Jun 29, 2010

On Tech Support Uselessness

Over the past few weeks I have interacted with a variety of technical support personnel over the telephone on issues related to hardware and software, and every one of these encounters has been unfavorable. My poor run of luck with technical "experts" began a few weeks ago, when my hard drive crashed on my Toshiba laptop (quick thanks again to Computer Renaissance of Toledo, who installed a new hard drive for me in record time).

I experienced some problems related to the backup files I created using the Toshiba Media Recovery software. Specifically, I wanted to know how to upload the final two disks worth of data, as the software only accepted the first three disks. The first clueless tech told me to wipe the hard drive and start over again, which I was hesitant to do, but I followed his instructions.

Three hours later, same problem.

I called Toshiba back and talked with an even more vacant-eyed support tech. This genius suggested that I download drivers for all my software and peripherals, which had absolutely nothing to do with my problem. It was as if he was deliberately trying to confuse the issue:

Me: "I am not having any problems with drivers yet. All of my non-Toshiba software has yet to be loaded."

Tech: "If you go to the Toshiba webpage, you will find all sorts of useful drivers that will make your Toshiba laptop run more efficiently."

Me: "My Toshiba runs very efficiently, thank you, because there are no programs on my hard drive yet besides Solitaire and IE Explorer to make it run slowly!"

And on and on. Luckily I am married to a computer whiz, and she quickly pointed me in the correct direction (the extra disks contained duplicate data, and my non-Toshiba software was ready to load from our gazillion-GB home external drive).

Then this morning I interacted vicariously with a tech support person via a student in one of my online classes who was having a problem with his brand new laptop. The machine runs Windows 7, and our university operating system is Blackboard, the leading online classroom platform in the known universe. The student was frustrated because he kept getting booted out of a quiz.

The student called the tech support folks, who dismissed his query with a comment that "Blackboard is not compatible with IE-8." This puzzled me, as it boggles the mind that the leading online software would not be compatible with the leading Internet browser. This is almost like saying unleaded gasoline is incompatible with 2010 model American automobiles (E-85 models excepted).

I politely told the student that the techie may have been stoned or something, because I use IE-8 without problems on Blackboard. My very first Google query using the terms "Blackboard" and "IE 8 issues" turned up the solution, which is that there is a quirk in IE-8 settings that can be easily fixed to eliminate the Blackboard booting problem.

Each of the above tech support people are supposed to be experts in their respective fields, yet none of them could provide even a dollop of useful advice. Now, I know that some folks who call tech support centers are clueless themselves, but in the above three cases the person making the queries clearly communicated the problems, and the techies seemed to either be incompetent or deliberately sabotaging the "help" process.

It almost gets to the point where I start thinking that tech support is an utter waste of my time, which makes me question why we as consumers are paying for this uselessness.


Quimbob said...

A tech support guy told me once that he just looks up your problem on Google, same as you did.
Get a Mac & tell a support guy you have a problem. He'll just throw his hands in the air & tell you that is the problem.

unmitigated me said...

Google is my tech support. There is almost no need to speak to someone in Mumbai, as every computer problem has already been encountered by someone else, who was kind enough to post their solution somewhere for Google to find.

Matthew said...

The problem with tech support guys is that, while they are *supposed* to be experts in their field, they're actually mostly young guys, entry level, 20-somethings. Don't care too much because the wages aren't great and the work environment sucks. I know lots of guys who work in those jobs and there is nothing about them that equals "expert".

Some of them even read off cue cards.

Mad Jack said...

...I start thinking that tech support is an utter waste of my time, which makes me question why we as consumers are paying for this uselessness.

How much are you paying for it?

Unless tech support is a department within your company, the minimum wage waste of space on the other end of the line isn't responsible to you and he knows it. Most of the people he has to deal with expect their computer to incorporate the services commonly found at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the learning curve of, say, a toaster. That's not going to happen in my lifetime. When the end user's expectations are not met (his favorite porn site is no longer available and he can't play second life) he displays the emotional maturity of a twelve year old on the losing end of a game of battle ball.

Dealing with these people isn't easy. If our tech support person is going to survive, he must have a fairly thick skin, a poor memory and an odd sense of humor. Sadly for Mister Doctor of Philosophy and Retired Entrepreneur these personality quirks are most often found in people on the bad side of the bell curve, which also puts them on the incomplete side of the educational curve.

Here's some solace for you. The mouth breather who failed miserably to solve your problem has a job that pays minimum wage. The benefits suck pond scum and the working conditions are abhorrent. Eventually he'll burn out, get fired and then collect unemployment, and he will not understand what burn out is or why he was fired. He'll just get another job like the one he was fired from and the pattern will repeat. As he gets older he'll eventually come down with a toothache and need a root canal, but will be completely unable to pay for dental care and insurance won't cover it.

There now. Doesn't that make you feel a little better?

historymike said...

(falls over and spits coffee while laughing at MadJack's barbed scenario)

I'd comment more, but I am up to my eyeballs in lecture prep at the moment.

fishmobabywhirlamagig said...

I worked in a call center for two years, and it's funny how it works. Sometimes, the employer would get lucky and, when they needed to hire someone, someone qualified for the job would apply! Other times, they're have almost nothing to work from but they'd have to hire someone. In the end, it ended up that we had about 50% very technically savvy people who knew what they were doing and would troubleshoot from their brain, and half that were zombies reading from prompts.

This has led me to suggest something simple, than many have had luck with - If you call a call center and get an idiot, politely disconnect and call back. You might get lucky and get the one who knows what they're doing.