Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Consumers vs. Technicians! (Part 2)

We’ve all had to call technical support at one time or another. We’ve all had good and bad experiences with them. Looking in from the consumer’s perspective, we have complaints abounding. Most complaints can be summed up:

- The technician had poor people skills and didn’t care about me or my problem

- The technician had poor language skills or spoke too quickly to understand

- The technician had poor technical skills, and didn’t know anything

Imagine that? A technician that doesn’t know it all! In my IBM days, it was a common saying that if you could walk and chew gum, and you were polite, they could train you to fix computers. Oh, how sadly untrue!

And for the record – it’s the other way around! If you can fix computers, we can teach you to walk and chew gum – virtual gum, and walking through a cyber-world. - Just kidding.

I’ll start out with some scenario from the Consumer’s Perspective, then I’ll give the Technician’s Perspective.

Consumer Scenarios

1) You’re an Idiot, and we know everything.

As the customer, we’ve become familiar with that drab and monotone voice on the other end of the phone. They condescend you in every word and even mock you! You can easily imagine the tech’s face and actions akin to “whatever” I’ll bet you’ve often felt like they put you on hold to get their colleagues to listen in, and have a comedy central riot at your expense. Or worse yet, they put you on speakerphone. All the while, claiming to be getting their 2nd level support team involved. As for 2nd level support, he’s most likely the guy in the next workstation pretending to be the go-to-guy. Oh the tricks and webs we weave…

2) Passing The Buck

You’re on the phone for an hour, and the problem still exists. The technician told you to download the drivers and call back – your problem that you could access the internet. How can you download the drivers without an Internet connection?

3) He said, She said

You have a computer, a modem, a router and a VOIP phone. The phone doesn’t work, so who do you call? The ISP says, it’s not their problem and al is working fine with the lines in your house. How does he know, did he come out and check them? Taking his advice, you call the VOIP provider. They say it’s your ISP’s problem. You call back the ISP and relay the information, although you have not been given any reason, or information to convey, you just say – it’s your problem. ISP says it’s your computer.

The point? Well, the technician is basically trying to get rid of the idiot on the line. Pass the buck, find a place to lay blame, somewhere that the consumer can’t refute. Somewhere in techno-babble land. The customer won’t know what hit him!

4) Stats baby Stats!

Call Centres run on statistics. Plain and simple. More calls in less time, be polite so that the company look and sounds professional and that they care about you. Etiquette over technical abilities. Heaven forbid – a likeable technician? Although rare, they do exist, and I’ve personally been told this thousands of times. It is the technician’s job to take inbound calls, complete them as quickly as possible. Politely and courteously. If a call goes beyond the average talk time of say 3 minutes, it starts to impact his personal stats. Lower talk times are better, and he who handles more calls looks better to management.

Although technical abilities are nice to have, a good talker can get you on the line, confuse you and get you off the line without fixing anything. It should work - is the term that technicians use to get rid of you. They have either reached their personal limits of technical abilities, they’ve been on the call too long, their supervisor is waving his arms, or pointing at his watch, or the tech just doesn’t care any more.

5) Where am I calling for support anyways?

You may have noticed the trend in the last decade where technical support is outsourced overseas. My opinion of course, nevertheless – the reason for this trend is as I stated above. If you can walk and talk politely, we can train you to take technical calls. There are countries overseas with exceptional educational systems and language diversities. The technical infrastructure can be brought to these countries, and the training can be scripted. North American IT companies have already laid the foundations for tech support protocols, procedures, flow charts and problem resolution tools. These can be converted into online training and resources. Call centres simply need the manpower to field the calls, and use the problem resolution tools to fix the problems. Technician’s technical troubleshooting abilities will come later. This is not the case now, however it was 10 years ago. Lets face it, it’s cheaper for manpower, foreign governments welcome big business, and will help with incentives, training, location, land, resources, and of course tax breaks. If you wonder why the technician is overseas – now you know.

North American workers want too much, benefits, holidays, regular raises, perks, benefits and so on and so no. I should know, I am one too.

Overseas workers, well it’s a completely different ball game. It’s Cricket actually.

Technician Scenarios

Ok, lets start by first getting the usual stories out of the way.
PEBKAC – problem exists between keyboard and chair
ID 10T Error – spell it out - id10t, coffee holders, why is there 2 power buttons, my computer isn’t working…let me get a flashlight to see why etc.

1) If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

How many calls have you taken in a case like this. The customer says, well I was looking through my programs and uninstalled everything I didn’t need. You of course roll your eyes, and wonder where this is going. Of course under your breath, you have to ask why?

If your car is working fine, do you start removing parts? So, now the caller wants you to help them repair everything. Of course this can go several ways – is the computer even in warranty, is it your company’s product, what exactly is wrong with it and so on.

It takes a special gift to be able to repair something without seeing it. Think about that next time you need technical support.

2) Your error messages are unique

Windows is known for some of the most ridiculous and useless error messages (sorry to all the programmers out there) but it’s true. Fatal error, Fatal exception, Illegal Operation and so on. SWAT or the ETF should be here any minute. Callers have no idea what they are or how to fix them, so they call for support. Of course they have to read every single word of the error message, or worse yet, the terms and conditions of a EULA. ( Tip: stop them before they start, politely say no need to read the entire message.) The consumer feels that they are helping you, and the company make a better product, and you NEED to know this information.

3) Why do I have to give you my information?

Ever had a customer raise a fuss about giving their information, or even the machine information? Why is that, got something to hide? They don’t realize that everything needs to be tracked in the call centre’s tools and utilities. The information is used to call up history, case numbers, and previous calls. Technicians could care less about your personal information. They want to see the technical details to get the problem fixed.

4) I want your name and extension

Yeah right, you bought a laptop computer and that earns you the right to call me whenever you need? I’ve purchased cars and homes with not even an extension number. I’m not referring to security and Information privacy, but rather customer expectations.

As far as privacy and security concerns go, each country is different of course. In Canada where I live, we are not required to give first and last names. As long as you can give the customer a way to refer to your case, or to you with an alias, or a employee number or a reference number, that is good enough. I’ve actually had customers look me up in the phonebook and call me at home. This was when I first started in technical support at IBM. You learn real quick after that happens!

5) Salesman will say anything to close the deal!

The customer calls to say this computer was promised to have xray vision! More often than not, big box store salesman work on commission. They need the money just as much as you. Their employers don’t want to pay for product training and considering how quickly technology changes, it’s next to impossible to keep up. Sales staff often have to learn products on their own time. They may have made an honest mistake, or did what they had to - to get the deal done. Of course this leave the customer with false information and you are a representative of the company tat makes these products – whether you like it or not. Fix the problem, make it do what was promised or bear the wrath of the misinformed customer. Your only recourse is tell the truth and set the record straight, or escalate to Customer Care. Of course, you get dinged for the escalation, or for telling the customer their laptop can’t make ice cubes.

6) You know everything about software

The customer complains that his computer won’t synch with his digital camera, or his home design software doesn’t work. Of course it’s your fault. You’re supposed to know about these things. The customer has no idea that there are support limitations. If it connects to your product, you have to support it. Customer Entitlement is not clearly defined. Sorry marketing and sales teams, this falls on you. As a technician, you’d love to say, does the computer turn on and operate properly? Thank you for calling our company, have a nice day – but you can’t. You have to at least try to offer some sort of assistance – without knowing a thing about the product. Like a Honda mechanic working on a photocopier.

Finally, Some funny (or stupid) questions
Can’t you just loom at my computer from there and fix it?
Can I see if my kids have been surfing adult sites?
Can you clean my computer of where I’ve been and my cookies?
Why do I have to pay for support, MSN comes with windows
Why don’t I have Microsoft word, it’s part of windows
My casino software stopped working
My stock market programs are not working
My kids did this and broke something
I get this error message, I don’t remember what it says, can you fix it?
My computer won’t power on
My monitor won’t show anything, it just blinks, or has no green light
Smoke is coming from my monitor, what should I do
I spilled coffee on my laptop and it started to smoke, is it ok?
Can I have your number so I can call you back?
I demand to speak with your supervisor, I want a new computer
If you don’t fix it now, I want a replacement
What do you mean not supported? It came with the computer

Just look at yahoo’s new answers for some of the typical questions. You’ll be sure to get a chuckle!