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Orwellian Tech Support 853

alteran writes "Here's a very well-written piece on what goes on inside a tech-support call center. Makes working for Initech seem good. Sorry about the forced ad-viewing - it only last about 10 seconds, and the article is worth it."
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Orwellian Tech Support

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  • by M-2 ( 41459 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:32PM (#8362783) Homepage
    I worked for a while for Stream International [] 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...
  • eh???? (Score:5, Funny)

    by freerecords ( 750663 ) <slashdot&freerecords,org> on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:33PM (#8362797) Homepage Journal
    "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!
  • by stephenisu ( 580105 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:34PM (#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).
    • by mnmlst ( 599134 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:58PM (#8363772) Homepage Journal

      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.

      I actually read the article and found it positively HORRIFYING. Since I am around sysadmins all the time, I forget what it's like to be some gullible consumer running Windows XP Home Edition.

      How about some Hippocratic Oath action here? You know, "First, do no harm." The Formatters who fail to fully disclose that consumers are going to lose their family's digital photo albums, video clips of newborns, and contact information for friends and family worldwide are lacking in redeeming human value. If you are a Formatter, please find a new line of work- TODAY.

      Call ME gullible, but given our reasonably wide-open markets for building, selling, and supporting PC's, I would think the companies using these "Support Centers" will suffer for their callous disregard for their customers. What's worse is that these practices end up staining all of us in Information Technology as uncaring a-holes. In the future, those PC customers will move on to technologies that they can handle on their own. Hell, they might just buy Apples or some extremely dumbed-down desktop Linux. Just try explaining where "Desktop" is located in Windows Explorer to the average consumer if you think Windows is "simple and intuitive". And the Desktop is the first thing seen after logon!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:34PM (#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)
    • by millahtime ( 710421 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:57PM (#8363016) Homepage Journal
      I worked at another ISP with similar problems. We were 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.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:25PM (#8363337)
      Yep, I worked for Earthlick for about 6 monthe in '96, part time. The place would wear a hole in your soul. They had an LED message board showing the queue and hold times. They would go from green to yellow to orange to red according to pre-set values. When they went orange, the "leads" or supervisors would jump up and start trying to rally people to work faster.

      Then they started offering bonuses for "calls-per-hour". I wrote a dollar-sign on the little orange "Rls" (hangup) button on the phone because the more times I pressed that button, the more I got paid. I make a cha-ching sound each time I hit it. Got a big ol' bonus for it. They asked how I got so much faster and I told them it was because I stopped giving a shit. When told that wasn't what they were after, I reminded them that they were paying extra for it.

      Favorite lines:
      1) It's an operating system problem, call Microsoft

      2) Those modems are known to be flaky, call US Robotics for a firmware upgrade

      3) I can hear static on your phone line, call the phone company. You can't hear it? Yeah, it's typically on only one side of the line that's coming *from* your house, that's why you didn't know.

      4) Yes, we are aware of a problem at that POP, there's a tech team there now, try it again in about 30 minutes.

      Fun with Phones:

      1) Call tech support yourself and solve many of your own problems in 3 seconds or less, receive bonus. (It helps to work the very early shift so there's a greater chance of ringing your own phone).

      2) Your supervisor can see they you're on an "inside" call so make sure you call the 800 number.

      3) If you call in and you don't get yourself, make sure you get your co-workers on board to solve each other's problems - CHA CHING!

      4) This doesn't work because supervisors montitor calls.

      5) But your phone can only be monitored by one other phone at a time so go to an empty cubicle across the building and let it monitor your phone. Place a piece of paper under the handset so the phone sits in the cradle without hanging up. Enjoy the show as your supervisor calls in the phone guy and they keep glancing over at you. Ask them what's wrong and watch them squirm.
      And in the end all they do is create more calls which they try frantically to take which creates even more calls - your never get ahead and you piss off all your customers.

      The salon article talks about outsourced tech support but Earthlick was screwing itself with this attitude in-house.
  • 2 cents (Score:5, Informative)

    by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:35PM (#8362820) Homepage
    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 (Score:5, Funny)

      by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:41PM (#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.
  • Orwellian? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CaptainAlbert ( 162776 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:35PM (#8362826) Homepage
    Orwellian? In what way?

    I'd have said Kafka-esque, perhaps.
    • Re:Orwellian? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ( 547663 ) <<haas> <at> <>> on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:00PM (#8363051) Homepage
      Orwellian? In what way?

      Perhaps it was this quote that made the submitter think of "1984":

      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.
    • Re:Orwellian? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:38PM (#8363516)
      Orwellian? In what way?
      1984 is not Orwell's only work. Read Down and Out in Paris and London and Politics and the English Language for starters.

      Admittedly, "Orwellian" is most often applied directly the 1984, but not always or exclusively.


  • by mytec ( 686565 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:35PM (#8362832) Journal

    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.

  • by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) * <> on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:36PM (#8362834) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by bad enema ( 745446 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:37PM (#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.
  • by lutefish ( 746659 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:40PM (#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?
  • by enrico_suave ( 179651 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:42PM (#8362895) Homepage
    Internet Help Desk skit [] (it's in quicktime)

    It's mildly amusing, but there is grains of truth in the humor...

  • Very, very familiar. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Murmer ( 96505 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:43PM (#8362904) Homepage
    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.

  • Mozilla Ad-blocking (Score:4, Informative)

    by PetoskeyGuy ( 648788 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:44PM (#8362919)
    Allow cookies from


    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!
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:45PM (#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.
    • by MCZapf ( 218870 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:02PM (#8363068)
      According to the article, it's even worse than that. The people with ultra-short call time averages - those who basically just hang up on people - are promoted. Repeatedly.
      • Absolutely (Score:5, Insightful)

        by G27 Radio ( 78394 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @02:38PM (#8364309)
        I worked briefly in a call center several years back. I got called into the manager's office because my average call time was too long. I pointed out that my average for successfully closed calls was higher than anyone else there, and that my average call times were only slightly higher than average for the call center.

        His response was basically, "Yes, that's very nice and all, but you need to lower your average call time." The next day I was getting really frustrated about my call times and just said to myself "Fuck it, this job sucks." So I sat there for a couple minutes just hitting the hang-up button every time a call was routed to me until the queue was empty.

        A week later I was called back into the manager's office. I thought to myself, "OK, this is it. Today I get fired." Instead I was congratulated on my much improved call times, given a cheesey award and told that I was being put in line for a minor promotion.

        I quit and found another job a couple weeks later.

  • Quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by savagedome ( 742194 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:48PM (#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'.
  • by otter42 ( 190544 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:58PM (#8363028) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:59PM (#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.
  • by Rathian ( 187923 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @12:59PM (#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.

  • by stuffduff ( 681819 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:00PM (#8363046) Journal
    Back when Microsoft Office was pretty new, Bill Gates was touring the facility and in one of the call centers, he discovered a couch in the center of the room. When he asked about the couch, he was told that it was the Mail-Merge couch; because when anyone needed help with Mail-Merge, they would be on the phone for a long time.
  • And you wonder... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amigori ( 177092 ) * <> on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:01PM (#8363061) Homepage
    ...why offshoring has become so popular. Americans don't want these jobs, effectively the janitors of the computer world. And honestly, I'd rather spend my nights improving my spanish with the mexicans cleaning Walmart or [insert large chain retailer] than spending 8 hours under the watchful eye of the telecomm system. At least mopping floors has some physical exercise and your not stuck in cubicle world and less stress too.

    The high turnover rate of employment is cause of concern for me. However, it won't end until people realize that the job is horrible and shouldn't go after it because of the money. $8/hr to flip burgers at McDonalds or $9/hr to get screamed at, both by management and the caller, and have to worry how to get "customers" off the phone as quickly as possible, I'd take burger-flippin' any day. I may come home smelling like french fries, but a quick shower will fix that and that extra dollar just isn't worth it to me.


  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:01PM (#8363063) Homepage
    I've been having some outstanding support from HP lately. I just bought a laptop from them last month, and had a number of questions for them regarding upgrades and repartitioning my hard drive to dual boot linux and windows. I'm very impressed and glad that I went with HP.

    - Their technicians have responded within 24 hours (usually within 2 hours) to all my emails.

    - They provided useful information without a load of sales pitch and other BS (minimal indemnification and warnings where prudent and necessary)

    - The replies were in good English using complete sentences and proper technical document style and language.

    - They told me up front they don't support linux (reasonable because there's so many distros and different ways to configure linux; I'd have expected REAL linux support if they were selling/endorsing a particular distro, of course), yet their techs went ahead and gave assistance with setting up the partitions for dual-booting anyway! (I wasn't just wiping the drive, but needed to re-size the partition so I could avoid having to reinstall, configure, and tweak all the WinXP stuff, and they were very helpful and responsive to my requests for information.)
    • Same experience here (Score:5, Informative)

      by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:53PM (#8363711)
      I had problem with my office jet some months ago. The printer gave an error saying that the cardridge was not inserted correctly. So I bought a new cardridge, but the same error occured. I was really pissed, because the OfficeJet had just received a fax but could not print it, so I even could not switch it off without losing the fax. When I called HP tech support, they not only solved my problem within minutes (wash the cardridge with water and soap and insert it again), but a few days later I found a new cardridge in my mail. Oh, and I had a professional tech support from HP that helped me setting up an Itanium machine. That support was superb.

  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) * <tom@thomaslee[ ] ['cop' in gap]> on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:02PM (#8363077) Homepage
    ...I called their tech support last week and ended up with a guy in Panama whose English was fine. He had me run some hard drive diagnostics and figured out that it had some errors, so he had a new one shipped to me and I got it two days later.

    The whole call only took about 5 minutes, and now my laptop is happy again. Good times.
  • by Joe U ( 443617 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:02PM (#8363080) Homepage Journal
    Tech support is horrible because the customers are letting it get horrible.

    Complain. Often, constantly, daily. Write letters, not email, call every day.

    Tie up their support phone lines to the point where nothing gets done. Tie up their sales lines as well.

    Demand to speak to the president of the company.

    File complaints with every consumer group you can find.

    Write to magazines, tell them how horrible the support is, tell them you hate the products.

    If the company has 12,000 unresolved complaints filed with the BBB in a 2 month period, what do you think will happen to their customer service?

    More important to them, what do you think will happen to their stock price?
    • by Dr. Mojura ( 584120 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:23PM (#8363320)
      Man, I wish I had as much free time as you do. Next time I have a problem with customer service, I'll give you their info, and let you handle the process ;-)

      Seriously though, while I agree that this form of action is the only really effective way to make a change, most people (myself included) I doubt have the patience/time to coerce the company to change their policies. It's much easier to complain to the point where you get your answer/result, and then leave it at that. Sad, I know...
    • by Cynikal ( 513328 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @03:07PM (#8364673) Homepage
      i used to work for a call center that got its bussiness from a large isp here in canada. signed an NDA, cant mention names.

      basically the way it worked was you call me, i WANTED to help you, but the help you need would take 15+ minutes of my time. people who did not maintain an average call time of 10 minutes get let go. Now, i may try to be a nice guy and help as many people as i can, but having income and feeding my family is just a tad more important to me than your adsl connection. Now the script thats provided is designed to work in a certain amount of time, as well as the huge list of things we wont support. i had a choice, go with the not so helpful and make you call more often script, or go with my own learned knowledge of troubleshooting and get you working as best i can.

      at the end of the month, buddy who doesnt know that much, but follows the script to the letter, pisses people off (but since he followed procedures, his ass is covered), wastes a bunch of callers' time.. well he gets an award at the end of the month cause his call times ae so low. I on the other hand who spent the month bending over backwards (helping you find that mac address to your router instead of having you call the manufacturer, then call us back and waste more of your time) well i get a warning letter that if my stats dont improve, i will be let go...

      the people you talk to on the other end of the phone are people too, and its not their fault that they have to be so unhelpful. in alot of cases they arent ignorant unhelpful bastards, they're just told that customer satisfaction and first call resolution takes a back seat to call times and call volume handled.

      i tried playing the game for a while, but i never felt right comming home knowing that i really didnt HELP many people at all. so i went back to trying to help as much as possible, but found it impossible to maintain a low call time average while actually doing something for the customer. in the end i was let go because i "did not fit the company's bussiness profile" even though i did recieve several citations when an extreemely satisfied customer would write in praising my professionalism.

      bitch and whine all you want, you're still not gonna be heard.. and that guy you talked to once a long time ago who went above and beyond? well go down to the ei office and you might meet up with him again.
  • I remember when... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trveler ( 214816 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:03PM (#8363084)
    Back in '92 I called MS tech support with a windows com port problem. The guy I got actually knew what he was talking about, diagnosed it in under 2 minutes. I still remember how he would say "hmmm.... baddah baddah baddah...." while he was typing on his keyboard. Anyway, he even called me back on the east coast and read me a "debug" script to nail down the "floating com port" problem.

    What I wouldn't give for those days....
  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <> on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:09PM (#8363151) Journal
    I got trained for two days at Minneapolis' CompUSA. Then I was thrown out on the floor. At first, I had to read the boxes, just like your current favorites at Best Buy and Fry's. After awhile I remembered the crap on the sides of the box, so I could give a convincing run down of features.

    Soon, manglement decided that since they couldn't get the onhand inventory to match, they would give several of us cordless phones and have us field the 'pricing and availability' calls to the store. This was running around the store and checking to see if the product was actually there, and actually 9.95 - on top of trying to help people who had decided to physically come to the store and perhaps buy something.

    The best part was when you were telling someone about an expensive piece of hardware and some call comes in (we weren't allowed to ignore calls) for the price of a printer cable, or if we have the '20 CDs for 20 bucks' deal in.

    I had one guy go off and scream at me, to which I responded, "Please go back there and talk to Rick. He's the boss. I am doing the job(S) he gave me. Tell him he's a fucking moron." He responded, "YOU'RE THE FUCKING MORON" and stormed out.

    I tried to tell the boss what bad service this was causing, and he said, "You need to try harder." Grrr.

    About three weeks later, the phones disappeared, and I was back to software. And hardware!

    At this time, I didn't own a computer of any sort, as they were unattainable on my hourly rate. And here I am trying to sell them. Ugh. I gave up my fakery and lies. I became a 'troublemaker'. If I didn't know if software did a certain something, I would crack the box and read the manual (this was discouraged) even if it was for my own education. If someone wanted a telphone, fax machine, or sound card, I told them that the 'extended warranty' was a ripoff.

    I became well versed in the Mac line we carried, and sold a lot of them because I liked them, and they were easy for the customer to demo themselves.

    People seemed to like my honesty. And I learned more about selling, and sold more than lots of smarmy 'say-anythings' there, because I only sold the stuff I knew, and liked. Of course, I quit not long after for other reasons. After that, I was well on my way to knowing my stuff, and built my first computer out of Salvation Army parts.

    Oh, lots of retail stories came out of that evil place...

  • The worst (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UserChrisCanter4 ( 464072 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:11PM (#8363169)
    The worst part of this whole setup is the poor, clueless end-user, who actually thinks tech support knows what they're doing.

    I work in the repair department at a large electronics store. One of my duties (other than actually repairing or upgrading computers) is "inspecting" equipment such as wireless routers to make sure that we aren't getting scammed. It burns me up when someone brings in their 3rd unit in as many days, saying, "wow, what's wrong with you guys? I've been on the phone with D-Link all day, and this is the third bad unit I've gotten". I just want to yell out, "no sir, you've been on the phone with an outsourced guy in Manilla who may or may not have ever even seen a picture of your product, and he says it's faulty because his only concern is getting you off the phone in less than fifteen minutes."

    I had a young woman come in the other day with some random Gateway desktop that looked like a CRT iMac knock-off (an all-in-one design where the mainboard and drives were installed in a section below the monitor). She plunks it down on my desk, and says, "The guy at Gateway's tech support says it needs a new video card." I took one look at this obviously completely integrated computer, and said (without thinking), "Are you sure he said that?" "Of course he said that," I thought immediately afterward, "he's tech support. He has no idea what that product even looks like. He doesn't know that the video is integrated." Just for grins I opened it up, on the off chance that there was some ghetto six-inch VGA cable that ran to an actual card. Interestingly, there actually was, but it ran from a proprietary pinout that allowed video to flow up to the monitor to a DB-15 connection on the motherboard, and power to flow down from the single AC jack that was located in the monitor . I showed the connection to the woman, then showed her a couple of video cards, and explained why they were wrong and what she could do (basically nothing, as she was outside of warranty). The funny part about the whole thing was that it looked like it was actually the CRT that was damaged, as it was exhibiting that "missing one part of the color spectrum" bit that is more often than not a CRT defect.

    It's a shame, but I don't know of any consumer computer manufacturer that has what I would call "good" tech support anymore, with the exception of Apple (and then you only get 90 days unless you spring for Applecare).
  • I have a tale myself (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizman ( 116087 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:13PM (#8363198)
    The one I worked for was a bit different. Small Internet Providers throughout the country contracted us to handle their technical support for them. Since many of these were "mom and pop" operations with just a few hundred customers in one city, they relied heavily on maintaining that local image. As a result, we were NEVER, EVER allowed to give any indication that we were not located in the area the person was calling from. I remember talking to customers of a Florida ISP about how nice the weather is, when in fact I'm sitting in Toledo, Ohio (hint to the company's identity?) in a snowstorm. If we were asked for our location, we had to respond that we were not permitted to give out details on our location due to security concerns. I had to give that line a few times a day.

    We also had to be crafty. Although some "premium" customers had dedicated phone numbers so that we could find out which ISP they were calling for, many of the individual ISP's calls were routed to a common toll free number, so we'd have no idea as to which of the hundreds of ISP's we do support for the caller is from. We answer the call generically ("Tech Support, how may I assist you?") and usually asked for the customer's e-mail address for an indication of which ISP they were with. The domain name would give away the ISP. Unfortunately, people often did not give the domain name, or had offsite e-mail accounts. Since we couldn't give away that we were not with "their ISP", I couldn't flat out ask. I'd have to narrow it down by area code, and then search between ISP's in that area to find out who they were with -- often taking 10-15 minutes.

    I remember one time management signed a deal and gave the call center side a chance to prepare. It was a HUGE customer - larger than all of our other ISP's combined. One night, on my shift, they simply forwarded the tech support number over to us. We went from an average 3 minute call queue time to well over an hour. We did not have the staff to handle the calls, and had no information at all about the specifics of the ISP -- dialup numbers, e-mail servers, etc. It was days before we even had the correct info to give customers. In the meantime, we just had to go with it.

    And finally, we had no training program at all, so the company tried to hire people from an outsourcer in the area who had already been through their hideous training program. We paid a dollar an hour more, so it was usually pretty easy to do. Unfortunately, we supported dialup customers, and the company we stole people from supported cable modems, so new hirees usually knew nothing of dialup.

    I lasted about six months there surprisingly. When I started it was a small operation with only a dozen or so techs. By the time I left, they had on average 30-40 people per shift. We grew so fast that they had to temporarily build a room in the warehouse and put up folding tables to make room for the new call center people. I'm sure they are much bigger by now, but probably still working out of the warehouse.
  • by Hamster Lover ( 558288 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:15PM (#8363214) Journal
    I have a "Ken" at my current support job. Sometimes I overhear the conversations and I laugh to the point of tears and suffocation. He has what I call "Tech Support Tourettes" and uses the mute button on his headset to great effect.

    Whenever I start to get frustrated with calls, I simply take a five second break and listen in on "Ken". He is the office stress reliever and we have a pool going around on when he is going to kick the bucket. I think that is the only reason the company keeps him, as mental health for the rest of us.

    My most memorable incident recalls a customer who had the unfortunate luck of calling in to "Ken" to complain and make legal threats. Sharp as ever, "Ken" transferred him to our "Legal Department" (we don't have one that I know of) at extension 600. Funny thing is, our extensions only go to the mid 500's, so no one was going to answer the call and the guy would wait on hold potentially forever.

    Did I mention he deals exclusively with Macs? I can't imagine what would happen if moved to PC support. Probably could replace his chair with a coffin.
  • by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:19PM (#8363258)
    Karen is part of a growing group called givers.

    When looked at in a tech support experience sort of way, the whole Goatse Giver / Receiver model seems apt, as a long drawn out episode with tech support will often lead to one feeling like the receiver.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:20PM (#8363278) Journal
    I don't get it. Dell is famous for crap support and yet people keep buying from them. Don't respond with "dell gave me great support" I am not talking about you. I am talking to the people that keep coming back to have their asskicked.

    I always hear it from people that tech support doesn't help at all. Then why do you buy from those companies and not from some local shop were you get support in person? Cause dell offers phone tech support. ARGH.

    Personally I rarely use tech support in fact the only calls in a years time were to my isp to get a new password. Simple stuff and still it took a good ten minutes.

    Outsourced tech support is known to be crap. They get paid per call not by satisfied customer. Anyone with a single braincell can then figure out what kinda personal they want. It is also easy to figure out the kinda callers they desire. Idiots that can be made to call time and time again but for short calls.

    Until people start voting with their dollars and take their business elsewhere companies like dell will see nothing wrong and keep outsourcing their tech support with the same pay per call contracts.

  • by hellraizr ( 694242 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:21PM (#8363298)
    no love for them, gotta do it. THIS COMPANY IS CALLED *THE ANSWER GROUP*. they are based out of north lauderdale FL (right out side ft lauderdale). website is []. although I have no idea why it goes to a hughes network site, check out the whois info on the domain, my claims will be backed up.

    just to give my fellow slashdotters an idea of what working for this company is like:

    they employ over 5,000 of the worst possbile computer illiterates I've ever seen. most have never even seen the inside of a computer. they specificly say during interview "We do not prefer experience or certifications. we will give any one with computer knowledge a job but prefer that *we* train you"

    they pay $11/hr WHILE logged into the phone, minimum wage when not logged in (which btw will be most of the time).

    security is soo tight there all employees are run through a metal detector coming AND going from the complex (would say building but there are 6 of them). I asked once why they did this they responded "to protect the employees from the employees" referring to a couple times people started shooting guns in the call center.

    This company is evil incarnate. the place is a total sweat shop. 3-400,000 sq ft per building of cubicles. it's soo disorienting navigating the cubicle farm you have to go by the signs posted.

    Oh and everything the article said about the place is true. yes they are one of the largest support providers, they do compaq, HP and IBM, plus bellsouth/comcast, directv, and a bunch of others. All they care about is getting you off the phone in 12 minutes (thats what the dead giveaway was, totall company policy, if you spend 15 minutes you have 3 supervisors breathing down your neck). they will even go so far as you find a reason to manually disconnect @ 13 minutes telling you to call back again.

    ATTN Florida Slashdotters: Can someone back me up on this place, I know someone else has to have worked there. I can't possibly describe how bad this place really is since I only worked there 4 days, but man it did ring some bells.

    Oh btw, here's the whois info:

    TAG (TAG6-DOM)
    7562 Southgate Blvd

    Domain Name: TAG2.COM

    Administrative Contact, Technical Contact:
    Nunez, Juan (JN8854) jnunez@TAG2.COM
    N LAUDERDALE, FL 33068-1362
    (954) 724-6745 fax: (954) 726-0015

    Record expires on 08-May-2008.
    Record created on 07-May-1996.
    Database last updated on 23-Feb-2004 12:07:40 EST.
    Domain servers in listed order:


  • by snapman ( 173642 ) * on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:31PM (#8363425) Homepage

    This story is absolutely true. I'm sure this will come as a shock to those who have dealt with Qwest, but I feel I must share my story...


    We recently dropped our long distance carrier from our phone line. The phone line is a shared ADSL line. The change goes through, and my DSL disappears. WTF?

    I call my ISP, and they talk to my DSL provider (which is not Qwest). They determine within minutes that the circuit is open at Qwest's end, and that I need to call Qwest and get them to fix it.

    Sighing heavily, I wait 45 minutes on hold to talk to Qwest DSL tech support. I describe my problem, and they ask if I have done anything to the line recently. Decent question to ask, so I tell them about dropping our LD carrier. He puts me on hold, then conferences me in with a DSL salesman. A DSL salesman! "We don't do have anything to do with someone else's DSL!" the salesman tells me. "You'll have to talk to your ISP again." They transfer me to repair, and repair says there is nothing wrong with my line. My phone line that is. "That's not the problem!" I say. "Well, it's not our problem."

    So I call my ISP back, and they say the problem is still at Qwest's end. They can't provide DSL service over an open circuit. I still need to get Qwest on the phone. They tell me to have Qwest conference me in with them. Trying to be patient, I call Qwest again...

    After another 45 minutes on hold, I get someone who is even more clueless than the previous person. I tell him my problem, and he wants to look me up in their DSL database. "But I am not a Qwest DSL customer!" I tell him. He looks me up anyway. "I can't find you in the database," he says. Really. I just told you that. Heasks what operating system I'm using. WTF? I ask him to conference in my ISP so that they can describe what's going on. Frequent repetitions of this request are met with a huge amount of resistance. "I can talk to someone here about your problem," he says. "Fine," I say, talk to someone else and put me on hold again.

    "We don't support other provider's DSL," he returns with after 5 minutes on hold. "That's not the problem!" I plea. "It's not our problem," he says, and transfers me to repair, who claims they don't have anything to do with DSL. Angry, I hang up, and call my ISP back. "Help me please!"

    A few days go by. My ISP and DSL provider escalate this help call within their own systems and get a Qwest person with a clue on the case. Within a few hours, they determine that Qwest miswired my line after we dropped our LD carrier. WTF? Within a few minutes of determining this, my DSL service is back on.

    "It's not our problem." No one at Qwest even made the slightest effort to try to delve deeper into my problem, they just wanted to get me off the phone as quickly as possible. Today's tech support is getting more and more useless. If you don't have an inside person in the system, you don't stand a chance of getting your problem fixed these days.


  • by emtboy9 ( 99534 ) < minus physicist> on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:34PM (#8363467) Homepage
    Like so many of you out in the world of IS/IT, I too started in the 2nd layer of hell, Technical Support.

    The problem, in my experience, and highlighted in this article, is the corporate love of outsourcing. Using my own experience as example, I started some years ago working for a particular linux based company doing tech support. At the time I started, the in-house support people handled phone support for corporate customers, and web-based support for non-corporate customers (i.e. those who didnt pay for a specific contract). The phone support was handled by an outsource "Partner" who had call centers on both coasts.

    When I first started, the level of customer satisfaction for support was abyssmal. Being the "in house experts" we were drafted to monitor calls and offer critique to the outsource company. In the end, nothing we could do worked, and their treatment of our customers was so bad, we finally dropped them like a bad habit, and brought all support in-house.

    Now, flash forward a year later, and the dirty word is mentioned again. So, in a nutshell, after the team I was on turned support completely around, from a low 30% satisfaction rate to nearly 95%, they turn around and ship our jobs off to another oursource company in a different country, and we were mostly out of jobs.

    And same thing happened. Customer satisfaction fell through the floor.

    So, the moral of this story is: outsourcing something that is customer facing like Support is a Bad Thing[tm]. Like the article stated, oursource techs dont really care one way or another (or those that do care are quickly replaced with ones who dont) and the company is just out for low call times and high volume. Techs who are actually employed by the company they represent are much better workers, and provide much better support to customers. Why? because for the most part, outsource techs are just hired guns who could care less about the company whose calls they are taking, while in-house techs have a certain pride in their work, knowing that when they look good, the company looks good, stays in business, gives chance for promotion, etc etc...

    And again, thats just from my personal experience on both sides of the fence.
  • If you ever have a problem with their desktop shipping software (that nobody on earth has any useful doc for) their first suggestion is ALWAYS to reinstall... Even if you've already done that, even if you know you accepted the defaults they specified...

    Their next step is ALWAYS to send you another CD-ROM of the software, even if you have two copies of the same version and neither gets you anywhere. This is their "get off the phone" move, because they don't offer a download or FTP site... Instead, you must ALWAYS have it shipped to you, even if it is going to cost your business a large amount of money.

    Actual Quote from Manager: "Sir, we can't afford the bandwidth to allow people to download a 650 mb CD-ROM from our web-site! We'd go broke!"
    Me: "I zipped the entire contents of the CD into a 12 mb file..."
    Manager: "The size is irrlevant, I simply cannot offer you any further support until you install from the new CD-ROM we're sending you."

    This might be my favorite Slashdot story every... There've been tech support hell-tales before, but this is an intellgent dissection of the problem. A dreadfully wondeful story.
  • by howlinmonkey ( 548055 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:45PM (#8363599)
    I manage a small callcenter (5 people) who take calls for support on products we sell. This is a little different because we aren't the manufacturer, or an outsourced arm of the manufacturer. We are the endpoint of the distribution channel.

    Our goals are reduced visits by field engineers who typically bill $$$$ to be onsite to solve what is frequently a simple problem. Our calls aren't timed, and we do pretty much whatever it takes to solve the problem. Today, we talked a customer thru configuring Zone Alarm correctly so they can use our product. Sure it took over half an hour, most of our calls do. But the important point is that the customer was happy when we were done.

    I have been here 4 years now, and don't have the absolute gut level hatred of my job that I hear from many support people. I am posting this because I want you to know that not all support centers are awful dens of customer dissatisfaction. Some of us do actually do our jobs.
  • by SmurfButcher Bob ( 313810 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @01:50PM (#8363659) Journal
    ... cheap rates.

    Our annual telephony costs are over 7 digits per year, easy... and getting any form of tech support, despite being a rather large account, is damned near impossible. The reason?

    Everyone wanted 10 cents per minute. Then 9. Then 8. Then 5. Then 4. If a telco doesn't offer it, everybody dumps them.

    Think they can offer any support at those rates? They can't - anyone with any experience costs too much, and is retired out. We get left with "script kiddie" tech supports, who don't understand what an T3 is, let alone know what the loss of one means. At this point, our tech support for AT&T now consists of a call to our sales rep, followed by a call to a VP - and let them deal with it, because it's the best they can do.

    So, don't bitch - we're all getting *exactly* what we asked for.
  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @02:18PM (#8364036) Journal
    I used to do tech support back in the day when it wasn't off-shored and quality mattered quite a bit. I worked for a Major Graphics Software Company, (not MS or Adobe) and it was a trip.

    I disliked that job. I didn't hate it, like the Two Guys stint I wrote about last month, but it was not a great experience.

    The management was bumbling and just on the edge of mean - always sitting on us to get times down. But, it was Back In The Day, so I had GREAT stock options, so I put up with it for THREE YEARS.

    The worst part were the customers, for me. Some were nice, and I liked them, but some were complete IDIOTS.

    Here's a few conversations I remember:

    Me: So, you're getting a what error?
    Caller: Ah got me a tap negative ONE error, and then nuthin happens.
    Me: Type one? Sounds like it's a problem with your extensions - some kind of conflict.
    Caller: Oh? Wull, lemme check that out raaaht now...
    (The sound of the reciever clattering on the table and footsteps across a wooden floor. The sound of furniture moving. The sound of more furniture moving. Fottsteps coming back tothe phone)
    Caller: Why it CAIN'T be an extensheeyuns problem.
    Me: Really? How do you figure?
    Caller: Wull, ever-thang's plugged in JES' FINE!!!

    Another fine user of our product:

    Caller: Hi! My name's JIM! Who're YOU?
    Me: Ralph. How can I help you Jim?
    Caller: Well, my (program) won't fucking WORK! (puffs from a cigarette)
    Me: Bummer. You're using it for what purpose there Jim?
    Caller: I'm the webmaster of the Bluebird Trailer Court. I'm tryin to set up a way that we call all get onto the web and order supplies for our, ummm, homes without any kind of time wastin' - so like if someone runs out of Propane, they just get on the web and bingo: everything is done all automatic like.
    Me: That's a pretty sophisticated job, Jim.
    Caller: DAMN FUCKIN STRAIGHT! AND YOUR GODDAMN SOFTWARE AIN'T FUCKIN' WORKIN! (swills something from a bottle, and smokes some more.)
    Me: I understand Jim, and I'm here to help you. Where you located? What's your serial number? (We do the business part of the call) Wow. Texas? You must be hot there this time of year.
    Jim: It ain't the heat, it's the damn humidity (slap of skin. Truck roars by... I'm getting the impression he's sitting there crushing mosquitoes, drinking whiskey -his speech is beginning to slur as he gets louder and louder; in his underwear - because it's an oven where he is, and lives in the trailer next to the Highway - judging by all the traffic noise. A vision of HELL - a trailer park in southern Texas...)
    and DAMN it's humid here today!
    Me: Bummer Jim. so, let's see ... how does it not work?
    Jim: It doesn't do what I want it to.
    Me: Are you in front of it now?
    Me: What? I thought it didn't work...
    Jim: It works - IT JUST DON'T WORK RIGHT! DAMMIT! (swills more booze smokes more cigarette...)
    Me: OK OK - quit the app and do EXACTLY as I tell you...

    Of course, he didn't and all he did was get completely shitfaced drunk and go through a pack of Merits. Eventually he started hitting his computer. At that point, I couldn't stop stifling my laughter, and put him on hold. I conference called him in with another tech, because Jim was a LOSER beyond loser. We were both hitting the mute button because we were laughing hysterically at this nincompoop. It devolved to something like this:

    Jim: SEE? THERE!!! IT DID IT AGAIN! I'm tellin ya this fucking thing is CURSED!!!!
    Me: I'm sorry Jim, I didn't see anything - we're on the telephone. Tell me what you saw.
    Jim: OH RIGHT! uuuuh Well, IT' DIDN'T WORK AGAIN! DAMMIT! And (hits computer) this damned Compaq is a piece of CRAP. I friggin HATE this thing.
    Me: I'm not sure it's the computer, and while I know you're using a very old PC, we do make the same software for Macintosh, if you do cross over to Mac. So either way, you can use this program and not lose your work.

  • by crawdaddy ( 344241 ) on Monday February 23, 2004 @03:37PM (#8365041)
    I got hired on doing tech support for (one of?) the largest software companies in the world. The only call center for this department of theirs is in Austin. If anyone knows who I'm talking about, say it, for I am fearful of their wrath. I'm not fond of getting LEGAL WARNINGS AT MY HOME ADDRESS FOR SOMETHING I DID ONLINE (HINT HINT).

    The training was decent, when the instructor was able to speak over the people in the back of the class talking. Usually that was only when the people in the back of the class were sleeping. We were told to try and keep a 7-minute average call time, which was impossible because the databases to search for registered customers were slow as hell (especially since they ran off the software developed by the company we were supporting...HINT HINT). If a customer wasn't in the database, we had to add them, which was even slower. Then we had to search on the intranet's knowledge base (KB), which, by the way, was slow, until we found the problem. We were told specifically not to say anything that wasn't in the KB and that if we were smart, the only words coming out of our mouths would either be from a script from training or a script from the KB. This included denying knowledge of pending lawsuits against said company for fraud, much less denying knowledge of the Attorney General looking into unethical business practices, etc. Thankfully, I was fired on the third day because I opened up a DOS prompt to ping a user. Sure, I had to save a file called dos.bat onto the desktop that contained the line "cmd" in it to get to the prompt, but even so, I was never told that going to a DOS prompt was an offense punishable by termination.

    I wasn't sad to go, though. So many calls were related to the previously mentioned class action suit against the company or the problem that inspired the lawsuit that I wanted to wash my hands each time I finished a call. The official policy was that if the user hadn't purchased an extended warranty (possibly needed 2-3 if they had purchased their product long enough in the past), then they would have to send in their product and pay a $100 repair fee because a faulty part in the product finally failed completely and, even though the company was aware that many products were shipped with said faulty products, they still charged the customers. They also did not recall the products or even acknowledge that there was any kind of specific problem. We were simply told to alert the user that they needed to send the machine in and our repair center would take care of the rest.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"