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853 comments

o nein! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362745)

first post!

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362747)

hehehe

Re:first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362956)

yfi hehehe

Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362749)

"We don't support that"
We're not here to help fix your computer. We just want to get you off the phone. A tech-support slave tells his hellish tale.

Editor's note: All names have been changed.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Kyle Killen

Feb. 23, 2004 | Class officially started three hours ago, but our instructor has not yet arrived. This is not uncommon. By now many of my classmates have begun to bring cards, magazines and DVDs to pass the time. "The Matrix" is playing on someone's laptop and has attracted a small crowd in the back of the room. The fact that we're being paid largely to sit around and entertain ourselves has been the source of lots of jokes and smiles, but in the back of our minds we can't help but be concerned.

Several people confess that they've never done more with a computer than check their e-mail. Others admit they haven't even gotten that far. An impromptu contest develops to see exactly who knows the least. There are lots of contenders. I'm listening to them battle for the crown of incompetence as I'm dealt a new hand of cards when a frightening thought occurs to me. Our clueless bunch is now part of the technical-support staff for one of the world's top three computer manufacturers, and in seven days we're going to be taking your calls.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ken is standing in the aisle, tethered to his cube by the spiraled umbilical of his headset, holding an unlit cigarette, and yelling. Ken is always yelling, and that's why we love him. Lots of us jot down Ken's more memorable tirades and compare notes on our breaks. Now, standing near my cube, screaming in the urgent and gravelly tones of a mid-40s chain smoker trapped in a non-smoking building, Ken tells a customer, "Quit whining and go get a damn screwdriver. I don't have time for this bullshit."

None of us is sure how he gets away with it, especially considering that Ken saves his real anger for dealing with management. His conversations with the higher-ups all end with Ken screaming, "This is bullshit! Total bullshit!" and hanging up.

We all understand why Ken is angry. We've been tech-support representatives for six weeks and already a third of our training class has left. A new crop of techs hit the floor last week, and two of them are already gone. It might be tempting to believe that the customers are driving the techs away, that they just can't take the stress of dealing with endless complaints and callers driven to near madness by interminable holds. But the callers just want answers. Ken, and those of us who are left, are angry because for the most part we don't have them.

When we pick up the phone we're lying. We don't really work for the company we say we work for. Because of the expense of housing and running a technical support operation, many computer manufacturers choose to outsource the work. We work for one such outsourcer, though you'd never know it just to talk to us. To the customer on the other end of the line the distinction, while important, is invisible.

Outsourcers are paid by the computer manufacturer based on the number of calls they handle. The more calls we take, the more the outsourcer is paid. So naturally everything that happens in this vast carpeted warehouse of cubicles is done with an eye toward speed. Our managers stress something called "average call time," which is simply the average amount of time a tech spends on each call. They want us to be under 12 minutes. Our phones monitor our ability to reach this magic number as well as the total number of calls we take, the number of times we ask for help, how much time we take between calls, even the amount of time we spend in the restroom. In short, your phone is always watching you.

Twelve minutes can sometimes be difficult even if you know what you're doing. It is impossible if you don't have a clue. The stress of always being on the clock without really knowing how to do your job has already claimed a third of my classmates, and from the looks of the bulging veins in Ken's head and neck, it's threatening to claim still more. But no matter, when those spots open up they'll be quickly filled by members of the next training class. They, like us, will have answered an ad for an entry-level computer support position. If, like myself, they have little or no computer experience, they'll be told not to worry. As long as they can pass the typing test and drug screening they'll be assured they'll get everything else they need in training.

Our two-week "intensive training" course was helmed by a 19-year-old named Chad. Chad had great difficulty making it to class within three hours of the stated meeting time. Even when he rolled in by 11, holding a cup of coffee and wearing sunglasses, he looked as if merely being upright was unfairly challenging his abilities. Despite being comically late he usually started class by collapsing into a chair and telling us to take some "e-mail time."

When Chad saw fit to interrupt the endless series of card games and movies it was with detailed lessons on how to use our phones and log our calls. We learned that these things were key. If we remembered nothing else, as long as we could answer the phones and provide records that we'd done so, the company would be paid every time we thanked someone for calling technical support. When present and able to speak, Chad drilled us endlessly on these two skills. The most incompetent among us could have written a manual on how to answer calls and log them properly. As for how to actually troubleshoot and fix computers, we were largely on our own. Beyond a cursory overview of the computers we were in charge of healing, the closest thing to a troubleshooting tool we were taught was The Mantra. When class ended, which varied wildly depending on Chad's interest and mental status, we were all encouraged to say The Mantra out loud. We repeated it over and over, the words seating themselves deep in the folds of our brains until the breakup of class began to feel more and more like the end of a cult meeting.

The Mantra is simply, "We don't support that." On the face of it, it's completely logical. We're here to help with problems related to your computer hardware, but we don't pretend to know anything about your digital camera, or how to get the most out of Adobe Photoshop. Without The Mantra we'd waste precious time trying to answer questions beyond the scope of our expertise. Never mind that the scope of our expertise was largely limited to reciting The Mantra and logging calls. The important thing was that we understood our mission was to answer questions that fell within the limited margins outlined in the computer's warranty. Beyond that we didn't have to do anything.

Two weeks of half days later Chad pronounced us ready to answer calls and presented each of us with a photocopy of The Mantra and a single pushpin with which to affix it to the wall of our cubicle. He suggested we place it over our phone just to ensure we couldn't miss it. At the time none of us really understood the obsession with The Mantra, nor could we have imagined its power. But the fact that we were given a cube and a phone and were turned loose on troubled customers with little more than four words on a photocopied piece of paper should have been a clue. It was as close as anyone would come to telling us the truth about our job. We were there to take your calls, not solve your problems.

Loni is a great guy. Like me, he keeps track of Ken's more outrageous meltdowns and we compare notes over lunch. We have a good time. I like him. But Loni is a punter. I don't condone it, but I understand. Since hitting the floor we've all learned the sad truth. Actually solving problems is by far the slowest way to handle a call. We've each got 12 minutes from the moment we say hello to find a way to say goodbye, and after two weeks of trying to fix computers he knew nothing about and racking up average call times north of half an hour, Loni decided that if he was going to survive, he was going to have to change his approach. So he became a punter.

A punter is someone who gets rid of problems by giving them to someone else. Punters tell customers that their problem is not really with their computer, but with their software, their printer, their phone lines, solar flares, whatever they can make sound believable. Then a punter will look at the piece of paper hanging above their phone and read you those four magic words. We don't support that. If you want your problem fixed, a punter will tell you, you'll have to call someone else.

It's not that Loni isn't smart. In fact, he's wickedly so. He can listen to a person having problems with the mouse and spin a plausible story as to why it is really something the person needs to be discussing with the phone company. He can take a call about a modem and convince the customer that she needs to contact her embassy. He doesn't lack intelligence, just tools. Like the rest of us, all Loni was really taught was The Mantra, and since then he's learned to wield it like a samurai with a sword.

He's not alone. Lots of the techs are punters. And many of those who aren't have adopted some other time-saving strategy to help them dispatch their calls within the allotted time. Karen is part of a growing group called givers. Like punters, they don't really solve any problems, but instead of just asking you to call someone else, givers want you to have a parting gift. They'll listen to your problem and then randomly choose a piece of hardware to send you. Of course it won't solve anything, but givers have discovered that people usually calm down and start agreeing as soon as they think you're sending them something to fix the problem. And by the time they get the new part and discover it has no effect, they'll call back and someone else will have to figure out how to deal with them. Givers are really just punters with style, and they find their tactic very satisfying. Karen and her ilk get to spend all day playing Santa.

Ted is someone I don't speak to. Ted is a formatter. Ted, and those like him, have only one solution to their customers' problems. Erase everything on the computer's hard drive and start over from scratch. While this can be effective for solving all sorts of software troubles, it's like amputating someone's leg to fix an ingrown toenail. The solution is usually worse than the problem. Most times Ted doesn't actually follow through with his plan. The entire strategy is just a bluff. Most people will balk at the proposition of losing everything and decide they can live with whatever problem they've called to complain about. At the very least they'll decide to hang up, back up their data, and call back -- at which point they'll become someone else's problem.

But some formatters are worse than Ted. They'll help customers get started with the process without ever mentioning that all the data will be lost. Then they'll ask the customer to call back when the operating system finishes reinstalling, at which point the customer usually says something to the effect of, "the last guy was helping me reinstall and the computer seems to be running now, but I can't find my letter from my dead grandmother and baby picture of little Johnnie." Punters and givers will waste your time. Formatters can do much worse.

While I may disagree with their strategies, I can't argue with any of these people's results. Offering a preplanned solution is always faster than listening to the problem and digging around for an answer. As Loni began to master the art of The Mantra his call times improved drastically, ridiculously. He was slowed only when he ran into a problem he actually knew how to solve and felt obligated to abandon his normal strategy and share the solution with the customer. Other than that he was ruthlessly efficient. His average call time dropped from 35 minutes in his first two weeks to just over 5 minutes this week. Even Loni was terrified that somehow they'd catch on, that they'd know he was endlessly kicking customers to the curb only to have them call back again later when the phone company said it wasn't going to fix the mouse. Then one day the call he'd been dreading finally came.

"Loni," his invisible manager said, "I've been studying your stats. Your call time has decreased drastically in recent weeks."

Loni knew it was over. He'd be reprimanded. He'd be fired.

"That's very impressive. Keep up the good work." And so he did.

Those of us who haven't taken up a strategy are still trying to learn how to troubleshoot and repair the computers and our call times are still suffering as a result. Like Loni I've received a call from my manager. He notified me that I need to show some improvement soon or there might be another cube waiting for the next training class. It's clear that people who solve problems don't last long. They either end up quitting, getting fired, or worse, screaming in the aisles like Ken.

Most of us are pretty sure Charles is the devil. When we discuss him during breaks we agree that he possesses uniquely evil qualities. None of us has ever seen him; he's simply a voice that comes through our headsets from somewhere in the football-field-size labyrinth of cubes. But it's very easy to picture his particular cube brimming with fire and filled with the tortured souls of the damned. Charles, or Satan, as he's sometimes called, is here to help us. He's one of our mentors.

Mentors are the people we call when we're stuck, when we've tried everything we know how to try and we still can't seem to solve a customer's problem. Mentors were once lowly techs like the rest of us, until they were plucked from our ranks by the hands of management and promoted. Mentors don't actually speak to customers, only other technicians, and because of that their environment is a little less formal and a little more relaxed. It's a coveted job. But because the problems that mentors do hear about tend to be the real stumpers, the ones that take some experience to crack, they have to be sharp, to have answers at their fingertips, or failing that, to know where to look. This is the theory anyway. But Charles is living proof that theory and practice don't often run into each other around here.

It seems logical that if you wanted to find the best, most proficient technicians you could simply look at their call times. Those who routinely turned in the lowest call times must possess superior troubleshooting and problem-solving skills that enable them to handle so many calls so quickly. But those of us who take the calls know that's not true. The most proficient technician with a wealth of knowledge at his fingertips can't hold a candle to your average punter or giver. But if you're just looking for an expert at getting off the phone and getting back on again, you could not do better than Charles.

Charles was rumored to have been promoted after several weeks of turning in average call times under two minutes and repeatedly smashing his own records for the number of calls handled in a day. If anyone was curious how he did it, they didn't show it. He was making the company money hand over fist, so his promotion to a position where he might help others achieve similar results seemed obvious.

A technician needing help dials the mentor line, an inside number where people like Charles wait to hear what's got us stumped and offer a solution based on their superior knowledge and experience. Calling the mentor line is just like calling technical support: You have no control over who you're going to get. After a lengthy hold your call is suddenly answered and a name pops up on your phone, telling you which mentor you've drawn. And if you draw Charles, you don't have a lot of time.

After smashing all the records for technicians Charles is now looking to rewrite the record book for mentors. Mentors tend to average two minutes a call with each technician. Charles is shooting for under 20 seconds. Charles does not want to hear what your problem is, he's already got the answer, and it's the same one he gave when he was a technician. In the fine print of your warranty it states that we will support the computer in its original condition.

This makes sense if you think about it. If you install some sort of aftermarket sound card and fry your motherboard, we can hardly be held responsible for that. But Charles has turned this small piece of fine print into his magic bullet. He simply ferrets out the changes you've made to the system since you've gotten it and then tells you that he can't support the system unless it's in its original condition. His definition of "changes" is extremely broad. If you've installed any software (who hasn't?), hardware, or even downloaded something from the Internet, Charles will not support your computer. In Charles' demonic little world checking your e-mail will void your warranty.

Seeing Charles' name pop up on your phone will make your heart sink. If you try to explain your problem, "I have a customer whose modem is..."

He'll interrupt with, "Tell them we can't support the system unless it's in its original condition."

If you protest or try to finish a sentence, he'll simply repeat The Mantra several times and hang up on you after precisely 20 seconds.

Lots of people have complained about Charles and other mentors and technicians just like him, but management seems unmoved. He's fast, and in the end that's what counts. For the rest of us the only reason to keep Charles around is for the spectacle that ensues when he pops up on Ken's phone and Ken beings wailing and screaming, "Jesus Christ, not this moron again," before hanging up and shouting, "Bullshit! Total bullshit!" The irony is that by yelling and hanging up on Charles, Ken only lowers Charles' average call time that much further. And it means that Ken will have to make yet another call to the mentor line, which will be added to his total and further slow him down, all of which will only serve to convince anyone looking at his stats that the real moron isn't Charles, but Ken.

Mr. Davis is threatening to shoot his computer. What this will accomplish is unclear, but he seems convinced it will make him feel better. Looking over his call log, I'm sympathetic. A run of givers have sent him six monitors in the last two and a half weeks, none of which has solved his problem. It seems safe to say that whatever his problem is, it's not with the monitor. Still, that hasn't stopped another giver from offering to send him a seventh one earlier today. When he refused that present he was promptly punted. He's been punted a total of four times today. Now he's had it. He just wants me to bear audio witness as he guns down his system.

Fortunately after a little prodding I discover that Mr. Davis' problem is one of a growing number that I recognize and know how to fix. We go through a few simple steps, and in a matter of minutes I've determined that his video card is bad. I explain what we've done and that I'll be sending a new video card to address his issue. He seems much calmer now, grateful that I've listened, and hopeful that I've really figured out the source of his frustration. All I need to do now is send him the part.

But because the givers have been sending out thousands of dollars' worth of unnecessary parts and equipment lately, it's not that simple. Now I have to call a special inside number and wait for the opportunity to explain to a manager why Mr. Davis needs the part I think he needs. With one manager set up to handle this post and hundreds of techs trying to dispatch parts, both legitimately and otherwise, it turns out that I'm in for quite a hold. So while the problem is actually something I know how to fix, and while I've gotten to the solution in only eight minutes, I now have to wait on hold for 16 minutes just to send out the necessary part. By the time this call ends, it will have taken almost 25 minutes and to anyone studying my stats I'll continue to look completely clueless.

When I finally get back to Mr. Davis his goodwill is gone. The quarter hour of exposure to soft rock he's endured has prompted him to get the gun and begin threatening to murder his machine all over again. I promise him the part is on its way and that his problem is finally solved. But it's clear he doesn't believe me. He calls me an asshole and slams down the phone. I begin to wonder if I might not be better off learning how to punt.

It's been nearly three and a half months since my class took to the phones and less than a third of us are still here. All around me are new hires just hitting the floor and trying to figure out which strategy they should adopt in order to survive. Lately, I've managed to keep my call times in the 12- to 15-minute range and have started to feel like I know what I'm supposed to be doing. Those of us who are still here are all pretty firmly entrenched in whatever methodology we've chosen, regardless of whether we solve any problems or not.

After lunch we're called together to watch a training video. Why we're watching it more than three months into our employment is unclear, but it hardly matters. In a world where the phone is counting the seconds you spend at the water fountain, we're all grateful for a respite from its unblinking eye.

The video turns out to be the funniest thing any of us has ever seen. Cheeks are wet, stomachs are sore, as we laugh riotously at the video's assertion of how things are supposed to work around here. We see the video's students carefully studying intricate diagrams and complex equipment under the watchful eyes of their instructors, and we think back to our card games and Chad's labored efforts to remain on his feet. We hear the kind and courteous manner in which the technicians speak with their mock customers and the grateful thanks of callers who've been rescued from their computer nightmares by these intrepid yet imaginary technicians, and we think of Ted and Satan. No matter how many times they tell us to be quiet, none of us can help it. It's like working in a motel and seeing it advertised as the Four Seasons. If we weren't laughing, we'd probably cry.

As I return to my cube I'm tempted to believe that the insanity is confined to this office, but the call logs tell a different story. People are punting, giving, and reading The Mantra all over the country. In Tennessee, Oregon or Texas, in operations run by my outsourcer or others, even in the support centers run by the manufacturer, it seems there's no safe place for a call to go. Wherever they're sitting, when techs answer your calls, they're more likely to be a Charles than a Ken. Suddenly the video seems a little less humorous. It's one thing to imagine that this place is an anomaly. It quite another to think we're just a small part of a larger disaster. I'm sure it would depress me if I gave it a chance, but suddenly my phone rings and I've got 12 minutes to fix something or get off the line.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ken's last day feels like the beginning of the end of something bigger. Without him standing in the aisles screaming, who will give voice to what the rest of us are feeling? What will we have to write down and talk about at lunch? In short, who else is going to make working here bearable? The irony is that the company has no clue what they're really losing. Far more than a foul-mouthed sailor in a headset, Ken has become one of the most competent techs on the floor. His style may not be user friendly, but on average he can take a call, solve a problem, and berate his customer for whining in less than 12 minutes. Ken fixes their trouble whether they like it or not, regardless of how long it takes him, and when he hangs up the problem is solved. He's even received several thankful e-mails from callers who've endured his drill instructor's approach and finally gotten a much-needed solution.

But good as he is to customers, he's better to us. Instead of waiting interminably on hold to get a reading of The Mantra from a mentor, many of us will simply step over to his cube and ask Ken. More often than not he begins, "Oh shit, that's easy..." and like that we're on our way. No one wants to see him go, but Ken can't be persuaded to stay.

Last week word began to circulate that Charles was being taken off the mentor line and promoted to full-blown manager. Ken was uncharacteristically calm. He sat down at his computer and hastily typed something up. Minutes later he handed in his resignation without a word. Since then we've pestered him endlessly to stay. We've tried to convince him that Charles' promotion is actually a good thing; at least he won't pop up on the mentor line anymore.

But Ken's decision is made. He's the kind of person who acts on principle, logic be damned. He's in his mid-40s, divorced and the father of two, but he's decided that he'd rather be unemployed than work for a company that considers Charles to be among its very best assets. It's a noble stand, but one made in vain. Already names are being floated as to who will get Charles' spot on the mentor line and Loni's name has been mentioned more than once. As the owner of one of the lowest average call times and highest call volumes, he's an obvious choice for management, though even Loni would tell you in a perfect world it would be Ken who was moving up. But it's not a perfect world, it's tech support, and instead of moving up, Ken is moving on. Someone has gotten him a cake. It does not read Good Luck, or Congratulations, or even say Goodbye. Ken opens it up to reveal three words scrawled neatly in the icing.

"Bullshit. Total bullshit."

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362784)

But it's not a perfect world, it's tech support, and instead of taking it up the butt, Ken sucking some cock. Someone has gotten him a cake.

It's a troll repost, idiot mods.

Are you referring to yourself? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362936)

Because you're the troll, and hopefully the mods realize it.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362938)

Hehe.... that was pretty funny.

I read the entire post and never noticed.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362787)

thanks, i couldn't get to the article using w3m

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362839)

Maybe you should get a REAL web browser? It's not 1985 anymore.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (5, Funny)

Frymaster (171343) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362792)

Q: how many tech support personnell does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: i have a copy of the light bulb here at my desk and it works fine for me. are you familiar with the use of light bulb? okay, can you tell me which version of light bulb you are running - it should say either 60w or 100w on the top rounded surface of the the bulb itself. so, to check the version number you will need to remove the fixture if you have one. is the light bulb installed in a ceiling-mounted fixture light or is it for a desktop style lamp? okay?

right, it appears as if you have the correct version of light bulb. there are a number of possible reasons why you are experiencing this problem. first, however, i need you to explain the nature of the darkness. is the darkness intermittent? is it partial or total? are there other light bulbs in your work environment that are displaying the same problem? are there other problems aside from the darkness?

let's start with the simplest possible solution first. if you have a desklamp or other exposed-bulb installation, could you check to see if the appliance is plugged in. to do this, locate the black power cord at the bottom of the lamp or other installation and follow it to the end. you should find a plug connected to a socket on the wall approximately ten to fifteen centimeters above the floor.

if you are using a ceiling or other permanent installation we'll have to test the switch. first, locate the switch. it should be attached to the wall and be from 1.25 to 1.75 meters above the floor. switches are usually located adjacent to doorways. now, toggle the switch up and down. is the darkness persisting?

hm. is your installation battery operated? like a flashlight? is your installation on a timer or motion detector? is this a refrigerator light bulb? have you tried opening and closing the door? is the bulb florescent rather than incandescant? has it had time to warm up?

okay, it appears as if the bulb will need to be changed. i'm going to give you an incident number. someone from physical plant will be by within ten working days to change your light bulb. please give him your incident number.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362962)

Punter just means "consumer". I don't know the derivation.

HTH

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (4, Informative)

cynicalmoose (720691) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363025)

A punt is a boat used on the Thames and the Cam (at Oxford and Cambridge), propelled by a pole. Hence to "punt" is to push around.
A punter now means a consumer, but previously meant gambler, especially horse racing.

Punter (4, Informative)

pilotofficerprune (682802) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363043)

A gambler. (One who "punts" money on the horses.) A customer of goods or services. These days the term is applied so broadly it can refer to any member of the great British public: anyone who is in the market for goods, services or help. "It's what the punters want," is an excuse for pandering to the lowest common denomenator.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362817)

hey mods, might wanna take a look at the near end. not exactly the same aritcle.

Violation of copyright laws (4, Insightful)

sphealey (2855) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362877)

And your justification for gross violation of copyright laws is what exactly? Salon.com is a paid-subscription site with limited public access. Its content is NOT under a Creative Commons or GPL license. You have no right to copy an article in bulk from Salon to another site.

sPh

Re:Violation of copyright laws (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362901)

Enjoy the -1, dude.

Re:Violation of copyright laws (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362928)

(Score: -1, Needs to get laid)

Re:Violation of copyright laws (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362992)

Copyright is dying. Get over it.

Re:Violation of copyright laws (5, Insightful)

0x0d0a (568518) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362996)

On the other hand, I don't think that the story submitter had the right to get the link to the story accepted. Dammit, Slashdot editors *normally* don't allow links to stories that require jumping through hoops to read, but they grandfather news sources in. At one point, the NYT didn't require registration, so they got in. At one point, Salon wasn't a pain in the ass to read, and so it got in.

I'd like to see Salon and the NYT removed from the "special pass" list.

What's the big deal with NYT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8363026)

Create an account with false info, or Googlize your link to get in. It's really not a big deal.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362894)

Did this really need to be posted? I'm all for avoiding the useless NYT logins whenever possible, for example, but Salon is a web-only publication and it doesn't hurt anyone to sit through a harmless ad.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362914)

I'd rather login to NYTimes than watch an annoying ad on Salon.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (5, Funny)

darkscorp (194918) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362911)

I personally enjoyed the description of different tech support workers:

A punter is someone who gets rid of problems by giving them to someone else. Punters tell customers that their problem is not really with their computer, but with their software, their printer, their phone lines, solar flares, whatever they can make sound believable. Then a punter will look at the piece of paper hanging above their phone and read you those four magic words. We don't support that. If you want your problem fixed, a punter will tell you, you'll have to call someone else.


Karen is part of a growing group called givers. Like punters, they don't really solve any problems, but instead of just asking you to call someone else, givers want you to have a parting gift. They'll listen to your problem and then randomly choose a piece of hardware to send you. Of course it won't solve anything, but givers have discovered that people usually calm down and start agreeing as soon as they think you're sending them something to fix the problem. And by the time they get the new part and discover it has no effect, they'll call back and someone else will have to figure out how to deal with them. Givers are really just punters with style, and they find their tactic very satisfying. Karen and her ilk get to spend all day playing Santa.

Ted is someone I don't speak to. Ted is a formatter. Ted, and those like him, have only one solution to their customers' problems. Erase everything on the computer's hard drive and start over from scratch. While this can be effective for solving all sorts of software troubles, it's like amputating someone's leg to fix an ingrown toenail. The solution is usually worse than the problem. Most times Ted doesn't actually follow through with his plan. The entire strategy is just a bluff. Most people will balk at the proposition of losing everything and decide they can live with whatever problem they've called to complain about. At the very least they'll decide to hang up, back up their data, and call back -- at which point they'll become someone else's problem.

This could be a fun quiz addition for e-mode.com: Which Tech Support Staffer Are You?

I think I am a "Santa"

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8363010)

And in a tiny little way, slashdot kills the quality of information published on the web by removing the advertising revenue from the site which actually authored the material.

Free information is useless if it's dead.

Re:Today only, free access courtesy of Slashdot (5, Insightful)

m0nk3ym1nd (548825) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363039)

Was this full-length quote posted with permission of Salon.com? It was certainly done without attribution. Adding injury to insult, this unattributed posting has potentially deprived Salon of income, of which it does *not* enjoy an overabundance. The article is only available to Salon Premium members (I'm one) who pay a modest annual fee to view the usually top-notch content. If this is how we treat out friends....

first (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362753)

piss

The net is dead - you'll see it in few months (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362958)

I can't tell you the exact details, but I can't remain completely silent. I work for the federal government and today I found out that the net as we know it will die in a few months.

Two words: national security. More precisely, the security of the essential national digital infrastructure.

The net will become completely regulated, so get prepared to get your internet license and unique ID and say your anonymity goodbye.

You heard it here first.

A disgruntled worker!? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362763)

What are the odds of that? I bet you can find the same for almost any position, big or small.

Forced ad? (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362765)

I didn't see any forced ad viewing?

Maybe that has something to do with me using a well configured Firefox...

Re:Forced ad? (3, Funny)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362807)

I didn't see any forced ad viewing?

Seems like the first two paragraphs is all the article-reading you can stand...

Re:Forced ad? (-1)

grub (11606) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362856)

Me neither, and I'm using ancient Netscape 4.78 on OpenBSD through a squid/privoxy filter. Oh well, Salon is (was?) owned by MS, they don't need the money. :)

Re:Forced ad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362883)

Whoops, my mistake. I think it's Slate that owned/was owned by MS. Mod me to oblivion.

Re:Forced ad? (1)

LMacG (118321) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362887)

> Oh well, Salon is (was?) owned by MS, they don't need the money. :)

You're thinking of Slate.

Re:Forced ad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362913)

That's Slate, not Salon.

But Salon sucks too, so they don't need your money after all.

Re:Forced ad? (4, Funny)

irokitt (663593) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362882)

My "well configured Firefox" didn't stop the ads. So I guess you only read 2 paragraphs, huh? Don't feel bad, you still did better than most Slashdot readers do.

You can't get parts from India... (1, Interesting)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362775)

One thing I've noticed recently is whenever I get connected to a foriegn-accented call center, all they can do is read the manual to me. If I actually have a broken part, they have to send me back to the USA to speak to someone authorized to get the part, usually by requiring me to call another number altogether.

I guess we shouldn't be too scared of tech support being sent offshore... those aren't the knowlegable people anyway, so they're not exactly taking our job.

Re:You can't get parts from India... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362795)

You Are Being Flamed Because

[ ] You posted a Religious Thread
[ ] You posted a accusation with no proof
[ ] You posted a thread containing 1337 talk
[ ] You posted a me > u thread
[ ] you posted a worthless offensive thread
[ ] You continued a long, stupid thread
[ ] You committed crimes against pork biproducts
[ ] You posted a "YOU ALL SUCK" message
[ ] You haven't read the FAQ
[x] You don't know which forum to post in
[ ] You just plain suck
[ ] You posted false information
[x] You posted something totally uninteresting
[ ] You doubleposted
[ ] YOU POSTED A MESSAGE ALL WRITTEN IN CAPS
[ ] You posted racist crap
[ ] I don't like your tone of voice
[ ] You are not civilized enough to post in these forums
[ ] Yuo mispeled evry sengle wurd.
[ ] Your parents are related
[ ] You and your wife are related
[ ] You dated my sister
[ ] You dated my brother
[ ] You made love to my dog

In Punishment, You Must:

[ ] Give up your AOL Internet account
[x] STFU & GTFO
[ ] Jump into a bathtub while holding your monitor
[ ] Actually post something relevant
[ ] Read the f****** FAQ
[ ] Call Bush and inform him he sucks
[ ] Go to your room with no supper
[x] Apologize to everybody on this forum
[ ] Go stand in the middle of a Highway
[ ] Recite the Greek alphabet backwards
[ ] Take a bath in bleach
[ ] Drink out of a spitoon
[x] Eat my ass
[ ] Grind a rail on your sack
[ ] All of the above

In Closing, I'd Like to Say:

[ ] 1 R 1337
[x] Pwned
[ ] GG no re
[x] Blow me
[ ] Get a life
[ ] Me > u
[ ] Never post again
[ ] I pity your dog
[ ] Go to hell
[ ] Your IQ must be 7
[ ] Take your s*** somewhere else
[ ] STFU & GTFO
[ ] Learn to post or f*** off
[ ] Go jump into some industrial equipment
[ ] STFU botter
[ ] All of the above

Re:You can't get parts from India... (3, Insightful)

frodo from middle ea (602941) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363013)

I guess we shouldn't be too scared of tech support being sent offshore... those aren't the knowlegable people anyway, so they're not exactly taking our job.

You are looking at the whole situation from a very narrow perspective. Even though you consider yourself a knowledgable person (which btw I highly doubt), there are lots of american people who are losing their bread and butter because of call center jobs being transfered to India.

And just because the job doesn't require toomuch knowledge doesn't make it any less important. The jobs and the money they generate contribute to the american economy. So your argument that it's not a worrying factor, is mute.

The irony is I am an indian. The sad fact is quite a lot of the indians who work at call centers in india are in fact technology graduates and masters, and quite knowledgable. But they choose those jobs, simply because it pays their rent. And the lack of a familiar accent to american consumers is bring them a bad name.

So the situation is not working in anybody's favour, neither the american worker's who lost the jobs,nor the indian techies who gained them. I guess the only winner is corporate america.

from salon? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362776)

Fuck that!!! Don't support those faggots!!!

Stupid Salon Ads... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362781)

So here's the article, courtesy of the free day pass:

"We don't support that"
We're not here to help fix your computer. We just want to get you off the phone. A tech-support slave tells his hellish tale.

Editor's note: All names have been changed.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Kyle Killen

Feb. 23, 2004 | Class officially started three hours ago, but our instructor has not yet arrived. This is not uncommon. By now many of my classmates have begun to bring cards, magazines and DVDs to pass the time. "The Matrix" is playing on someone's laptop and has attracted a small crowd in the back of the room. The fact that we're being paid largely to sit around and entertain ourselves has been the source of lots of jokes and smiles, but in the back of our minds we can't help but be concerned.

Several people confess that they've never done more with a computer than check their e-mail. Others admit they haven't even gotten that far. An impromptu contest develops to see exactly who knows the least. There are lots of contenders. I'm listening to them battle for the crown of incompetence as I'm dealt a new hand of cards when a frightening thought occurs to me. Our clueless bunch is now part of the technical-support staff for one of the world's top three computer manufacturers, and in seven days we're going to be taking your calls.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ken is standing in the aisle, tethered to his cube by the spiraled umbilical of his headset, holding an unlit cigarette, and yelling. Ken is always yelling, and that's why we love him. Lots of us jot down Ken's more memorable tirades and compare notes on our breaks. Now, standing near my cube, screaming in the urgent and gravelly tones of a mid-40s chain smoker trapped in a non-smoking building, Ken tells a customer, "Quit whining and go get a damn screwdriver. I don't have time for this bullshit."

None of us is sure how he gets away with it, especially considering that Ken saves his real anger for dealing with management. His conversations with the higher-ups all end with Ken screaming, "This is bullshit! Total bullshit!" and hanging up.

Today's Daypass sponsored by GE

We all understand why Ken is angry. We've been tech-support representatives for six weeks and already a third of our training class has left. A new crop of techs hit the floor last week, and two of them are already gone. It might be tempting to believe that the customers are driving the techs away, that they just can't take the stress of dealing with endless complaints and callers driven to near madness by interminable holds. But the callers just want answers. Ken, and those of us who are left, are angry because for the most part we don't have them.

When we pick up the phone we're lying. We don't really work for the company we say we work for. Because of the expense of housing and running a technical support operation, many computer manufacturers choose to outsource the work. We work for one such outsourcer, though you'd never know it just to talk to us. To the customer on the other end of the line the distinction, while important, is invisible.

Outsourcers are paid by the computer manufacturer based on the number of calls they handle. The more calls we take, the more the outsourcer is paid. So naturally everything that happens in this vast carpeted warehouse of cubicles is done with an eye toward speed. Our managers stress something called "average call time," which is simply the average amount of time a tech spends on each call. They want us to be under 12 minutes. Our phones monitor our ability to reach this magic number as well as the total number of calls we take, the number of times we ask for help, how much time we take between calls, even the amount of time we spend in the restroom. In short, your phone is always watching you.

Twelve minutes can sometimes be difficult even if you know what you're doing. It is impossible if you don't have a clue. The stress of always being on the clock without really knowing how to do your job has already claimed a third of my classmates, and from the looks of the bulging veins in Ken's head and neck, it's threatening to claim still more. But no matter, when those spots open up they'll be quickly filled by members of the next training class. They, like us, will have answered an ad for an entry-level computer support position. If, like myself, they have little or no computer experience, they'll be told not to worry. As long as they can pass the typing test and drug screening they'll be assured they'll get everything else they need in training.

Our two-week "intensive training" course was helmed by a 19-year-old named Chad. Chad had great difficulty making it to class within three hours of the stated meeting time. Even when he rolled in by 11, holding a cup of coffee and wearing sunglasses, he looked as if merely being upright was unfairly challenging his abilities. Despite being comically late he usually started class by collapsing into a chair and telling us to take some "e-mail time."

When Chad saw fit to interrupt the endless series of card games and movies it was with detailed lessons on how to use our phones and log our calls. We learned that these things were key. If we remembered nothing else, as long as we could answer the phones and provide records that we'd done so, the company would be paid every time we thanked someone for calling technical support. When present and able to speak, Chad drilled us endlessly on these two skills. The most incompetent among us could have written a manual on how to answer calls and log them properly. As for how to actually troubleshoot and fix computers, we were largely on our own. Beyond a cursory overview of the computers we were in charge of healing, the closest thing to a troubleshooting tool we were taught was The Mantra. When class ended, which varied wildly depending on Chad's interest and mental status, we were all encouraged to say The Mantra out loud. We repeated it over and over, the words seating themselves deep in the folds of our brains until the breakup of class began to feel more and more like the end of a cult meeting.

The Mantra is simply, "We don't support that." On the face of it, it's completely logical. We're here to help with problems related to your computer hardware, but we don't pretend to know anything about your digital camera, or how to get the most out of Adobe Photoshop. Without The Mantra we'd waste precious time trying to answer questions beyond the scope of our expertise. Never mind that the scope of our expertise was largely limited to reciting The Mantra and logging calls. The important thing was that we understood our mission was to answer questions that fell within the limited margins outlined in the computer's warranty. Beyond that we didn't have to do anything.

Two weeks of half days later Chad pronounced us ready to answer calls and presented each of us with a photocopy of The Mantra and a single pushpin with which to affix it to the wall of our cubicle. He suggested we place it over our phone just to ensure we couldn't miss it. At the time none of us really understood the obsession with The Mantra, nor could we have imagined its power. But the fact that we were given a cube and a phone and were turned loose on troubled customers with little more than four words on a photocopied piece of paper should have been a clue. It was as close as anyone would come to telling us the truth about our job. We were there to take your calls, not solve your problems.

Loni is a great guy. Like me, he keeps track of Ken's more outrageous meltdowns and we compare notes over lunch. We have a good time. I like him. But Loni is a punter. I don't condone it, but I understand. Since hitting the floor we've all learned the sad truth. Actually solving problems is by far the slowest way to handle a call. We've each got 12 minutes from the moment we say hello to find a way to say goodbye, and after two weeks of trying to fix computers he knew nothing about and racking up average call times north of half an hour, Loni decided that if he was going to survive, he was going to have to change his approach. So he became a punter.

A punter is someone who gets rid of problems by giving them to someone else. Punters tell customers that their problem is not really with their computer, but with their software, their printer, their phone lines, solar flares, whatever they can make sound believable. Then a punter will look at the piece of paper hanging above their phone and read you those four magic words. We don't support that. If you want your problem fixed, a punter will tell you, you'll have to call someone else.

It's not that Loni isn't smart. In fact, he's wickedly so. He can listen to a person having problems with the mouse and spin a plausible story as to why it is really something the person needs to be discussing with the phone company. He can take a call about a modem and convince the customer that she needs to contact her embassy. He doesn't lack intelligence, just tools. Like the rest of us, all Loni was really taught was The Mantra, and since then he's learned to wield it like a samurai with a sword.

He's not alone. Lots of the techs are punters. And many of those who aren't have adopted some other time-saving strategy to help them dispatch their calls within the allotted time. Karen is part of a growing group called givers. Like punters, they don't really solve any problems, but instead of just asking you to call someone else, givers want you to have a parting gift. They'll listen to your problem and then randomly choose a piece of hardware to send you. Of course it won't solve anything, but givers have discovered that people usually calm down and start agreeing as soon as they think you're sending them something to fix the problem. And by the time they get the new part and discover it has no effect, they'll call back and someone else will have to figure out how to deal with them. Givers are really just punters with style, and they find their tactic very satisfying. Karen and her ilk get to spend all day playing Santa.

Ted is someone I don't speak to. Ted is a formatter. Ted, and those like him, have only one solution to their customers' problems. Erase everything on the computer's hard drive and start over from scratch. While this can be effective for solving all sorts of software troubles, it's like amputating someone's leg to fix an ingrown toenail. The solution is usually worse than the problem. Most times Ted doesn't actually follow through with his plan. The entire strategy is just a bluff. Most people will balk at the proposition of losing everything and decide they can live with whatever problem they've called to complain about. At the very least they'll decide to hang up, back up their data, and call back -- at which point they'll become someone else's problem.

But some formatters are worse than Ted. They'll help customers get started with the process without ever mentioning that all the data will be lost. Then they'll ask the customer to call back when the operating system finishes reinstalling, at which point the customer usually says something to the effect of, "the last guy was helping me reinstall and the computer seems to be running now, but I can't find my letter from my dead grandmother and baby picture of little Johnnie." Punters and givers will waste your time. Formatters can do much worse.

While I may disagree with their strategies, I can't argue with any of these people's results. Offering a preplanned solution is always faster than listening to the problem and digging around for an answer. As Loni began to master the art of The Mantra his call times improved drastically, ridiculously. He was slowed only when he ran into a problem he actually knew how to solve and felt obligated to abandon his normal strategy and share the solution with the customer. Other than that he was ruthlessly efficient. His average call time dropped from 35 minutes in his first two weeks to just over 5 minutes this week. Even Loni was terrified that somehow they'd catch on, that they'd know he was endlessly kicking customers to the curb only to have them call back again later when the phone company said it wasn't going to fix the mouse. Then one day the call he'd been dreading finally came.

"Loni," his invisible manager said, "I've been studying your stats. Your call time has decreased drastically in recent weeks."

Loni knew it was over. He'd be reprimanded. He'd be fired.

"That's very impressive. Keep up the good work." And so he did.

Those of us who haven't taken up a strategy are still trying to learn how to troubleshoot and repair the computers and our call times are still suffering as a result. Like Loni I've received a call from my manager. He notified me that I need to show some improvement soon or there might be another cube waiting for the next training class. It's clear that people who solve problems don't last long. They either end up quitting, getting fired, or worse, screaming in the aisles like Ken.

Most of us are pretty sure Charles is the devil. When we discuss him during breaks we agree that he possesses uniquely evil qualities. None of us has ever seen him; he's simply a voice that comes through our headsets from somewhere in the football-field-size labyrinth of cubes. But it's very easy to picture his particular cube brimming with fire and filled with the tortured souls of the damned. Charles, or Satan, as he's sometimes called, is here to help us. He's one of our mentors.

Mentors are the people we call when we're stuck, when we've tried everything we know how to try and we still can't seem to solve a customer's problem. Mentors were once lowly techs like the rest of us, until they were plucked from our ranks by the hands of management and promoted. Mentors don't actually speak to customers, only other technicians, and because of that their environment is a little less formal and a little more relaxed. It's a coveted job. But because the problems that mentors do hear about tend to be the real stumpers, the ones that take some experience to crack, they have to be sharp, to have answers at their fingertips, or failing that, to know where to look. This is the theory anyway. But Charles is living proof that theory and practice don't often run into each other around here.

It seems logical that if you wanted to find the best, most proficient technicians you could simply look at their call times. Those who routinely turned in the lowest call times must possess superior troubleshooting and problem-solving skills that enable them to handle so many calls so quickly. But those of us who take the calls know that's not true. The most proficient technician with a wealth of knowledge at his fingertips can't hold a candle to your average punter or giver. But if you're just looking for an expert at getting off the phone and getting back on again, you could not do better than Charles.

Charles was rumored to have been promoted after several weeks of turning in average call times under two minutes and repeatedly smashing his own records for the number of calls handled in a day. If anyone was curious how he did it, they didn't show it. He was making the company money hand over fist, so his promotion to a position where he might help others achieve similar results seemed obvious.

Today's Daypass sponsored by GE

A technician needing help dials the mentor line, an inside number where people like Charles wait to hear what's got us stumped and offer a solution based on their superior knowledge and experience. Calling the mentor line is just like calling technical support: You have no control over who you're going to get. After a lengthy hold your call is suddenly answered and a name pops up on your phone, telling you which mentor you've drawn. And if you draw Charles, you don't have a lot of time.

After smashing all the records for technicians Charles is now looking to rewrite the record book for mentors. Mentors tend to average two minutes a call with each technician. Charles is shooting for under 20 seconds. Charles does not want to hear what your problem is, he's already got the answer, and it's the same one he gave when he was a technician. In the fine print of your warranty it states that we will support the computer in its original condition.

This makes sense if you think about it. If you install some sort of aftermarket sound card and fry your motherboard, we can hardly be held responsible for that. But Charles has turned this small piece of fine print into his magic bullet. He simply ferrets out the changes you've made to the system since you've gotten it and then tells you that he can't support the system unless it's in its original condition. His definition of "changes" is extremely broad. If you've installed any software (who hasn't?), hardware, or even downloaded something from the Internet, Charles will not support your computer. In Charles' demonic little world checking your e-mail will void your warranty.

Seeing Charles' name pop up on your phone will make your heart sink. If you try to explain your problem, "I have a customer whose modem is..."

He'll interrupt with, "Tell them we can't support the system unless it's in its original condition."

If you protest or try to finish a sentence, he'll simply repeat The Mantra several times and hang up on you after precisely 20 seconds.

Lots of people have complained about Charles and other mentors and technicians just like him, but management seems unmoved. He's fast, and in the end that's what counts. For the rest of us the only reason to keep Charles around is for the spectacle that ensues when he pops up on Ken's phone and Ken beings wailing and screaming, "Jesus Christ, not this moron again," before hanging up and shouting, "Bullshit! Total bullshit!" The irony is that by yelling and hanging up on Charles, Ken only lowers Charles' average call time that much further. And it means that Ken will have to make yet another call to the mentor line, which will be added to his total and further slow him down, all of which will only serve to convince anyone looking at his stats that the real moron isn't Charles, but Ken.

Mr. Davis is threatening to shoot his computer. What this will accomplish is unclear, but he seems convinced it will make him feel better. Looking over his call log, I'm sympathetic. A run of givers have sent him six monitors in the last two and a half weeks, none of which has solved his problem. It seems safe to say that whatever his problem is, it's not with the monitor. Still, that hasn't stopped another giver from offering to send him a seventh one earlier today. When he refused that present he was promptly punted. He's been punted a total of four times today. Now he's had it. He just wants me to bear audio witness as he guns down his system.

Fortunately after a little prodding I discover that Mr. Davis' problem is one of a growing number that I recognize and know how to fix. We go through a few simple steps, and in a matter of minutes I've determined that his video card is bad. I explain what we've done and that I'll be sending a new video card to address his issue. He seems much calmer now, grateful that I've listened, and hopeful that I've really figured out the source of his frustration. All I need to do now is send him the part.

But because the givers have been sending out thousands of dollars' worth of unnecessary parts and equipment lately, it's not that simple. Now I have to call a special inside number and wait for the opportunity to explain to a manager why Mr. Davis needs the part I think he needs. With one manager set up to handle this post and hundreds of techs trying to dispatch parts, both legitimately and otherwise, it turns out that I'm in for quite a hold. So while the problem is actually something I know how to fix, and while I've gotten to the solution in only eight minutes, I now have to wait on hold for 16 minutes just to send out the necessary part. By the time this call ends, it will have taken almost 25 minutes and to anyone studying my stats I'll continue to look completely clueless.

When I finally get back to Mr. Davis his goodwill is gone. The quarter hour of exposure to soft rock he's endured has prompted him to get the gun and begin threatening to murder his machine all over again. I promise him the part is on its way and that his problem is finally solved. But it's clear he doesn't believe me. He calls me an asshole and slams down the phone. I begin to wonder if I might not be better off learning how to punt.

Today's Daypass sponsored by GE

It's been nearly three and a half months since my class took to the phones and less than a third of us are still here. All around me are new hires just hitting the floor and trying to figure out which strategy they should adopt in order to survive. Lately, I've managed to keep my call times in the 12- to 15-minute range and have started to feel like I know what I'm supposed to be doing. Those of us who are still here are all pretty firmly entrenched in whatever methodology we've chosen, regardless of whether we solve any problems or not.

After lunch we're called together to watch a training video. Why we're watching it more than three months into our employment is unclear, but it hardly matters. In a world where the phone is counting the seconds you spend at the water fountain, we're all grateful for a respite from its unblinking eye.

The video turns out to be the funniest thing any of us has ever seen. Cheeks are wet, stomachs are sore, as we laugh riotously at the video's assertion of how things are supposed to work around here. We see the video's students carefully studying intricate diagrams and complex equipment under the watchful eyes of their instructors, and we think back to our card games and Chad's labored efforts to remain on his feet. We hear the kind and courteous manner in which the technicians speak with their mock customers and the grateful thanks of callers who've been rescued from their computer nightmares by these intrepid yet imaginary technicians, and we think of Ted and Satan. No matter how many times they tell us to be quiet, none of us can help it. It's like working in a motel and seeing it advertised as the Four Seasons. If we weren't laughing, we'd probably cry.

As I return to my cube I'm tempted to believe that the insanity is confined to this office, but the call logs tell a different story. People are punting, giving, and reading The Mantra all over the country. In Tennessee, Oregon or Texas, in operations run by my outsourcer or others, even in the support centers run by the manufacturer, it seems there's no safe place for a call to go. Wherever they're sitting, when techs answer your calls, they're more likely to be a Charles than a Ken. Suddenly the video seems a little less humorous. It's one thing to imagine that this place is an anomaly. It quite another to think we're just a small part of a larger disaster. I'm sure it would depress me if I gave it a chance, but suddenly my phone rings and I've got 12 minutes to fix something or get off the line.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ken's last day feels like the beginning of the end of something bigger. Without him standing in the aisles screaming, who will give voice to what the rest of us are feeling? What will we have to write down and talk about at lunch? In short, who else is going to make working here bearable? The irony is that the company has no clue what they're really losing. Far more than a foul-mouthed sailor in a headset, Ken has become one of the most competent techs on the floor. His style may not be user friendly, but on average he can take a call, solve a problem, and berate his customer for whining in less than 12 minutes. Ken fixes their trouble whether they like it or not, regardless of how long it takes him, and when he hangs up the problem is solved. He's even received several thankful e-mails from callers who've endured his drill instructor's approach and finally gotten a much-needed solution.

But good as he is to customers, he's better to us. Instead of waiting interminably on hold to get a reading of The Mantra from a mentor, many of us will simply step over to his cube and ask Ken. More often than not he begins, "Oh shit, that's easy..." and like that we're on our way. No one wants to see him go, but Ken can't be persuaded to stay.

Last week word began to circulate that Charles was being taken off the mentor line and promoted to full-blown manager. Ken was uncharacteristically calm. He sat down at his computer and hastily typed something up. Minutes later he handed in his resignation without a word. Since then we've pestered him endlessly to stay. We've tried to convince him that Charles' promotion is actually a good thing; at least he won't pop up on the mentor line anymore.

But Ken's decision is made. He's the kind of person who acts on principle, logic be damned. He's in his mid-40s, divorced and the father of two, but he's decided that he'd rather be unemployed than work for a company that considers Charles to be among its very best assets. It's a noble stand, but one made in vain. Already names are being floated as to who will get Charles' spot on the mentor line and Loni's name has been mentioned more than once. As the owner of one of the lowest average call times and highest call volumes, he's an obvious choice for management, though even Loni would tell you in a perfect world it would be Ken who was moving up. But it's not a perfect world, it's tech support, and instead of moving up, Ken is moving on. Someone has gotten him a cake. It does not read Good Luck, or Congratulations, or even say Goodbye. Ken opens it up to reveal three words scrawled neatly in the icing.

"Bullshit. Total bullshit."

Similar to my experiences... (4, Interesting)

M-2 (41459) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362783)

I worked for a while for Stream International [stream.com] in Oregon, and I know people that worked for them in Dallas.

And yeah, it was a grab-train-dump situation for the first week, and then you got tossed out on the floor.

I got let go, and no one ever told me why. But the training and experience I got there - supporting Netscape 1.2 and 2.0 - was invaluable in getting my foot in the door at other places. It was a hell of a meatgrinder for me, but I lived...

Re:Similar to my experiences... (4, Informative)

barakn (641218) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362940)

The Stream employees in Kalispell, MT, knew why they were let go. Stream closed up shop there and moved to Canada.

Oversea tech support (-1, Insightful)

scumbucket (680352) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362788)

It's a major pain in the ass to deal with the Indian tech support. There are accent issues, but that is only a minor point. The real issue is the training and scripting. Typical experience (of many) I had a little while back from when I had to replace a screen and hard drive on an Inspiron. Even though I had done extensive testing ahead of time, told the tech what I had done I still had to go through 2 hours of hell before they finally acknowledged that I in fact did have failed hardware.

The scripting is bad, the fact that they can't operate outside the script is abhorrant. But what really ticks me off is when they keep trying to trick people into stating something that would void their warranty. When I had to get the LCD for the laptop replaced I was asked no less than 10 times if I had dropped the notebook. The question was varied from "did you drop it even a little bit" to "now, you said you recently dropped it, right".

The reason they got so much hell from corporate customers is that they have dedicated IT professionals who've already done all the testing and can't afford two hours on the phone to get some replacement hardware sent out. The IT dept will simply switch to a new vendor if that kind of crap persists.

Since the call center people work for the call center, and not the company, they have no incentive or access to institutional knowledge - you know when you tell someone about a certain model and they don't have to look everything up? The Indian support centers also pretend to be located in America, practice American accents, have sports teams they pretend to watch, and otherwise try to fool you into thinking they are in the US. All of which to get around the issue of supporting local jobs. If we farm all of our jobs out to India, who will be left to buy anything?

"Who will be left to buy anything?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362916)

Nobody. Capitalism has failed.

Now, we could go back to market economy, but do you think it will ever happen?

Re:Oversea tech support (4, Informative)

jalbro (82805) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362933)


"The reason they got so much hell from corporate customers is that they have dedicated IT professionals who've already done all the testing and can't afford two hours on the phone to get some replacement hardware sent out. The IT dept will simply switch to a new vendor if that kind of crap persists."

Actually, larger firms can get a deal with Dell where an in-house tech can order parts under warranty on a website. I would go nuts if my company didn't have that option.

-Jeff

Name Called Out By The High Tech Machine (-1, Offtopic)

Elanthius (525620) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362793)

My brain, my body, my stomach, my eyes, and my ears were under severe attacks this past day and night by Henry( Hank) Rumbarger( name called out from the high-tech machine), an employee of KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root), a subsidiary of Halliburton. Hank Rumbarger,I did not renew my Professional Engineer license for the year of 2004 --the license which I believe that David M. Austgen, a project manager of The M. W. Kellogg Company helped me a lot to obtain that in 1991 -- and I have told you that I do not want to work for you,, so please end this kind of attacks or let me know that you were not the person who controlled the high-tech machine. Please read the following five letters, investigate the case, and/or response. Thank you. Letter 1: Charlie Wang [ADDRESS DELETED] December 16, 2003 To Whom it may concern: The high-tech machine in my letter is a very general term, meaning a very complicated device which may combine different functions of machines, such as computer, satellites or radio stations, and some mechanical and electrical systems. The pain I endured most is my brain, my skin, my eyes, my ears. my throat, and my body. My short memory is very bad because my brain has been constant under attacks no matter when I read, when I played tennis and computer games, when I watched TV, and when I was sleeping. the most frustrating thing is, when I was reading, I was constantly disturbed by voices and images, which, I speculate, can be transmitted through satellite, radio station, and/or brain wave. My skin felt very sharp pain as cut by a knife when it was under attacks. My eyes were under severe attacks while I was playing computer games, which can cause very temporarily blurred vision and/or tears. My ears will fell loud ring sounds and/or voices when they were under attacks, and it could happen any time, especially at night while I was sleeping. There are more regarding how I felt about the pain I suffered through the brain, throat, and my body, and I will tell more details if I go to the courts. Now, you know how dangerous this high-tech machine is. I tried my best to tolerate it to keep it as a secret and not to terrifying people, but whoever using that machine has no intention to stop but increasing it's power to damage my body. We all have responsibility to stop the person (persons) to abuse this high-tech machine, not just for myself, but also for the children and for this country. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Charlie Wang, P.E. Letter 2: Charlie C. Wang, P.E. [ADDRESS AND PHONE DELETED] January 19, 2003 To whom it may concern: I would like to tell you something which I have kept in my mind for a long time. How long is it? It is about five months. You probably think it is not long. All I can say is that it is all relative. If you live happy, five months is really too short and too fast. If you suffer unpleasant attacks on your brain, ears, eyes, mouth, fingers, heart, stomach, liver, and feet for that period of time, you know time just passed so so slow. You must ask why I kept it in my mind for so long. I only can say there are so many reasons. but once I tell you that those attacks were done by a very high intelligent machine (or machines), you can understand how complex this issue is. I was contract pipe stress engineer for Fluor Daniel from January, 2002 to May, 2002. I believed I performed my job very well, but I got laid off anyway. In July, this high tech. machine started to approach me at night and day. I could not fall asleep for the first week, because it attacked my brain or my ears all the time. I could hear different voices, but most important of all, I heard the names, Hank(Henry) Rumbarger and M. W. Kellogg. Henry Rumbarger was my supervisor while I was working as a permanent pipe stress engineer from 1989 to 1991 at M.W.Kellogg. After the first week of attacks, I slept better, but the attacks on my brain, ears, eyes, heart, stomach, and liver continued. In a few days, the attacks were so severe, I had to walk outside on side walks around and around in my subdivision, Williams Glen , First Colony. I have tried to figure out why Hank Rumbarger of M.W. Kellogg hated me so much, all I could think of is I did not send a gift of PC World magazine. Otherwise, I could only say Why, Why, Why, Why. As time developed, the machine occasionally made some jokes, but it could not relieve any pain I experienced. Hank Rumbarger( name called out from the machine) also constantly wanted me to check my accounts for the money they deposit to compensate those attacks. I checked every time he asked me, but it was always in vain. I never gave up, because I thought I deserved the compensation. Finally the machine told me to report to Sugar Land Police Department to get this payments. I reported Police Department twice. I called attorney once. Finally I had to call Hank Rumbarger himself. Surprisingly, he told me that he is not aware of that. Yesterday, I heard that M.W. Kellogg issue final statement that they wanted to compensated me six hundred thousand dollars exactly, take or leave it. I thought I should accept it because it is recession and they could not make too much profit. You know what? I was experienced sever attacks on my brain and my feet by Hank Rumbarger (name called out from the machine) last night. That is why I decided write this letter to let people know. Maybe just maybe, the more people know, the more likely the machine will stop and the truth will come out. Now my nerve of my feet is still hurt. I can not walk well. That is all because of that machine which constantly attacked me. There is something more terrible, which I really do not want to openly mention here, Just because this is so advanced high tech. machine. All I can tell you, I almost got killed in a couple incidents. I do not know whether you experience it or you heard of that before, but I do know every bit I told you is the truth. Also the truth is that I did not tell you all, Because I have suffered those pain for so long. One time I even was told that I will get paid twelve million dollars. Gush, I am still not get paid by even a penny. I do not write any further. All I ask you is just imagine that if that person were you, or your loved one. Thank you for your patience and your time. Sincerely Charlie C. Wang Letter 3: Charlie C. Wang, P.E. [ADDRESS AND PHONE DELETED] It was January 19, 2003. I wrote the first letter regarding the attacks which I suffered from the high tech. machine. I E-mail the letter to friends, attorneys, and six publishing Companies which included Houston Chronicle, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Times, and Los Angeles Times. I called police persons. One of them, named Tracy Taylor, said that it happened to the other persons. Most important of all, I faxed this letter to Margaret who is the secretary of Mr. Karl, the president of Kellogg, Brown & Root. I thought the attacks would stop, but it did not. I suffered even more sever attacks. This machine attacked my brain, my ears, and my body several times while I was sleeping at night and the machine's attack almost made me fainted on the ground while I was playing tennis at Elkins high school tennis court. Not only that, at night of February 3, I heard the voice from the machine, which made death threat to me and my family between the conversation of Mr. Karl and Hank(Henry) Rumbarger(the conversation to be confirmed) of Kellogg, Brown & Root, Therefore I have to write this second letter to let every person know what really happened in details in order that the machine(or machines) will stop attacking me. It started in 1996, while I was as a contract pipe stress engineer. people walked back and forth in front of my desk and looked at me without saying a word. I felt strange, but I really did not know what was this about. During the period of 1996 to 1999, I had changed my jobs six times. Some jobs even only lasted two weeks. In 1997 and 1998, I had to call Hank Rumbarger to say, quote "good morning, how are you." every day In order to survive on that job. In 1999, I called Hank(Henry) Rumbarger to see whether He was hiring, He answer, quote "not until you decide?". Since that day I had to search the answer myself. You know what happened to me after that. A lot of girls walked around me smiling, staring at me without saying a word, or used words or body languages to attack me at Sweetwater country club, Fort Bend Community church, and other places. Finally I heard a person at hot tub at Sweetwater country club, saying "all you need is to touch a girl's bottom" , After that, I spent $5000.00 dollars to defend two girls from Sweetwater country club, one of them accused me touch her bottom while she was making a telephone call near to the hot tub at about club closing time. This case took three times of trial, lasted six months. You know what?, I was arrested on my birthday, while I was going to have interview for a math teacher position. That was longer than three months after that incident. You know what? How long it took me to go back to the next contract job. It took me two years and five months. During this time, The words or body languages continued at the church and other places, but I would not even try to look at girls intentionally. While I was working at Fluor Daniel from January 2002 to May 2002, the same things happened while I was working on my project and during lunch hour. I thought it meant no harm and I needed to get my paycheck, so I did the same thing accordingly. Like the first letter stated that I believed in that I performed very well and kept good relationship with the project team, but I got the call from my contact agent to lay me off anyway. As I stated in my first letter, in July, this high tech. machine started to approach me at night and day. It hit my brain at my friend's house while we were together for fellowship and at Lexas dealer service building. It attacked me on my brain, my heart and my arms while I was playing tennis tournament at Northwest country club. The machine's attack almost made me fainted to the ground while I was playing tennis at Elkins high school. It also attacked me once while I was driving from the church on the way to home, which could cause me and my family sever injures or death if accident occurred. It also attacked me while I was playing piano, chess, and while I was at assembly building for jury duty and at movie theater. Most of all, this machine (or machines) constantly made some ringing noise waking me up several times at night, and then you could hear talking near your ears, and then the attacks on my brain, my ears, my neck, or any part of my body followed. It also attacked me while I was on my study room and my computer room. This is a very high-tech. machine, I still did not tell you very detail, because it will make you frighten such that it could make you feel "sudden death". I could not tell you who really control this kind of machine, but all I can tell you is the names called out from the machine, what are those names, they are Hank Rumbarger, Margaret, and Mr. Karl, President of Kellogg, Brown & root. Most of all, I heard the name Hank Rumbarger a lot, who always claimed he is still my boss, he could do whatever he wanted toward me, because that was his business. All I could tell you is because that phone call I made to Hank Rumbarger in 1999, My family started suffering, because I could not find a job. Not because I did not have good technical skill, but because I had to keep searching that answer "not until you decide." My family started suffering, because I had to spend so much time on lying on bed because the machine's sever attacks. Now, I want to reemphasize how danger this high tech. machine (or machines) can cause. It really can cause your death. I kept fighting this kind of machine, while I kept sending this letter out through E-mail. I understood I did not receive the response from police men, or from the attorneys, not mentioning from most of my friends. I will keep fighting to this machine (or machines) and to the man or woman (men or women). Not because it threatened my life, but also it started to threaten my family's life. It can threaten you or your loved one's life too. All I can tell those persons controlling the machine that, If you want to attack me, I will keep fighting. Do not involve my family, Just because they should not be involved, especially my children. I will send this letter to as many people as possible so that every person can be alert. I am very appreciate your time to read this letter. If you know someone, you can forward to him or her. I will take full responsibility. Because this high tech. machine has to be stopped for using as a tool to attack people. Those people should be arrested in order to make human live freely. Just image how cruel this person (or persons) is. I still believe in American. I still believe in this jurisdictional system. Eventually, justice and the truth will come out, even though I can not provide any witness. Sincerely, Charlie Wang, P.E. Letter 4: Charlie C. Wang, P.E. [ADDRESS AND PHONE DELETED] September 3, 2003 To whom it may concern: It was January 19, and February 9, I emailed my first and second letters, respectively, to friends, attorneys, and six publishing companies to tell them what the high-tech machine (machines) had attacked me. It has been six months gone by, I thought that the person (persons) controlling the machine had understood how serious this matter is, because the attacks were not that violent anymore, even though it kept bothering me. I also sent the e-mail of these two letters to attorney general and FBI later, I did not get any response and I understand how complex this issue was. I was humbled by Jesus Christ, the pain I had endured is relatively small by comparing the torment he suffered. Therefore, I did not send the third letter and hopefully god would guide me through this painful experience. The reality is that the machine started violently attacking me again and again. I thought that God also give us free will to do our best to protect our body and tell us to do what are righteous, even though it means it might cause another more powerful attacks . therefore I am writing this letter to let you know what happened to me, and ,hopefully, if anyone had the same experience or any knowledge regarding this matter, he can be very brave to tell the truth, the righteous thing to do, because I do know how tough to face this kind of decision.. During the past few months, the high-tech machine still kept attacking my ears, my brain, and my body. Most of all, I periodically heard different voices through the machine, especially at night , I got waked up so many times because of those voices. Most frequently, I heard Hank(Henry) Rumbarger's voice. As far as I know, Henry Rumbarger is piping department manager of Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. He also was my supervisor while I was a pipe stress engineer at M.W. Kellogg from 1989 to 1991. The attacks and voices made you feel threatened, disgusting, and annoying and, ultimately made you feel you have to work for him under any circumstance. I do not know why Hank(Henry) Rumbarger hated me so much, but I do believe that, most likely, he know something regarding this matter. I do not think it is good business practice, even though I do not have a job available to me. I do hope he can call me if he know anything about this matter as I called him to tell him what I experienced before I wrote my first letter. I did not tell a lot of details. I do believe, hopefully, that, someday, someone will tell the truth, who did those cruel things. The technology should be used to benefit people, not used to threaten people. I just pray that this kind of practice will stop, and goodness will prevail. Thank you for your time. God bless you. Sincerely, Charlie Wang, P.E. Letter 5: Charlie Wang, P.E. [ADDRESS AND PHONE DELETED] October 1, 2003 To whom it may concern: It was January 19, February 9, and September 3, I e-mailed my previous three letters. I decided to write this letter, because I know more about how capable this machine can perform, I feet that I have responsibility to do so, and I did get encouragements to go ahead from the machine through it's sound. while I was reading, playing computer games- Reversi, Checkers, and Minesweeper- at home, and play tennis at Grants Lake subdivision tennis court and Sweetwater country club(play tennis tournament for charity contribution), this kind of high-tech machine were attacking my eyes, my brain, and my body constantly. Especially, this machine waked me at night so many times every night, doing all kinds of damaging to my body; it also make your skin so sting and etch that you constantly lost focuses on what your are doing every day . Those kinds of behavior are terrorisms and should have no place to exist in this free country, but the fact is that, unless you have very strong will, you have to yield, which means that you are constantly under attacking that makes you feel threatening, irritating, and disgusting, and that you have to do whatever the machine told you to do. Just image if this kinds of machines were controlled by a bad group of people in the near future, what kind of the world we have to live in. Therefore we have to find out what are the truth by calling, e-mails, writing letters, or voting to let our representatives know how serious we are on this matter. This is a very, very high-tech machine (or machines), and I do believe that it (or they) is controlled by a group of people, and I also do believe, hopefully, that some of them are good people, because I did get encouragements to write this letter. I have experienced so much pain not just on my body, but also on my relationship with my family, relatives, and friends(?), but I do believe that I did right things to stand up to tell what happened to me, even though I fail to find out what are the truth. I do believe that some people want to tell the truth, maybe, just like me, without enough power, the truth can not prevail. Is this what American about ?, I still believe that the people of this country are bigger than that, it will keep changing, changing for the better. I do believe that evil will be beaten by the goodness, the faith through Jesus will prevail. I still constantly heard that the names were called out from the machine, which told me they control the machine and urged me to say so. I do not want to identify those people in this letter - because this matter become so serious- but I do hope that FBI already started investigate the case, publishing companies are allowed publishing those letters, and big companies, especially high-tech companies, were aware of how capable this machine is. This machine should not be used for controlling people for business interests. I have sent my previous letters to Department of Justice, senators, FBI, media companies, big industry companies, churches, attorneys, and, also, United Nation. I will keep sending this letter to them, and then, I have to tell myself, if it is still in vain, I did what I can do and this group of people is too big for me to find out the truth, and maybe, just maybe, this is what this country is about, but, finally, I still will keep sending those letters to FBI, and I will never call the persons, Henry(Hank) Rumbarger and other persons, called out from the machine for employment purpose. If any attorney is willing to take the case, I do know some people may be involved in this case. Thank you for your time and God bless you. Sincerely, Charlie Wang, P.E.

Re:Name Called Out By The High Tech Machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362838)

I'm sorry, our support contract doesn't cover attacks by the high-tech machine. Have you tried rebooting ? Have you re-installed Windows with the CDROM that came with the computer ?

eh???? (5, Funny)

freerecords (750663) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362797)

"Here's a very well-written piece on what goes on inside a tech-support call center."

Things go on inside tech-support centers?!? I thought they just put everyone on hold!

Re:eh???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362909)

how else can be finish our round of quake!

Initech looking good? (0, Funny)

whiteranger99x (235024) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362798)

Makes working for Initech seem good.

"PC Load letter? What the fuck does THAT mean?!"

Oh and don't forget the cover sheet for those TPS Reports :P

Salon's ads (-1, Insightful)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362800)

Salon's ads are a good thing. Frankly, I wonder how they stay in business with such small commercial gestures. Complaining about Salon's ads? You're a fuckwit. Die.

Nothing new here... Carry on. (5, Interesting)

stephenisu (580105) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362801)

It's all true. I used to work for a certain government contracted tech support call center in Lawrence KS. Some of the people there couldn't operate a calculator, let alone a computer. Oddly enough, that's how HR liked it. If you put an idiot with a script in front of them on the phone, they may piss off people, but they are less likely to do any real damage. As apposed to the guy who thinks he knows what he is doing, and magically get's IE uninstalled on a win98 machine and all hell breaks loose (had to see it to believe it).

Worked in a call center (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362809)

I originally worked for mindspring, they found that they got a better class of techs, who responded well on the phone when given a decent work environment; cut forward to 2 years later after the merger with earthlink. The new motto was low call times, let them call back. Costs rose, the work environment stunk, and most of the support personnel developed attitudes, not to mention that management developed a sweep everything under the rug attitude. Unfortunately call center phone support is getting to the point of burger flipping and telemarketing. A lot of friends complain that they know more about the product then the support personnel they are calling (some are semi-computer literate artists)

Re:Worked in a call center (3, Interesting)

millahtime (710421) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363016)

I worked at another ISP with similar problems. We were Voyager.net and then merged to Corecomm. After the merger it was no longer fun to work there. In turn a lot of good people left. There was a general lack of caring. In general there were more call backs, less satisfied customers and longer times on the phones overall.

It actually proved to be more costly to have a cheap work enviornment that wasn't a fun place to work.

Yeah... (2, Informative)

herrvinny (698679) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362816)

I'm listening to them battle for the crown of incompetence as I'm dealt a new hand of cards when a frightening thought occurs to me. Our clueless bunch is now part of the technical-support staff for one of the world's top three computer manufacturers, and in seven days we're going to be taking your calls.

Dell's support line was like this when I called them last summer... Hopefully now that Dell is moving call centers back home again, better service is just around the corner.

Re:Yeah... (2, Interesting)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362864)

The fact that Dell is one of the top 3 computer makers and that this call center is setting up to take over for calls that have to be handled elsewhere right now, leads me to start thinking that this call center will be where your calls to Dell are going to be routed soon...

Re:Yeah... (3, Funny)

irokitt (663593) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362920)

I thought that only *special* customers got access to the English-speaking tech support, and the rest of us (err, the rest of you-I built my own box) have to slug it out with Ashok the incompetent until further notice.

Re:Yeah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362990)

No reason to assume that. Without doubt, the worst tech support i have received has been home grown. Which is saying something, giving the offshore support i've had the 'pleasure' of needing in the last couple of years.

2 cents (5, Informative)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362820)

When I ordered DSL, it had to be MSN. It never worked. But even as the Tech Support guys (in India) could not find the problem in their database (and therefor could not solve the issue, I just bailed on DSL for cable), they where polite and actually spent lots (LOTS) of time with me. Now the Comcast guys, they suck, tried to stick me with a "premium" install service charge even though all they did was drop off a box and a disc (my wife, the barracuda took care of them).

Re:2 cents (4, Funny)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362889)

Actually, you got the premium install from Comcast it seems. The only difference between their premium install and their standard one is the software-for-the-clueless package they give you on that CD.

Re:2 cents (2)

Anonymovs Coward (724746) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362923)

Maybe the article only describes what US call centres are like. I've had pretty good experience with support staff from India (I could make out from their accents, and even smalltalked with them a bit sometimes). So that's another reason apart from cost to migrate the support jobs...

Re:2 cents (5, Informative)

jsmyth (517568) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363014)

Maybe the article only describes what US call centres are like.

Heehee. I worked over two years in European tech support - based in Ireland - for one of the big three (at that time), and it was all true! One difference - in my section, we had laptops, so using laplink and a serial cable we could install games on our machines. Got rid of the frustration. But not the big brother attitude of the omnipresent phone stats and supervisors...

Re:2 cents (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363037)

You married a fish? Guess you never get to complain about her being cold... Comcast has awful tech support, a draconian AUP and no. fucking. clue. They are oversubscribing their loops (while vehemently denying it) and they will come to no good end, mark my words.

What's funny is... (2, Informative)

Ayanami Rei (621112) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362821)

I've never had any of these supposed problems when calling any computer manufacturer's tech support lines. Is it how I somehow command the attention of the phone monkeys on the other end? Do they somehow become knowledgable or magically able to forward me to tier 2 if it says "Ayanami" on the caller ID?

I highly suspect this is a bogus/fluff article: you know, an amaglamation of a bunch of interviews and war stories about the worst call center conditions imaginable.

Re:What's funny is... (0, Offtopic)

M-2 (41459) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362946)

If I got a call on the line that indicated it was from Ayanami Rei, I'd give her the best damn service available.

Because, you know, if I didn't, she might come step on me with EVA-00. And that would suck.

Orwellian? (5, Insightful)

CaptainAlbert (162776) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362826)

Orwellian? In what way?

I'd have said Kafka-esque, perhaps.

Re:Orwellian? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362898)

Since you asked: in the way that grabs people's attention and stirs up privacy concerns.

Clueless? No surprise (5, Interesting)

mytec (686565) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362832)

I worked doing tech support at an ISP some years ago. Once I gained more knowledge I moved on to bigger and better things. It cannot be easy to hold on to talented tech support persons for the relatively low pay they receive vs the stress of dealing with irate customers and the pressure of keeping call times down. Most probably move on like I did.

depends on the company (4, Informative)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362834)

some are all about speed, some are about quality.

Why is this news?

Yeah, mod it flamebait, but you thought the same thing.

Some companies give bad tech support. News at 11.

For anyone too lazy to read the entire article. (5, Funny)

bad enema (745446) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362849)

The last three words does suffice pretty well.

"Bullshit. Total bullshit."

And we wonder why computer illiterate people always come to directly to the geek in their life for help whenever something goes wrong.

Re:For anyone too lazy to read the entire article. (1)

0x0d0a (568518) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362951)

And yet, how often does said geek receive money, food, sex, or return expertise for (sometimes) hours of work and expertise?

I'll bet doctors get a lot of the same. "Say, Fred, my arm's been hurting and I figured that while you were here..."

First Internetgoat Post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362853)

The new goatsex: Click ME! [geocities.com]

Re:First Internetgoat Post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362902)

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Never had bad tech support calls... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362857)

No seriously, I haven't. I've had people who were obviously reading off a flow chart of possible solutions, but never been palmed off with bad information.

Ok, so maybe it's be cause I'm technically competent so I don't phone up with the usual cup-holder problems, I only phone up when I know something's broken, and I can usually get fasttracked to a higher level of tech support by telling them I know what I'm talking about. Dell were incredibly good about this and even flagged it as a note on my record.

On a sidenote: Format and reinstall is the biggest cop-out ever. Guy that do this are the biggest muppets I know in tech support - McDonalds staff usually have a better handle on what they're dealing with...

Re:Never had bad tech support calls... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362907)

i've never had bad or good call experiences, i just and listen to classical music for a couple of hours.

Orwellian Tech SUpp0rt (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362874)

1s it g00d 0r 1z ti wahkc\\\

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This call may be monitored... (5, Interesting)

lutefish (746659) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362878)

For the time being, I'm the guy doing the monitoring. Recorded calls, live calls, I shudder to think how many I've listened to in the past months. And we do indeed listen to them (whilst existing in that impossible state of forced-web-browsing-boredom) with at least one ear. Occasionally I get callers fired, largely for fun, but sometimes because they're rubbish. Of course, this is telemarketing, not tech support, and the government (UK) have reasonably strict laws on what will and won't hack it. Same third-party, outsourced set up. Perhaps some sort of regulatory/accountability / government-in-your-backyard intervention is required?

Tech support via phone is irrelevant anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362884)

Who in their right mind would call someone on the phone in an attempt to get the computer working??

Try to tell someone how to tie their shoelaces over the phone. It will never work!

"We don't support that", they say, and why the hell do people pay for such a "support"?

Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays. (-1, Troll)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362891)

it was spelled INOtech.

You dopes.

And this isn't exactly news, btw, nor does it matter.

Real men dont call tech support, they fix it themselves.

Very, very familiar. (5, Interesting)

Murmer (96505) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362904)

I used to work at a Prominent Canadian ISP, and this sounds very familiar.

If you're a big fan of "root causes", well, the root cause of crappy tech support is the business model. The people who work there get paid per hour, but the actual company, or in this case "branch-of-other-company-via-internal-billing" gets paid per call that comes into the building. Therefore somebody who is needs three or four calls to fix a problem, rather than just one, is three or four more times as profitable to the company as one who calls once.

In this environment, the ideal setup is about 95% braindead scriptreaders who can cheaply solve the great majority of problems given a flowchart and three or four tries and a tiny handful of people who handle the real problems from the persistent clients. But if you're actually good, and you want to keep your job, you have to play by Management's playbook.

There's an optimal point somewhere where the cheapness of tech-support expenses is balanced against the cost of losing clients, and I promise you, some very smart people have worked out those numbers.

Seriously, that's why consumer net access is so cheap, in both senses of the word, these days.

Re:Very, very familiar. (2, Interesting)

0x0d0a (568518) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362932)

I could happily live with no tech support -- there are a few ISPs that do this. You can cancel or order an account, and that's all they purport to do. They give you a slip of paper with the information you need, and if you have trouble configuring your email client, well, that's your problem. Of course, it means that you don't have to pay for the tech support that you never use anyway.

Mozilla Ad-blocking (3, Informative)

PetoskeyGuy (648788) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362919)

Allow cookies from cache.ultramercial.com

Adblock cache.ultramercial.com/*
Adblock salon.com/Creatives/*

That flags the cookie you've seen the ad, and next time you get a nice clean page that says click here to continue.

Also on Salon, the ads are pathed to /Creatives. Your not missing out on ads people - your missing out on creativity. This site bugs me, I thought cool the finally have text ads - but they turned out to be GIF's!

Not all that enlightening (4, Interesting)

swb (14022) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362924)

I thought it was fairly well known that call centers are all a numbers game. Management wants minimum call duration and maximum calls per employee; they're not really interested in solved problems.

The more calls you can handle, the fewer people you need (and all the associated overhead costs) and the more profit you make. It's really that simple.

Employees who actually take the time to help people get bad numbers and ultimately get canned, even if they're good at helping people. The successful employees figure out how to crank through their calls ASAP, as well as how to game the system so that they can sneak idle time without appearing to ignore calls in queue.

It's essentially the rules associated with factory work applied to answering the phone.

I used to love this when I was on a helpdesk... (-1, Redundant)

p4ul13 (560810) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362942)

A typical day at the Customer Sevice Center:

Monday
------
8:05am: User called to say they forgot password. Told them to use password retrieval utility called FDISK. Blissfully ignorant, they thank me and hang up. God, we let these people vote and drive, too?

8:12am: Accounting called to say they couldn't access expense reports database. Gave them Standard Sys Admin Answer #112, "Well, it works
for me." Let them rant and rave while I unplugged my coffeemaker from the UPS and plugged their server back in. Suggested they try it again.
One more happy customer...

8:14 am: User from 8:05 call said they received error message "Error accessing Drive 0." Told them it was an OS problem. Transferred them to microsupport.

11:00 am: Relatively quiet for last few hours. Decide to plug support phone back in so I can call my girlfriend. Says parents are coming into town this weekend. Put her on hold and transferred her to janitorial closet down in basement. What is she thinking? The "Myst" and "Doom" nationals are this weekend!

11:34 am: Another user calls (do they ever learn?). Says they want ACL changed on HR performance review database so that nobody but HR can access database. Tell them no problem. Hang up. Change ACL. Add @MailSend so performance reviews are sent to */US.

12:00 pm: Lunch

3:30 pm: Return from lunch.

3:55 pm: Wake up from nap. Bad dream makes me cranky. Bounce servers for no reason.
Return to napping.

4:23 pm: Yet another user calls. Wants to know how to change fonts on form. Ask them what chip set they're using. Tell them to call back when they find out.

4:55 pm: Decide to run "Create Save/Replication Conflicts" macro so next shift has something to do.

Tuesday
-------
8:30 am: Finish reading support log from last night. Sounded busy. Terrible time with Save/Replication conflicts.

9:00 am: Support manager arrives. Wants to discuss my attitude. Click on PhoneNotes SmartIcon. "Love to, but kinda busy. Put something in the calendar database!" I yell as I grab for the support lines, which have (mysteriously) lit up. Walks away grumbling.

9:35 pm: Team leader from R&D needs ID for new employee. Tell them they need form J-19R=9C9\\DARR\K1. Say they never heard of such a form. Tell them it's in the SPECIAL FORMS database. Say they never heard of such a database. Transfer them to janitorial closet in basement.

10:00 am: Perky sounding intern from R&D calls and says she needs new ID. Tell her I need employee number, department name, manager name, and marital status. Run @DbLookup against state parole board database, Centers for Disease Control database, and my Oprah Winfrey database. No hits.

Tell her ID will be ready tonight. Drawing from the lessons learned in last week's "Reengineering for Customer Partnership," I offer to personally deliver ID to her apartment.

10:07 am: Janitor stops by to say he keeps getting strange calls in basement. Offer to train him on Notes. Begin now. Let him watch console while
I grab a smoke.

1:00 pm: Return from smoking break. Janitor says phones kept ringing, so he transferred them to cafeteria lady. I like this guy.

1:05 pm: Big commotion! Support manager falls in hole left where I pulled floor tiles outside his office door. Stress to him importance of not running in computer room, even if I do yell "Omigod -- Fire!"

1:15 pm: Development Standards Committee calls and complains about umlauts in form names. Apologizing for the inconvenience, I tell them I will fix it. Hang up and run global search/replace using gaks.

1:20 pm: Mary Hairnet from cafeteria calls. Says she keeps getting calls for "Notice Loads" or "NoLoad Goats," she's not sure, couldn't hear over
industrial-grade blender. Tell her it was probably "Lettuce Nodes." Maybe the food distributor with a new product? She thinks about it and hangs up.

2:00 pm: Legal secretary calls and says she lost password. Ask her to check in her purse, floor of car, and on bathroom counter. Tell her it probably fell out of back of machine. Suggest she put duct tape over all the airvents she can find on the PC. Grudgingly offer to create new ID for her while she does that.

2:49 pm: Janitor comes back. Wants more lessons. I take off rest of day.

Wednesday
---------
8:30 am: Irate user calls to say chipset has nothing to do with fonts on form. Tell them Of course, they should have been checking "Bitset," not "chipset." Sheepish user apologizes and hangs up.

9:10am: Support manager, with foot in cast, returns to office. Schedules 10:00am meeting with me. User calls and wants to talk to support manager about terrible help at support desk. Tell them manager about to go into meeting. Sometimes life hands you material...

10:00 am: Call Louie in janitorial services to cover for me. Go to support manager's office. He says he can't dismiss me but can suggest several lateral career moves. Most involve farm implements in third-world countries with moderate to heavy political turmoil. By and by, I ask if he's aware of new bug which takes full-text indexed random e-mail databases and puts all references to furry
handcuffs and Bambi Boomer in Marketing on the corporate Web page. Meeting is adjourned as he reaches for keyboard, Web browser, and Tums.

10:30 am: Tell Louie he's doing great job. Offer to show him mainframe corporate PBX system sometime.

11:00 am: Lunch.

4:55 pm: Return from lunch.

5:00 pm: Shift change; Going home.

Thursday
--------
8:00 am: New guy ("Marvin") started today. "Nice plaids" I offer. Show him server room, wiring closet, and technical library. Set him up with
IBM PC-XT. Tell him to quit whining, Notes runs the same in both monochrome and color.

8:45 am: New guy's PC finishes booting up. Tell him I'll create new ID for him. Set minimum password length to 64. Go grab smoke.

9:30 am: Introduce Louie the custodian to Marvin. "Nice plaids" Louie comments. Is this guy great or what?!

11:00 am: Beat Louie in dominos game. Louie leaves. Fish spare dominos out of sleeves ("Always have backups"). User calls, says Accounting server is down. Untie Ethernet cable from radio antenna (better reception) and plug back into hub. Tell user to try again. Another happy customer!

11:55 am: Brief Marvin on Corporate Policy 98.022.01:"Whereas all new employee beginning on days ending in 'Y' shall enjoy all proper aspects with said corporation, said employee is obligated
to provide sustenance and relief to senior technical analyst on shift."

Marvin doubts. I point to "Corporate Policy" database (a fine piece of work, if I say so myself!). "Remember, that's DOUBLE pepperoni and NO peppers!" I yell to Marvin as he steps over open floor tile to get to exit door.

1:00 pm: Oooooh! Pizza makes me so sleepy...

4:30 pm: Wake from refreshing nap. Catch Marvin scanning want ads.

5:00 pm: Shift change. Flick HR's server off and on several times (just testing the On/Off button...). See ya tomorrow.

Friday
------
8:00 am: Night shift still trying to replace power supply in HR server. Told them it worked fine before I left.

9:00 am: Marvin still not here. Decide I might start answering these calls myself. Unforward phones from Mailroom.

9:02 am: Yep. A user call. Users in Des Moines can't replicate. Me and the Oiuji board determine it's sunspots. Tell them to call Telecommunications.

9:30 am: Good God, another user! They're like ants. Says he's in San Diego and can't replicate with Des Moines.

Tell him it's sunspots, but with a two-hour difference. Suggest he reset the time on the server back two hours.

10:17 am: Pensacola calls. Says they can't route mail to San Diego. Tell them to set server ahead three hours.

11:00 am: E-mail from corporate says for everybody to quit resetting the time on their servers. I change the date stamp and forward it to Milwaukee.

11:20 am: Finish @CoffeeMake macro. Put phone back on hook.

11:23 am: Milwaukee calls, asks what day it is.

11:25 am: Support manager stops by to say Marvin called in to quit. "So hard to get good help..." I respond. Support manager says he has appointment with orthopedic doctor this afternoon, and asks if I mind sitting in on the weekly department head
meeting for him.

"No problem!"

11:30 am: Call Louie and tell him opportunity knocks and he's invited to a meeting this afternoon. "Yeah, sure. You can bring your snuff" I tell him.

12:00 am: Lunch.

1:00 pm: Start full backups on UNIX server. Route them to device NULL to make them fast.

1:03 pm: Full weekly backups done. Man, I love modern technology!

2:30 pm: Look in support manager's contact management database. Cancel 2:45 pm appointment for him. He really should be at home resting, you know.

2:39 pm: New user calls. Says want to learn how to create a connection document. Tell them to run connection document utility CTRL-ALT-DEL. Says PC rebooted.

Tell them to call microsupport.

2:50 pm: Support manager calls to say mixup at doctor's office means appointment cancelled. Says he's just going to go on home. Ask him if he's seen corporate Web page lately.

3:00 pm: Another (novice) user calls. Says periodic macro not working. Suggest they place @DeleteDocument at end of formula. Promise to send them document addendum which says so.

4:00 pm: Finish changing foreground color in all documents to white. Also set point size to "2" in help databases.

4:30 pm: User calls to say they can't see anything in documents. Tell them to go to view, do a "Edit -- Select All", hit delete key, and then refresh.
Promise to send them document addendum which says so.

4:45 pm: Another user calls. Says they can't read help documents. Tell them I'll fix it. Hang up. Change font to Wingdings.

4:58 pm: Plug coffee maker into Ethernet hub to see what happens. Not (too) much.

5:00 pm: Night shift shows up. Tell that the hub is acting funny and to have a good weekend.

Nothing new...... (2, Insightful)

jsimon12 (207119) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362943)

Why is this even a story? This is nothing new, first level tech support has ALWAYS been like this. When I was fresh outta school in the early 90's and worked tech support this was the status quo, and low and behold it still is the status quo 15 years later.

Quote (5, Insightful)

savagedome (742194) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362948)

A friend of mine who works for tech support summarized it very nicely. According to him 'Working in tech support is like living an unreality that when a client opens up an issue with the support, they imagine that a group of people in a room is working devotedly to their specific problem. And I live this for every single client'.

georgewellian fuddite corepirate nazi tech report (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8362955)


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consult with/trust in yOUR creators.... genuine support available 24/7/365, additional 'charge' included.

I worked as a telemarketer... (0)

PhilippeT (697931) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362969)

and quit about 1 week in.

They didnt want me to go since i was the highest seller. They actualy begged me to stay.

I could not stand calling up people and asking if they wanted life insurance on their sears card... i it so many freeking widows/widowers made me mad that they had such an old crappy setup.

I call bullshit (1, Interesting)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362985)

If this anecdotal tale is actually true, and the whole idea is to make the call length as short as possible, and their are no reprocussions to providing bad support - why not just hang up on the caller after one second? Why even bother talking to the user at all? Sounds like someone just wants us to view a 5 second ad, because the article is "worth it".

burn out problems (2, Interesting)

millahtime (710421) | more than 9 years ago | (#8362997)

There are burn out and high turn over rates at tech support centers. Recieving those calls all day is draining (I did it). The average time someone does tech support is like 9 months. That is no a whole lot of experience. So, those on the other end usually don't have a lot of experience doing tech support.

My days as a tech junkie (4, Informative)

otter42 (190544) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363028)

This reminds me of my days as a TSR for a major printing company. I worked for a total of 4 months, and went three of them without any training, except for the obligitory phone training. People there were and still are scared to go to bathroom because the phone will record how many minutes they're away. Some TSR's get breaks by just answering and "accidentally" hitting the hang up button, convieniently located just next to the pick up one.

Others just told customers the printer was defective and needed to be replaced and sent them a new one. (Now you know why it's so easy to get that printer replaced!)

And for the printers that really needed to be replaced, that really had major defects, it was a big no-no to even mention that this might be a common problems.

You see, tech support is all about image. The company doesn't want to give good tech support. It just wants the customers to not think badly about it.

P.S.: To be fair, the TS was nowhere near as bad as described in the article, but I was only in the (comparitively) highly-trained laser printer dept. The ink-jets were shipped out to India a LONG time ago.

Support is demanding and expensive (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#8363033)

I worked my way up a call center for an ERP software manufacturer into consulting. Many of my peers did the same thing. We came out of those experiences with great expertise. We ended up knowing more about the software than the developers and more about the hardware than the vendors. That's why we now are all making a comfortable living outside of support.

I came up through an original support staff of under 6 all the way through a 100+ org with sophisticated call tracking and metrics and high levels of customer satisfaction. Our customers were deploying and implementing production manufacturing systems. They simply could not get up and running without our support. And they were paying 5-figures + just for support, so there was a real incentive and resource base to make quality support happen. Despite that there were times when our customers got less than the best level of support. I'd hate to think what support is like in low margin, high volume businesses.

For the technically adept, support becomes a physiological challenge. Customers yell and curse at you. Jobs are on the line. Halted production runs can stop an entire shop floor. Big money is on the line. Even when you know what you are doing, it's hard not to take this personally. It is no longer a technical challenge, but a psychological one. Those that can't cope with this reality burn out, those that can become rich as consultants.

Even in the best of support orgs, with all the financial resources, support is still the bottom of the totem poll in most companies. Too little respect is afforded the support staff by other departments (but those few in the know, actually find the broad knowledge from the support group). Support is seen as a beginning, not an endgame for their most talented people. The writing is on the wall once you start to become an internal consultant to the sales and development departments. You will be leaving support and taking your knowledge and mentoring skills to greener pastures.

In my experience, for complicated software I've found that a support group can utilize as many resources as the sales or development group. How many companies do you know that put as much resources into support as into the other groups? In support, like everything else, you get what you pay for. Even when a company realizes the value of support, the best people eventually go elsewhere. Until these issues get resolved, support will remain in its generally shabby shape.

What the REAL measure should be (4, Insightful)

Rathian (187923) | more than 9 years ago | (#8363036)

This is really screwed up. Since when does abusing your customers become good practice?

Perhaps I am nieve or just old fashioned but whatever happened to CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. Support like this is an abuse of customers, how much are customers willing to take before they simply go elsewhere?

If I receive bad support from a company when I need it - I will remember that incident when it comes time to make my next purchase. If I receive good support, then I am not only going to likely be a repeat buyer, but I am also likely to recommend that company's product to others.

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