually, unfrotunately (4, Informative)

MacAndrew (463832) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833377)

BellSouth employees will not be allowed to lend a hand in any official capacity

It is important to be cautious in drawing many conclusions from a single press account. As everyone knows, sometimes the press does a mediocre job.

The key word is "official" -- the company should and must control its employees' official activities, because they are then acting as representatives of the company. This is standard business law. True, the company would get credit for the good things the reps did in their spare time, but it would also get the blame or, worse, monetary liability.

So the employees shouldn't do it if told not to. That might be dumb business logic for the company, but who knows, is is their call. Assuming the reps were doing a good jobs and not generating complaints, their committment sounds laudable. I've avoided calling for tech help of any sort for years b/c of frustration with clueless techs (not always, but too often).

That's the right; but here it *sounds* like the companies here are also being jerks about it and treating their employees reprehensibly. That's a whole 'nother ball of wax, and one for which I am entirely unsympathetic.

Re:Pretty standard, actually, unfrotunately (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833413)

I think another part of the problem here is that legal business contracts exist (outsourcing) for various types of 'support'. For example, the tech person at an ISP is basically there to assist with ISP related issues. Operating system issues are a HUGE industry and are genereally contracted to other companies, through the vendor of the operating system. That's where the potential liability issue comes into play. Unfortunately for most consumers, the contracts include service level agreements which restrict the amount of time a tech should spend on any given issue, the end result being that techs feel pressured to get through calls as quickly as possible, which affects quality of service actually provided, and gives the consumer the impression that the tech just wants to get off the phone.

Excuse me for babbling there.

Wait a second (2)

Have Blue (616) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833379)

If they get fired, won't that release them from any corporate online behavior guidelines? Then they can offer support on the forums as members of the public until the cows come home. And they won't have any obligation not to badmouth the company when it deserves it.

Re:Wait a second (2)

Izeickl (529058) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833389)

This is all good and well, until the bills keep coming through the door but you now dont have a paycheck. As with OSS, at end of the day, no matter how much you want to do things for free you still have to live and maybe support a family and thus need income from somewhere.

Re:Wait a second (1)

Wiseazz (267052) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833403)

I guess the only problem with that is that now the tech has no job. I wouldn't be too motivated to help out my old company's customers for free.

I do hate to see people loosing their jobs for being nice, though. WTF.

Eh? (3, Interesting)

Cytlid (95255) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833382)

I can't imagine this... I've been a technician for about a year and a half. I think I got the job *because* I helped people in my spare time. I know for a fact my employer went to google groups and did a search on my name ... They must have put something really potentially damaging (to the business) in their posts?

I am a Bellsouth customer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833383)

Hey Bellsouth! It appears that you are sucking big time. Perhaps I should look elsewhere for case you did not know, there are alternatives to your 'stranglehold' in these parts. In short, you are stupid. I "used to work for XXXXXXXXX, and I know they blow!" is a common phrase heard whenever yout tech support is mentioned. Your first level script reading morons do not qualify as tech support. Get back to customer service, and leave your techs alone, you should be proud they go the extra distance. Failing that...blow me.

FYI (3, Informative)

cioxx (456323) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833385)

Here's the announcement thread [] on the forums.

I got fired (3, Interesting)

TerryAtWork (598364) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833393)

By a tech support company in Toronto the second day on the job. The company itself was chin deep in the Snow White virus. The people there were clueless outside of their tiny domain of expertise.

I described the letter promoting it to some people working there so they'd know what to avoid, trying to help you see, and this girl went to management and they fired me.

When the word got back to the agency that sent me there THEY fired me. Twice in one day, a personal best.

I'm not making this up.

Re:I got fired (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833537)

Did you rape that cunt for being such a whore?

There are quite a few (1)

nuckin futs (574289) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833396)

Being a regular/forum member at broadbandreports/dslreports, I can tell you that some of the ISP techs send their customers to those forums for answers. It has helped many users in the past and it will continue to help others in the future, whether the ISPs like it or not.


Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833414)

Hand Slaps You For Lending A Hand

Common sense here guys (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833417)

The isp's are just trying to cover their back..

If a tech on their spare time, gives out the wrong information, that say causes the computer to crash and need to be reformated, the customer can go and try to sue the ISP.

I cant say I blame the ISP

BellSouth's New Slogan... (2)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833419)

"Because you're tired of companies who care."

Two-part solution (4, Interesting)

JoshuaDFranklin (147726) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833420)

they were fired for violating a non-existent public forum non-disclosure agreement, and for identifying themselves as a Roadrunner employee

First of all, the employers need to get all their support personnel to sign NDAs. I worked tech support for a small regional ISP [] and we were not allowed to tell people what brand of AS we used (this could change), the speed of our uplink, the model of our gateway router, details of our network map, etc. What's wrong with that? (I should mention that we also always recommended hardware-based modems and customers could bring in their PC for connection troubleshooting FOR FREE. This was a great ISP.)

Second, though, these tech support people should know better than to identify themselves as employees of the ISP. That makes it sound like it's official company policy when it's really just some guy saying "try this... it might help".

Not surprising. (5, Interesting)

JessLeah (625838) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833424)

Recently, I had a very interesting conversation on the phone with the Verizon Residential DSL support people. So I call up; I realize (due to factors of age and gender) I don't "sound like a geek" but I am. After a few minutes the tech realized he was conversing with a fellow techie, and we worked together to solve my problem (him using Verizon's proprietary tools and me using RoaringPenguin's pppoe and standard Linux TCP/IP tools). He was quite nice and we even had an ongoing side-discussion about running Linux on the PowerPC architecture while we worked to solve the problem.

Then it came time to hand off the problem to Verizon's internal tech support team, since it became obvious that it was a systemic problem affecting people in my area (or at least me, but we determined that the problem was clearly on their end, not mine). At this point, my friend tech apologized, and warned me that this report might not go anywhere-- since I was not running Windows on my box. Apparently, internal tech support only honors reports from people running Windows...

It's just another example of how the legions of PHBs running the telecom field (and the dot-com field, as I can testify from having worked far too long in said field) are trying to regulate everything in the support process. It's all about the Benjamins, and these people believe that by regulating, and restricting, and prohibiting everything-- to the point of "scripting" common tech support dialogs and replacing human operators with "automatic phone support systems", they can make more money.

They may be right, they may be wrong. In any case, I don't like it...

Re:Not surprising. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833534)

Shut the fuck up Reza, you fucking huge whale. Please don't eat your newborn if you can help it, thanks.

Not New (5, Interesting)

RWarrior(fobw) (448405) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833432)

This is not new, and it is not limited to ISPs.

Basically any company with a big enough apparatus wants to control its public image, and it can't do that if its rank-and-file representatives are speaking when they're not spoken to.

Sprint PCS [] squelched one such representative who was participating in alt.cellular.sprintpcs. Over the four or five months she hung out in the newsgroup (as a publicly known SPCS employee, but not representing the company in any official capacity), she made a number of customers happy by offering solutions to their problems, or offering ways that they could get Customer Care to take care of their problems without calling the President's office or escalating to a supervisor. Her respect in the newsgroup was very high.

When she left the newsgroup, here [] is what she said.

It's telling. Especially telling is the 40+ responses she got.

Big companies can't deal with the Internet. It's too new, too public, and too uncontrolled. Despite all of our whining about corporate control and ICANN's UDRP and copyright and DMCA, the fact remains that the Internet scares the crap out of large multinationals.

And that won't change any time soon.

...Every day you'll see the dust...

wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833433)

I'm sure glad Speakeasy has Ms. Kat [] , a Speakeasy-sanctioned representitive from the Communications dept. SBC sucks!!!

This is standard operating procedure (4, Interesting)

signe (64498) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833439)

While I was working at AOL, I was constantly frustrated by the amount of misinformation that flew around about the company and things that were going on. And we're not even talking about company confidential things. Just stuff that the corporate communications group didn't have the time or inclination to work on. And it was only made worse by the fact that noone at AOL responded to correct or clear up the incorrect information. It was clearly a lack of communication between the industry and the company, and something that could easily be helped by just a little effort on the part of employees who participated in forums like Slashdot and wanted to help.

I tried to propose an internal volunteer group of people who wanted to do this. They'd be held to standards as to the correctness and appropriateness of the information they were providing to outside sources. And there would be peer review and recourse for people doing the wrong things. The idea was that AOL could significantly improve their image within the community by participating in it. Noone wanted to hear it. I wrote a formal proposal and passed it up the line. I don't think it even got past the director.

Corporations sit here and ask for your loyalty as employees. They offer bonuses, options, perks, and tons of other things to try to secure it. But they can't imagine that employees might actually want to do things to help the company in their spare time. And more than that, they don't want to release their tight grip on corporate communications and allow employees to help out with the forums they participated in. Until they realize that these things are harming them and find a better way to deal with employees than by saying "Don't talk to anyone unless we approve it first," they'll have the same old image problems.

The most we can do is continue to attempt to raise consciousness within the corporations we work for. Write proposals for new communications policies for employees. Leave copies of The Cluetrain Mainfesto on the VP's desk. Not much else we can do.


Re:This is standard operating procedure (2)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833503)

. But they can't imagine that employees might actually want to do things to help the company in their spare time.
That's because if you give'm something for free, they'd expect people would want something for free from them...

But, well, aren't they already offical? (2)

rmckeethen (130580) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833441)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most technical support staffers already official representatives of the companies they work for? When I did technical support for computer manufacturers, the word 'representative' was in every title I held. So what's different now?

I think the real problem is that companies are afraid low-paid techs might take out some of their job frustrations in on-line forums, where the eyes of supervisors are usually absent. That, and the fact that by putting their help in writing on a public forum, these companies worry that their employees might reveal embarrassing service issues to a wider audience instead of just one customer at a time. Of course, if these same companies bothered to instill in their employees a sense of professionalism and loyalty, or God forbid maybe even pride in their work, I doubt there would be a problem with this.

The truth is, you represent any company you work for, regardless of if you're on the clock or not. Executives certainly realize this, but it's easy to blame low customer satisfaction scores on employees just trying to lend a hand to angry customer's they meet in other parts of the on-line community.

Sad really, just another example of PHB syndrome.

They probably don't want the competition (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833445)

Remeber that many ISPs outsource their tech support to cheap call centers. These call centers make their money doing tech support, so free tech support is naturally bad for them. Also, if a tech does support on his free time, the customer might not distinguish between the free, private support he's recieving and the company's support. Imagine a customer calling up furious because "Your darn tech broke my 'puter" when in point of fact he isn't your tech.

Completely understandable - even nescessary (5, Interesting)

jgaynor (205453) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833465)

Besides the legal liability and misrepresentation that a "rogue tech" places on his employer, he also screws the tech support process for the user the next time he/she decides to call in for real help.

Succesful helpdesks, specifically in the level 1 & 2 enivronments, rely on scripts. These scripts are written so that an escalated ticket (one that level 1 cannot handle) arrives at the next level of tech support with that user environment "clean" - that is, level 2 assumes that level 1 has already made sure the user's environment is in a kind of "virgin" state.

When a higher level tech jumps in on a problem from level 1 (such as in these forums) they almost always prolong the length of the customer's next call to tech support because of user assumptions and level 1 ignorance of the support history. While some problems may be solved completely within the context of a forum, the majority of users will at some time in the future call tech support again. This raises costs and decreases the availability of support for the rest of the userbase.

BTW I talk with Optimum Online techs on the BBR forums and Yahoogroups all the time. They are careful not to engage in tech support out in the open, and speak only in an unofficial context. They're extremely helpful and hundreds of users appreciate their unofficial support everyday. If you want a model of how to keep your more advanced users happy while limiting liability and misrepresentation - check out the impromptu support model they've created there.

You can't catch the techies (0)

shazbotus (623281) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833495)

I dont see how this really stops anything. Those techs can still get another account and just help people without really mentioning that they work for "Foobar" company.

Tech Support (2, Insightful)

joelwest (38708) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833529)

As a former 1st tier tech support person I can empathize, however most companies delineate what is 'officially' supported and what is not. Most questions in forums are about things that techs are not 'allowed' to support officially during business hours. I can't say that I agree with the policy, but what Bell South is doing is protecting itself by demarking that which is 'oficial Bell South tech support' from what is users helping each other.

No, it's not right or fair. Unfortunately, in these days when people cannot recognize that hot coffee can burn and so sue the restaurant, Bell South is protecting itself from that sort of legislation.

But, no, it isn't right.

Brazil (2)

cornflux (168139) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833535)

This reminds me of Mr. Tuttle, from Terry Gilliam's Brazil [] .

I'm a tech for a horrible small/local isp. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#4833541)

If we had a forum all our users would know that they're all having the same problems.

My boss tells me to lie to our users. He tells me to never admit that any problem is ours. I lie to 85% of the people that call me blaming problems on various things when in reality our service is just shitty in many many ways. One of the most common things I say in a day of work is 'No other users have reported this problem sir' after which I blame the problem on something(line quality, modem driver are my favorites). My boss threatens my job security constantly and bitches to me about the other two employees here and how he wants to fire them. I just got promoted to manager without a raise because I do such a good job of lying and covering my ass. FUCK THIS PLACE.

-Irate Anonymouse Tech Out!

Science or politics? (1, Offtopic)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 11 years ago | (#4833555)

The plots are given high levels of water, heat, carbon dioxide and nitrogen in different combinations to simulate predicted global climate change in the next hundred years.

Unless there is something more solid that they aren't reporting, this looks more like politics than science. At least, the way they report the findings sounds very skewed:

"The three-factor combination of increased temperature, precipitation and nitrogen deposition produced the largest stimulation [an 84 percent increase], but adding carbon dioxide reduced this to 40 percent," Shaw and her colleagues wrote.

In other words, they are saying that high Co2 levels increased plant growth 40%, but because of their agenda they are reporting this effect as a reduction because it is less than they would have seen if they'd done something else.

A more likely/solid conclusion might be: if the climate changes plants in a given area might not be as well adapted to the new conditions as they were to the old.

And this is

-- MarkusQ

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