Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tech Support

When I call for tech help I don’t care that I’m calling India or Botswana or Denver I just want someone who can talk in even broken English. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I’m a complete computer retard. I have this very real fear that I will press the wrong key or make the wrong menu choice and it will crash every computer in Europe. I call this Y-2Ken. I also panic whenever anything goes wrong because I don’t know if it’s a computer problem, a server problem, a “me” problem, or residual payback for having co-written MANNEQUIN 2.

One night last week our power went out. Usual reason – underground explosion on the next block. I was forced to sit in the dark and worse -- Tivo was out. Five hours later the electricity returned and all was back up and running except my cable and internet – the two most crucial features of my life.

So I called tech support. Maybe there was something that had to be re-set, or maybe they were aware of the problem, or the BIG god forbid – maybe they had to send someone out here.

After going through the automated menu, pushing sixteen buttons while having to “listen closely because our options have changed”, enduring fifteen minutes of canned music (I think it was from the “Mantovani plays Guns & Roses” album), I finally get connected to Latka, the character Andy Kaufman played on TAXI.

He asked me for my account number. I thought he meant reboot my computer. He asked me for the phone number on my account so I dutifully disconnected my router. He wanted to know to whom he was speaking. As per that request I pulled out the power source to the modem.

A half hour later my internet still wasn’t up but I had changed four smoke alarms, moved the microwave to the den, re-set each clock one hour ahead, and turned on the backyard sprinklers. It appeared I needed a – gulp -- service call.

I was transferred to another department. Ten more minutes of lilting strings playing “Dead Horse” then got someone in Seychelles who spoke enough English to say “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t do that” almost on a continual loop. The earliest they could get a maintenance guy out to my house was in eight days. WTF!!? A month ago I got a call from this same cable company offering me a spiffy new overall package that would include cable, internet, and long distance phone service. Was I interested? They could have a truck out there that afternoon, or tomorrow morning if it was more convenient. But to restore service I was already paying for, that would take over a week.

After much pleading and being transferred again, then told their computers were down (although there was something poetic about that) they said the dispatcher from my area would call right back and he would set up an appointment for that morning. I said, “Do you have a direct number so I could call you if there’s any problem?” “Sorry, sir, we can’t do that.” So I hung up and waited for the dispatcher to call.

He never did. Big surprise.

Fortunately service was restored in a few hours. Why or how I do not know.

Five minutes ago I get a call from the cable company confirming my service appointment for tomorrow. I told her it was no longer needed and she said I might be getting a follow-up call from the cable company wondering if I thought she was helpful and courteous. I asked if they had a feedback section for their notorious tech support department and she said no. I could go to their website and file a complaint, which would immediately go directly into a trash bin.

So in protest, no, I did not buy their great new overall package. Maybe that’s the only language THEY’LL understand.


Anonymous said...

This is seriously hilarious. I am sorry for your pain, but it makes for an entertaining read. The paragraph about moving the microwave to the den - HA!

Anonymous said...

Man, you still sound rattled, Ken. Our hearts go out to you. Especially since this is the point where 75 of the semi-pro producers and editors we work with get to relish that tiresome phrase, “GetaMac” -- regardless of whether or not it actually applies.

Fortunately I keep me one o’ them old kerosene-powered Heathkit RadioShack PC’s to employ as a backup. Yet isn’t one of the great things about being a writer that, unlike the average Joe, virtually every bit of personal human misery at least gives you material? Otherwise you’d have to make up that kind of misfortune.

BTW, we stumbled upon what those IT wankers may have been up to while they were supposed to be assisting you. Think it may be another residual, vengeful reality result of the writers’ strike:

Doktor Frank Doe said...

There is NO WAY IN THE WORLD this is anything OTHER than Time Warner Cable. The king of bad customer service, bad bookkeeping, screwed up billing, service outages and you name it. In San Diego they've truly made me prey for rabbit ears!

Annie said...

Ugh - had the same thing happen to me last month. With Time Wormer. 101 hours, detailed here, if you're curious -

There's a special level of hell reserved for tech non-support. And I'm guessing the IP address for it is '404.'

Bitter Animator said...

I've never been to India but my mental image is like one huge city made up of nothing but call centres. If I was in the Indian government, I'd be a little worried about it because it does not do their country any favours.

My encounters with India are usually one of two things. The first is trying to get something sorted through customer service. This comes with two major problems - a) they are trained to avoid giving you what you need at all costs, even if that means coming straight out with blatent lies, and b) the language barrier can be a real problem.

This ends in frustration and anger.

The other contact is when they call me. Presumably they are being trained in certain methods but the aggression with which they try to sell me phone or cable packages pisses me off no end. I've had people shouting at me to tell me what my bill was last month. Gobshites.

The result of all this is that, when I hear an Indian accent, rage builds. Call that racism if you like. I guess that's exactly what it is. But it is now a gut response and a result of repeated training. It does not do the average non-call centre Indian (if indeed there is such a thing) any favours.

I think for someone to be legally allowed call your house, their name and home address must be sent to you first so, if they piss you off, you can send them, I don't know, dog shit in a bag or something.

Mary Stella said...

Several years ago my computer operated on Windows Millenium aka Nightmare from Hell. Bell South's new modems for DSL wouldn't work right with it and the screen resolution on my computer kept getting screwed up. After numerous phone calls to Zimbabwe, I finally got someone who said, "It isn't your computer, it's our modem. We aren't up to speed yet on supporting Millenium. I'll send you a new modem." A week passed without the modem arriving. I called back and was handed over to a supervisor who said that the other guy had completely misinformed me; should never have told me it was a modem problem; should be beaten within an inch of his worthless life and banished from Earth.

I went back to basic dial-up until we finally got cable Internet installed in the Keys.

I've noticed a new trend in phone support with people asking my permission to put me on hold. What do they think I'm going to say? "No. You have to stay on the line with me every second so I know that you aren't rerouting me to a sherpa somewhere in the Himalayas!"

Emily Blake said...

I HATE foreign tech support. I'm normally pretty patient but the second I hear a non-American voice on the phone I turn into a raging bitch. Sometimes that works.

I switched car insurance companies specifically because Geico has American tech support and Allstate outsources.

When will the companies recognize that people who speak English are better equipped to help people who speak English?

Anonymous said...

Do they sometimes make up American names for the Indian call center folks? The last time I dealt with one, it was a heavily accented guy who identified himself, I kid you not, as "John Smith." Like that was going to fool me into thinking I had connected with a fellow Amurrican.

Anonymous said...

If this is Time Warner, get yourself a string and two orange juice cans... they don't have the word SERVICE in their lexicon. Of course I have also learned that after a power outage it takes a 2-4 hours after power returns for T-W to get everything reset and in working order.

When it comes to my computer, I have taken out a contract with MAKE IT WORK....and they never fail me!!!!

And I still have a Dell PC...for which I now hear: " Welcome to our North American tech support center" when I have called for tech support. Guess they learned. However, I admit I never had a problem talking to India...just had to ask the rep to repeat everything 2-3 times. I had obne rep call me 3 months later to give me another idea for a problem I had.

Anonymous said...

I had to call Dell's tech support awhile back and in the middle of the language-challenged support person's directions on how to take my computer apart and put it back together, I snapped and hung up on him. I got on another computer in the office and emailed support suggesting that I would start a movement in the car business. Say you have a problem with your car. You no longer have to drive it into the shop. We just diagnose it over the phone and then tell you how to fix it. I got a call back right away and a tech in the store the next day.

Anonymous said...

Time Warner is the devil. We kept having our internet die and they sent 8 guys out, who did absolutely nothing. Oh except one guy drilled holes through our bedroom and strung a wire through the top of the apartment garage, strapped to a rusty pipe. One guy was finally halfway smart and checked the outside wiring- SURPRISE a squirrel had chewed through it. But did anyone fix it? Nope. Instead they re-wired the ENTIRE apartment building. And then when it still wasn't fixed, we complained and complained until someone finally fixed the outside wire in the street- about two months after the process started- and now it works fine. If they had checked the outside wire and replaced it on their first call, like we asked them to, they'd have saved themselves and us both time and money. We had Verizon before and they were also terrible. But when you have trouble like this, make sure you have them credit it back. The only reason we kept them is that we basically had intermitent internet and working cable for free for two months.

Jeff Tompkins said...

Hilarious post. I wrote a similar one on my blog (titled "How May I Help You Very Much?") and got some hate email because of it, mostly from what SEEMED to be American tech support people. They were mad at the misinformation in my post. I guess they missed the satirical nature of it. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

At Time Warner, the response seems to be scripted out, because it's always the same: "I'm sending a signal to your cable box right now."

So I finally asked where he was sending this signal from. He says Argentina. Well, there's your problem right there. I live in California. I don't think the cable reaches that far.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Everybody ragging on the guy who picks up your call in Bangalor, he's not the problem. I find most of the phone support from India to be better English speaking, more courteous and more intelligent than the typical American still in customer service. The problem is the company that gives them precious little information and a restricted menu of scripted replies.

Now I don't know if this just means I'm getting as old and grumpy as John McCain or big companies really have sunk to previously unseen depths of contempt for their customers, but the whole mess is as baffling to me as it is aggravating. How do they get away with it? Why hasn't somebody who's as cranky as I am, but more enterprising (there have to be one or two), come up with a way to register with these companies just how unacceptable we find this? How can they not have gotten the message that this frustration, and the corresponding demand for something better, are out here, ripe for profitable exploitation?

Anonymous said...

You nailed it on the head with your description of a typical tech support call overseas. Hilarious. And sad.

Not a day doesn't go by that we don't receive some SOS smoke signals from the locals who are stupid enough to be paying the monopoly phone company in Canada for their "high speed" service. It doesn't exist with this company. And all of their tech support has been outsourced to every other country BUT Canada. Their customers end up calling us to help instead of calling them now, and in almost all the cases, we tell them they should think about switching if they can. Not everyone can because the cable company can't provide service in their neighbourhood. I feel bad for these people, like they're metaphorically poor and dirty and in need of hot meal at a homeless shelter.

My husband and I feel your pain. Truly. :-)

Anonymous said...

There's an email floating around with a couple of pictures of phone, cable etc wires from pole to pole to street, looks like black spaghetti mishmash. The caption says this is India, where you're tech support questions go.

Mary, even Microsoft doesn't acknowledge ME (red headed bastard step-child of computer OS's)

Anonymous said...

get a Mac

Tom Quigley said...

I was going to comment earlier, but my computer crashed and I couldn't get through to anyone in Tech Support. Seems everyone in Bangalore was out for their monthly "English as a second language" lesson....

Annie said...

Time Warner update - after my 101 hours on non-support and getting Linksys to rescue me, I got finally a follow-up 'how'd we do?' call from Time Warner. It was automated. I was so furious I hung up, so 'it' called back about 8 times. I finally gave it some flaming Irish feedback, to the point the automated call hung up on me.

Cap'n Bob said...

I had an extended warranty for my old Dell that guaranteed 24-hour in-home service. When I called in they said the guy would be there in five days. What about the 24- hour guarantee, says I. He's busy, I'm told. I love how computer companies work.

Anonymous said...

I quit Time-Warner cable/internet because if a sparrow coughed outside, the whole system died. Now I steal free WiFi from the Starbucks next door. For what I spend on lattes, they owe me that.

iabanon said...

hilarious. we have the same problem here in melbourne not only with indian call centres, but with american too. you guys are just as irritating, lol. several times we've had to hang up on some random american cold caller bugging us at dinner time about some survey or something. why are you calling us aussies!?
as for tech support. pfft, i have mac. and i feel lucky we don't have so many communications companies here in OZ. makes things simpler. meaning i've never had a problem. he, i almost feel mean saying that.

Anonymous said...

Time Warner, my "sometimes" cable provider wants to "bundle" my high speed internet and telephone services. No F..... way! I have a MAC, always have, always will...

Anonymous said...

The whole Mac vs. PC debate doesn't even apply to this point, but since it was brought up...

For all you Mac pushers out there, we had a customer come in yesterday with his MacBook and tell us he regretted being pushed into buying one by his friend who wouldn't stop raving about them. He hates the interface, the menus and the way he has to hunt all the time for his files. He works at a bank and hasn't been able to telecommunicate with it from home with it because he couldn't get the laptop to connect to his home network via the Airport router. His PC, btw, could. So he brought it to us. We have no Mac experience b/c we aren't Mac authourised (nor would we ever be), but when it was all said and done, a few default settings were blocking his access. Once changed, he was off to the races. He left happy but still regretting his purchase.

So... yeah... not everyone is happy with their Macs. When someone asks me whether they should consider buying a Mac, I think, "Would this person go into a Mac store and ask a sales person if they recommend buying a PC???"

And someone mentioned that the call centres overseas have scripts to use when working. That is a fact. They don't know what the equipment looks like, wouldn't know a ABC company's modem/router would look like or how it should work, and have no business telling anyone to open up their computers because they CAN'T SEE what they are trying to talk you through. They don't have any idea or diagrams to go buy.

A customer called up their DSL provider from Canada to ask for his password for his email after he bought a laptop from us, got someone overseas, and proceeded to spend the next FOUR hours of his life on the phone while some guy had him reset his router, his laptop password, and his user id information... All of which had nothing to do with anything given that they could have saved a lot of time if they guy had just asked the customer how he normally checks his email, downloaded to his PC in something like Outlook or if he read it off the provider's site in the form of webmail.

The customer finally hung up and called us. That was the first question I asked him. Of course he checks his email online. The router and laptop came in a half our later, five keystrokes later, my husband had him sorted out again. The customer vowed never to call his provider again. I then reminded him he had to in order to solve his original problem, the missing email account password. He face went red just thinking about that call when he got home.

All so unpleasant and so unnecessary. But pathetic and funny at the same time.

iabanon said...

why is it that whenever someone says they love the mac someone always has to come on and critisize it and the people that use it?
as for the menus, i hate the pc menus. can never find anything, it's messy, but i have had no trouble finding files on mac. infact i don't even believe anyone could. it's so simply laid out you'd have to be labotomised to be unable to use a mac.

Anonymous said...

Bitter Animator said...
I've never been to India but my mental image is like one huge city made up of nothing but call centres.


benson said...
The caption says this is India, where you're tech support questions go.

Here’s a site with the photos:

Frustrating as it was, especially when going through the DSL-Modem-Router learning curve, I’d have to say I’m with Doc. Marvin on this. I usually found customer service folks (generally in this country) and IT guys (India) to be courteous and occasionally surprisingly good diagnosticians – even when cribbing with a scripted protocol. It’s usually been the “system” that kept getting it wrong.

Haven’t had to call in quite awhile, but I remember after the last spurt, I first looked up everything I could about Bangalore and then tried to engage “Andrew” in conversation on alternate topics as long as I could: “Are you the Andrew I ran into at Bengaluru Airport? Are the Jacaranda trees in blume at the Lalbagh Gardens? God I miss them. And I’m also a sucker for Udupi. This is slightly OT, but do you know any way I can get a mustard stain out of this Madras stretch belt I have left over from the 50’s? Do you think Nehru jackets will be coming back? I still have two. You guys have come a long way since Texas Instruments landed in the 80’s. Did you see that story in this morning’s Times of India? Yes I sound American, but actually I’m calling on relay from one of your sister cities – Minsk [look it up].” Yeh that's right, gotta getta life.

And with the passage of time we can sometimes remember that on many a person’s budget, more user-friendly local tech support isn’t always an option.

Bianca said...

The worst experience I ever had with a call center was with Sallie Mae - for my U.S. Government Stafford student loans! It was the longest I had ever been on the phone - 3 hours!! They had screwed up some of my paperwork big time and after having to repeatedly re-explain my situation to a new, non-english speaking customer service rep every few minutes for 3 hours I actually broke down in sobs and was yelling at the last lady who -finally- put me through to an American. It's frustrating enough when you're dealing with a computer or warranty issue but when it's loans & finances and large sums of money it just made me so panicked!

I can understand why some people must think Americans are rude but it's so hard to keep your composure when you're met with so much incompetence. Sometimes it feels like being barely adequate is good enough for a lot of these customer service reps. I know a lot of the Indian reps try very hard at adopting a strong American accent, but it is still just too hard to understand most of them. The kicker is when you're trying to be really polite and patient and kindly ask them to repeat themselves because you can't understand and they get upset at YOU for not understanding! (has happened a few times).

My husband works at a call center for Alaska Airlines and he says he can't count how many times in a day the first thing he hears when he takes a call is "Thank God you speak English...".

Anonymous said...

My Mac was a dream.
My Dell had a little problem.
The nice support tech assured me he could walk me thru--together WE would resolve the problem. 10:30 tunred into 3:OO am. He was ending his shift and would call me back. My tower was open and the wires and gutts were hanign there like brain surgery in limbo. My beloved sleepily wandred in to ask WHAT TF?! was gloing on in the kitchen. I assured him that even though things looked crazy, it would all be back together when the nice tech man called back. And call back he did. It was back to the operating table for the two of us. Long story short: Hours turned into tears and profanity laced frustration. I tired to keep my cool until I smelled a funny FIRE smell coming from the exposed wires and guts. YEP. It was an electrical fire. Not nice. My tech guy told me he/Dell would be shipping me some packing material and that I should send my burned tower back to its maker. My brand new tower arrived in less time than I spent on the phone with my tech guy. True story. And somehow, even after the fire, I wondered about my tech guy. Serioulsy. What did he have for lunch? Was he tall? Does he like Dustin Hoffman?
Des he smoke? That kinda stuff. Most of all, I wondered if my bawling--as only a stranger can bawl from her kitchen--ever even registered. Or if he thought to himself: Those American gals sure do cry alot. And not very well.
I had the fire in my kitchen and I was bawling and apologizing to the tech man--wherever he was out there. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

ps:sorry my spelling sucks.

Alto2 said...

And know you understand why I call those Customer No-Service people "Stupidvisors".

Cap'n Bob said...

Well, Bianca, the worst experience I ever had with an airline was Alaska. The counter people in San Jose, California, ought to burn in Hell. I trust your husband wasn't among them.

Laura Deerfield said...

"When will the companies recognize that people who speak English are better equipped to help people who speak English?"

When people who are native English speakers will work for $150 a month, which is about the average salary for a call center worker in India.

I worked for Yahoo for a time, in the editorial department for their search engine marketing. The editors review ads submitted by clients to make sure they comply with Yahoo's standards for language and relevance, and that the sites they link to aren't advertising anything illegal. They also write ads for larger clients. Pretty much jobs that require a high degree of competency in English - so I was shocked when they decided to start a small editorial center in India. The reason: demand had grown so quickly that they were out of space to place new editors in the Pasadena office (people were already working at printer stations, and on folding tables), and they had already gone over-budget on salaries for that year.

I didn't stay there long enough to find out how that worked out for them. I do know that our head trainer was over there for a month, and three of our top editors worked there for 6 months - so a lot of effort was made to train properly...and I think that's where many companies fail.

My sister works customer support for GEICO, and there's a reason they have some of the best retention rates in the industry, and it's not because they're the cheapest: they train. They train their service agents for months, and continue training them after they are on the job. The expectation is that the level of service will always be exceptional and friendly, and never sound scripted.

They invest in a service rep, so much that they lose money on that person for more than a year. Which means they also have to encourage their employees to remain there, so they have outstanding benefits and make potential career-advancement paths well-known.

(Yahoo was similar, and a great place to work.)

The real problem, I think, is that few companies anymore take a long-term view. They look at this quarter's profits. They hire the cheapest labor, give them minimal training and tell them to follow the scripts out of a book. (When you get stuck in a loop with a service rep, this is what's happening: they look up the words you give them and it tells them which page to turn to and which script to follow.)