We Don't Speak English: The Drama Of Tech Support

Greetings all, Steve here. I've returned from a much needed vacation and am back to work. Only one problem: After a couple of weeks off, I couldn't for the life of me think of anything to write about. I wracked my brain, but could think of no interesting topics having to do with organization, efficiency or creativity. What to do, what to do? I'll call Doug, I thought, and so I did, but he wasn't all that helpful. I asked him what I should write about and he said, "Even vegetarians are eventually blinded by the fur of the white rabbit. Look into my eye..." I assumed that the stress of moving to the Yukon was finally getting to him and I decided to move on and get someone else's advice.

I asked my neighbour, Ron, a history master's student, for a suggestion and he informed me that today is the 397th anniversary of the assasination of that most famous Albanian monarch, Queen Beatrice The Tragically Flatulant, killed over a Yatzee game gone bad. One of the great mysteries of history, he told me. I decided that Ron and Doug were in the same club and went back to the drawing board.

Now completely at a loss, I consulted with my mother, who has the rare ability to see right through a situation and she did so here. She suggested,

"Why don't you write about your bad experiences dealing with tech support this week, when you tried to get your TCP/IP reregistered on a new DNS with a different internet provider, but couldn't get your mail client to sync with their server, because your system was attempting to authenticate the SMTP server on the wrong port?" Once again, Mom saw right through the problem.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't like work, but this week was, well, trying. "Why?", you ask, as well you should. It was trying because I spent most of the week on the phone with tech support. I am the resident geek at work. Actually, to be fair, I'm only certified as a Para-Geek, Level 2, but the point is that I take care of all technical problems at work. I was trying to move our site from one server to another which seemed like it would be easy, probably an hour's work. There were a few problems and I had to phone tech support. Five days later, everything was smoothed out. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean... Tech support, and I want to be clear that I'm making a broad generalisation and not a comment about individual tech support workers, sucks. Notice the point.

Now, I realise this is unfair. I know that tech support people have to deal with angry, irritated customers and that they often have to follow silly, arcane policies and some of the tech support people I dealt with this past week were great. I realise it's entirely possible that my bad experiences stemmed from the companies I was dealing with or that I had the bad luck to run into a few bad apples. And before I get a bunch of negative comments from hard-working tech support workers, let me stress that I'm talking about the whole tech support experience here, not the people who work there exclusively. Having said all those things: tech support sucks.

There are several things about tech support that suck and here they are, in order of appearance:

  • Tech support people do not speak English. They don't. The computer voice makes a big production of asking you whether you want service in English or French and then puts you on with someone who speaks...well, who knows, but it ain't English. I realise that many tech support jobs these days are outsourced to foreign countries, but they might want to try outsourcing them to countries where they speak English. I'm just sayin'. I mean, they wouldn't outsource tech support for Chinese customers to Arkansas, would they? If anyone wants to start a business, may I suggest a telelphone tech support company called We Speak @%$%#$^#%& English!. Thank you.
  • Tech support people like to put you on hold. You are put on hold by a computer, you wait for a very, very long time listening to Phil Collins, who turns out to be the last English person you'll hear, and then you are informed, in Albanian, that you were waiting for the wrong person all along and are put on hold again, this time with Kenny G for company. This can go on for most of the day and it did for me last week, though I did have a nice break when I left work and got to spend hours on the phone with the bank. A change is as good as a rest, they say.
  • Any tech support person who puts on their website that their customers can report any computer problems via a handy online form should be taken outside and shot.
  • Tech support people may refuse to believe that you are who you are. I called tech support, in the capacity of Para-Geek, and asked them to do something for me. The tech support person asked me my name and then said that I wasn't the person of record in their file. That turned out to be my boss, a very non-technical person, and I said that I was his Para-Geek and that I was calling for him, but they said they wanted to talk to him anyway, so I had to hang up and call back and pretend to be him, both times waiting on hold for a very long time. This security procedure protected me from many hours of potentially terrifying productivity. Thank goodness.
  • Tech support may try to test you, to see how far they can push you. My co-worker phoned tech support because the @#%@$^ printer had failed again and waited on hold for a long time and when she complained about the broken printer, she was asked by a very nasty person for her customer number. She didn't know the customer number and he refused to help her until she found it. When the customer number was finally located, he told her that there was nothing he could do and she'd have to bring it in to the store. He then asked, very pleasantly, whether there was anything else he could help her with. She replied, with some restraint I thought, that he hadn't done anything to help so far, so why start now?

Well, that's all I can do for you this week. Angry tech support workers may leave their comments below. Until next week, keep your pen on the page and your DNS correctly pointed.

Steve Sharam

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Michigan to Manila

I called Charter tech support last night re my cable. Have not been getting a handful of channels for about a week. I was connected to tech support after several menu options and fortnights. I asked the lady where she was located and she said...manila philippines.

So I was thinking how is someone in Manila going to help my channel issue and of course she couldn't...

Thanks for sharing

Yeah, wow, almost coulda seen that one coming, huh? I'm developing a theory that these support centres are not designed to help people, but rather to distract people from their problem by blasting their brains with Barry Mannilo for a few hours, until their grey matter softens to the point that they don't care if their t.v. is stuck on the Cooking Implement Network. I suspect this may be connected somehow with the Strategic Defense Innitiative, but I'm not sure.

Further bulletins as events develop.

Steve Sharam

S4: The super secret (out)sourcing strategy

You're not far off, about the Strategic Defense Initiative I mean.

It was decided, at a very high, top-super-secret level, that the United States (and possibly Canada) were becoming too economically successful and attracting too many immigrants. As a result a dual pronged approach (S4: The super secret (out)sourcing strategy) was developed whereby immigrants would no longer wish to immigrate to said countries and businesses in those countries would experience a stifling effect upon their very considerable economic success thereby lessening the attractiveness of any monetary assets. By connecting irate, english speaking North American citizens with said potential non-english speaking immigrants in such a way that no productive work can be accomplished said immigrants would come to see North Americans as bullying, annoying, swear-word spouting idiots. Goal one is accomplished by lessening the number of foreigners wishing to immigrate.

By hyping the need to outsource customer service *ONLY* to foreign countries the aforementioned effect on economic success is accomplished since customers no longer buy the products of those companies. Goal two is achieved by lowered revenue.

It was decided that out-sourcing areas of north american businessess to other countries where they do, in fact, have considerable skill and experience would be counter-productive to the The super secret (out)sourcing strategy by implying that said businesses were actually good at running an international, cross-cultural business. So the focus of the plan is to have only the *MOST* important part of any business, customer service, outsourced to people who have no idea what you are talking about.

Now that's strategic defense!

English Jim *cough* Steve, but not as we know it...

Sorry to disagree, but it is right for my idiom. Customer Support Representatives (CSR) are not really customer support, CSRs merely act on their behalf. Therefore it matters little which country they reside, the CSR's knowledge base is permanently set at zero. They do speak English however. "If this is so why can I not understand them?" I hear you cry. With apologies to Orwell, here are a couple of examples that may help. The first is the original text: "I am sorry we lost all you valuable data. However, as you are aware the vagaries of harddisk failure are down to time and chance not our company" ... Now let us look at the same sentence run through a CSR: "Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that disk failure syndrome exhibits a considerable element of the unpredictable, Therefore I cannot initiate a compensation paradigm at this time"..... Note the misuse of the words 'syndrome' and 'paradigm' designed to make the speaker appear scholarly and yet merely adds to the customers confusion.

You may wonder why no one deals directly with tech support - Have you ever met a real tech support worker? They stand very close, avoid any eye contact and they emit a high pitch screech. Which in fact is 'high speed L33T'. The language of dolphins. Having said that, they are very nice people. I one asked a computer scientist out, unfortunately it didn't work as she only loved me for my brilliant mind... :(

As an aside, did you know Searle designed his famous 'thought experiment' after spending a whole week on the telephone to customer support in China. :O