back to article Reg readers admit to faking it

A Reg reader poll looking at power users and their experiences with customer technical support flushed out a lot of opinions. The exercise focused particularly on support situations in which IT literate users are calling publicly facing help desks as private individuals, rather than on behalf of their company. In all, we …


This topic is closed for new posts.

Support is the second criterion

When I am recommending a purchase, the first criterion is "what does my customer really need?'

The second criterion is, "what sort of experience have I had with the vendor's support lines?"

Only after both of those have been considered do I begin to look at which products will fulfill the needs uncovered in the first question; and those who have demonstrated that support is of no interest to them (e.g., my calls went to some non-English-speaking script reader in a foreign country, or worse, there's no quick route to support whatsoever) will be out of consideration immediately.

A very large electronics manufacturer who is infamous for infecting audio CDs with rootkits is, for example, completely off the list - forever.

Dell consumer products are off the list. Dell business products are considered, but *only* if my customer is willing to pay extra for "gold" support. It is, in my experience, worth the extra money.

And any place that pushes "extended warrantees" for consumer products is treated as an open sewer: Dangerous and horribly unpleasant, to be avoided at all costs.


where's the other side?

As a level 1/2 tech support phone monkey, I think this survery is clearly missing our side.

Calls from techs, real or self proclaimed are a pain, especialy ones who's area of expertese isnt in the area they're calling about (ie, programming superstars who dont understand that ping and tracert prove the web browser is the reason the web page isnt coming up). Usualy these can be sorted with something as simple as "do an IPconfig for me and tell me your IP address and Subnet Mask", and watch the BOFH'S "dummy mode" kick in.

My advice to techs who realy know what you're doing, is the following:

1) start with a direct question. if you think something like DHCP is broken, as what the IP range should be, and why you need to know. Use multi-syllable words like Provisioned. this establishes your credentials better than "look, I built DOS and I'm a MSVIP".

2) If you're sure you've done all troubleshooting, recap quickly what you've done, we need it on tape to cover our own backsides if we get monitored.

3) do listen to us sometimes, we deal with this stuff every day, day in day out. We know what the problem is 9 times out of 10 already, and are going to look dumb if we pass up something we should have fixed. Yes, you might be a CCNA, but I know how our network, and our communication devices work together (or dont), and I know its quirks better than you probably do.

4) We probably hate the script as much as you do. Most Helpdesks in large comapnies arent thought out well. They hire analytical people who are problem solvers by nature, and then force em to a script, we dont follow it at the right time, we can loose our job. Treat the phone monkey right, and you'll get better service back.

Anonymous Coward


I work for Dell tech support and I can say that the only thing that matters is customer service. We send out email surveys and the responses to those surveys are all that we care about. People should return them to us cause every single return is analysed very deeply and they make a big difference.


where is the rest of the survey?

I am one of the participants of this study. My question is: Where is the rest of the survey?

Your analysis only covers the answers to 2 or 3 of the questions. What were the results of the other questions? Who were the good/bad companies? What were the readers' suggestions?

There was a lot more interesting information covered in that survey than what you have discussed so far. Tell us about the rest of it.

Anonymous Coward

Re: where's the other side?

This guy is right, having worked for 2 different helpdesks for over 4 years (Comcast and Dell) one of the most annoying things to hear on the phone is someone calling up and saying "I am a tech", asking the person to go into safe mode and having them reply with "How do I do that". If you're such a wonderful tech then you should have been able to solve the problem yourself. In the mean time, you are coming to us for help and we will help you as long as you can put up with our scripts for the first 10 - 30 minutes of the call. You'd be surprised as to how many "techs" don't actually check the cables because since they are so smart how could anything possibly happen to your cables! Tell that to your hungry dog...

Anonymous Coward

Now for the "real" story...

One should read:

It has BOTH sides of the phone call. It is VERY amusing and gives some insight to the problems on both ends of the call. While many people DO have qualifications to do some debugging, lots of people who don't try to impress the other end. This appears to be a large problem. Unfortunately certifications (take your pick) don't help as there are many mills out there that churn out magic 4 letter suffixes. Everyone tries to get around "the script" but many times outside forces (those paying the bill) don't allow it. All we can hope for is to get competent people on BOTH ends of the call.

Be aware though, those that profess expertise rarely have it. Those that demonstrate it need not profess it in the first place.


BT Internet

This all sounds very familiar to me. BT are the worst I've encountered for sticking to the script as though it were written in treacle.

I've several times had microfilters go to electronic heaven on me and asked BT to send some new ones. Oh no, not just like that. First we have to go through my Norton AV and firewall settings, "I'm sorry sir, but we must first check some things."

Now I appreciate that the call centre reps have to cover their own backsides from managers hunting for people to fire but not even simple logical reasoning will convince them to stop going on about irrelevant things. Take the microfilter vs. Norton issue. I have two computers hooked up. One of them has Norton, the other does not. Both are affected by reduced connection speed and reliability. On top of that, whether I'm talking to Bangalore or my neighbour, I have the tell-tale hiss on my phone line.

Will they accept that it's not Norton AV and skip tests that are wasting my time and theirs? Of course not. I wouldn't care so much but for the other major annoyance with customer-facing call-centres: I'm always going to be paying for the call - failure of their equipment or service is costing me money to fix. After a mind-melting thirty-eight minutes on the phone, he told me that he thought it was probably the microfilters gone bad and that I would receive some new ones in a few days.

I've had reason to call them at least 4 or 5 times in the past year and not once have I had a speedy outcome. On one occasion I was left with the phone and internet knocking each other out such that only one could be plugged in to the line at a given time. Because their line test came back clean, they insisted there was no problem. Nearly two months of wire swapping, calls to India and Norton fiddling later, they agreed to get an engineer to check the line at the exchange. Not surprisingly, they promptly found a fault and fixed it.

For various reasons I didn't have much choice but to use BT when I hooked up my current phone and internet service. The light at the end of the tunnel is glowing bright though; my contract is up in May at which point they will be unceremoniously dumped, entirely because of their terrible customer service.

Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Where's the other side.

Having worked in support and being involved in providing support to a nationwide customer base I do understand the difficulties of supporting customers with a range of technical capabilities over the telephone.

However I use the "evasive" approach myself when calling for support, simply to bypass irrelevant script passages. I don't hold the support tech responsible for the scripts, but equally don't want to waste my time on a suggested "fix" that is completely irrelevant.


"If you're such a wonderful tech then you should have been able to solve the problem yourself"

My ISP regularly has issues with email storage on their servers. A couple of years ago (before they centralised their call handling) I could call support, state my credentials and speak to a member of the server team directly with specific error information. They would then fix the problem whilst I was on the phone and I would test and confirm. Result: 20 minute call (at most), happy customer, good fix times for the ISP's techs.

Recently I hit a similar situation and after a 40 minute wait to connect had to spend more than 30 minutes on the phone to 1st line support explaining that I didn't have a virus on my laptop and teaching him how to diagnose faults because he refused to take my credentials seriously. This is despite being provided with an error number, message and other diagnostic information (including a simple fix) all of which could have been verified within moments.

I'd love to know if this is seriously considered as an improvement? Personally I'd happily have my verified credentials kept on file with my ISP to save time in the future. Unless they want to give me access in which case I'd happily fix their problems myself. Of course that would reduce their revenues from the support phone line...



Waiting times for queues

Why is it that so many companies can't even say "You are now X in the queue, your call will be answered in approximately Y minutes" ?

Also, most companies repeatedly do surveys that ask for easily analysed numbers.

Eg "Rate our friendliness on a scale of 1-5". Frequently, they have no way for the customer to tell them the important thing, because it isn't on the survey!

[For example, Vodafone are certain that I am a happy customer (because I gave them 5 out of 5 on all the questions that they asked. In fact, I told them that I was really cross about X, and in fact, switched to O2, but the customer service person could only say "sorry - there's no space on our form to write about X." !!


Re: Re: where's the other side?

" long as you can put up with our scripts for the first 10 - 30 minutes of the call..."

'Scuse me? If I can put up with 30 minutes of script? Are you serious? 10 minutes is really pushing it. If I'm on the phone for 30 minutes, I better be talking to the lead design/network engineer or CEO by then.


first line support

I don't think the problem is with all first line support, its the companies that employ people for first line support that know nothing other than what is in the script and then panic and/or get defensive when you ask a question, make a suggestion or they get to the end of the script. Unfortunately I don't think i've spoken to a comsumer helpdesk who have had well qualified first line support, all the qualified staff are on the corporate helpdesks making the company lots more money than just the cost of a phone call.

My other big problem with a lot of first line support is they are totally incapable of adjusting what they are saying to the technical level of the caller, I understand they need to cover all bases/their ass but going through basic diagnosis is a lot less painful if the rep is not trying to talk me through every step of opening internet explorer or searching for a file because thats what they've got written on their screen...


Sales vs Support

Once the customer has bought the product, the company has their money. After that the customer is a burden. That covers all one-off purchases, no matter how militant the customer feels like being.

Even with an on-going contract I would wager that the majority of customers just put up with bad post-sales support, rather than voting with their direct debit and going elsewhere.

Hence we end up with the apparent fact that most companies will, on the whole, spend more time, effort and money on sales than they do on support.

That is not meant to belittle the people who work in support. As has been said before, they are often just as hacked off with the system as is the customer.

The pressure to reduce the cost of support is the crux of the problem. Reduced staff training, reduced benefits, lower pay prospects; they all lead to lower morale and higher staff turnover. Then the new staff don't have the product support experience and the problem becomes self-sustaining.

If we as customers don't take our money away from the purveyors of poor support (=poorly funded support staff), then we need to get used to the barrel over which the companies have us.

Anonymous Coward


Dell .. who would have thought.

Actually I can no longer say a solitary bad thing about their support.

The common complaint about forcing people through scripted procedures without regard appears to be a thing of the past for them - provided you've paid for the required level of support.

I work for a State Government that exclusively buys from Dell, and the contract is significantly long.

This means they have absolutely no incentive to treat me any differently from a home user - less in fact, because my position has absolutely zero decision making when it comes to the renewal of the contract/fake bid/back hander tender or whatever they did to illegally bypass our mandatory bidding process.

So imagine my surprise when not only have they ripped up the script and thrown it away, not only do they listen to what I said - or in fact read what I write because I only use online support these days, but every single one of them speaks English as their first language.

Even cases of obvious abuse have resulted in repairs being co-ordinated no more than 24 hrs after the initial contact, or parts being sent overnight. Sometimes I even get the on-site support or parts the same day I initiate an online trouble thingy.

Why? What on earth do they have to gain by pleasing me. The head of IT for my State no more knows my name than I do his. I may control the network infrastructure for over 300 employees, but the State has over 20,000 users so my little patch is of no particular concern of theirs, unless the work stops flowing.

If I was to complain, either absolutely nothing would come of it, or I might get fired for jeapodising someone's back hander.. a pretty unlikely scenario considering I have no proof of said back hander, it's just a personal assumption that someone, somewhere has done very nicely out of all this.

So either I've been fortunate enough to always contact the exact right person, who on the rare occasion I do speak to on the phone can understand everything I say, or they've improved their support from the good old days of script faking.

Anonymous Coward

this method is not represented in this article

i deal with tier 1 personel by asking an incredibly technical question up front.

95% of the time, they don't know how to answer and send me off to higher tiers of technical *expertise*

i highly recommend this method...


Different support for different products

I noticed that all helpdesks seems to have been lumped together.

I've noticed that ISPs will be much more inclined to run through the script step by step, where hardware vendors normally try to determine if you're an idiot or not first.

I rarely call support. I'll email for most problems because these will be forwarded on pretty quick to someone with a clue. This applies to both ISPs and other places. It takes a little longer to get a reply sometimes, but you can do other things rather than be tied to the phone on hold.

Obviously I can't email the ISP if the net goes down, but I do my own onsite checks first, and if it's not my gear, I wait at least 2 hours. If it's not my gear, chances are they already know there's a problem.

If I'm not busy, I find another way onto the net and check various websites to find out if there is a known outage. Usually there is, so calling them will just frustrate me and them.


Author Responds

Hello to everyone and thank you for all the comments. They are really appreciated.

Please remember, the point of this poll was to look at the experiences of power users specifically It wasn't about support in general, and it wasn't by any means exhaustive, certainly much more research can be done in this space.

Also, we are working on other pieces to highlight other bits that came out in the poll. Patience please, we decided to write a couple of pieces where we could pull out issues separately rather than lump many important things together. More will come.

We'll say again that processes are the problem here, and not the technicians. We know that tech support was designed to handle the majority of users, we know that power users are definitely a minority, but we think you all have demonstrated that they are a significant minority because they affect IT spend.

Finally, thanks to those of you who have brought out the group that wasn't mentioned in this article and should have been - there is another class of user faking it and it is those who think they are power users or who claim to be - but are really just irritating everyone.


Just have to have my say on this

I don't normally post comments on the Reg, but I have to give my tuppence on this. And apologies for the length of it but there are two examples I want to give.

And so you know I am not takling out of my ass, I worked as 1st and 2nd level tech support for a well known electronics company (no names) supporting laptops and desktops for 5 years. 5 loooong years. Thankfully, I have moved on from that particular helldesk.

First up - on the side of the customer - I think that the biggest mistake tech support makes, is making the script sound like a script. you have to make it sound like it's just come into your head that it might be a good idea to check the firewall, or the cables, or whatever.

Then you have (and its true) lack of training - people not actually following the script. the scripts are designed by clever people who know how to design a process that can cover all the possible contigencies of a particular problem domain. I have never yet come across a script that did not include "if...then..goto" logic. So a lot of what you take as a stupid script is actually a poorly trained person who doesn't know how to REALLY follow the script.

That's why when you call up and complain that you can't connect to your new wireless router, they ask you to turn off your firewall. The tech support did not follow the script. No script would make you do this...I guarantee it's because they lacked experience, and chose to follow the "Troubleshooting Internet Connectivity" instead of "Troubleshooting Wireless Connectivity"

So actually the customer can do themselves a lot of favours by stating the problem clearly.

Not "I can't get online with my new router" but "My wireless card is broken".

On the flip side, I can honestly say, that when someone called business support, that in most cases one could assume a certain level of knowledge (i.e they were probably in IT already) and be flexible with one's script.

For Joe Public callers, the opposite was often, but thankfully not always, true.

Every day I woud get several of the usual "now look, I'm an IT consultant" or "listen, I have 3 MCSE's" and so on. Invariably, these folks would not know what they were talking about and in most cases, following "the script" solved their problem.

I think its because the people who think they know, the ones with the dangerous "little knowledge" often spend so much time trying to fix the issue that they get all worked up about it and upset before they call tech support.

So naturally they object to having to spend another 5 minutes doing something that they think will not check anything they did not think of. So when they would be told for example to turn their wireless switch to "on" they would be terribly gobsmacked. That was a classic "I'm an IT Manager" type of call. Not that the person was stupid, not at all. But on this particular laptop, the wireless switch was not in an obvious place. You had to know where it was (or have RTFM in the first place but who does?) this person would have spent an hour tearing their hair out trying to fix an unfixable problem, then called tech support in a rage looking for a new laptop and for my company to pay off their mortgage, etc, be FORCED to follow the script and have their problem fixed in 30 seconds.

Now, of course sometimes the problem could not be solved because it was just coincidence that the switch was off; the wireless NIC really was broken. But that was an exception, not a rule. That's what the script is for. It's playing the odds that in 90% of cases the problem CAN be fixed by the script. And eveyone has to play by the rules.

The ONLY way around the script can be that when you really do KNOW that the problem is not your Norton (and fair enough if you do) then you just say "I HAVE NO FIREWALL INSTALLED".

But God help you if you are lying, when the person on the other end of the line finds out, you will follow the directors' cut extended edition of the script.

Now you may think that I am making a broad generalisation here. But in 5 years I spent maybe 1000 working days, talking on average 30 calls a day. And I can still remember most of the good ones, which goes to show how few there were!

It still happens today - my wife works part time for a cable tv operator here in Ireland and last night she had a guy screaming for 20 minutes because all he had on his TV was a blank screen with a picture flcking on and off every few seconds.

She asked a couple of questions and quickly decided his cables were loose. The guy laughed sarcastically and suggested that maybe she had no idea what she was talking about, wasn't it obvious that he had already checked them (well no actually, it wasn't)and that he wanted a technician in the next 20 minutes (at 21:30, yes, suuure) and a new decoder box, etc, etc. Meanwhile in the background his son had unplugged the SCART lead from the telly and plugged it back in. On came the telly. The bastard didn't even have the decency to say "thanks" before he hung up. See what I mean?

Anonymous Coward

Dell technical response surveys.

I've recently had some truly awful experiences with Dell technical support. For the record, the technicians have been friendly and have tried to be helpful, but there has been a total lack of understanding on their part of the actual issue, which for the record, pertains to RAID stability problems under Vista.

At the start of each call, my email address has been taken in order for me to be sent a satisfaction survey, but I've never received one on these emails (I have received other emails related to the calls, so I know that Dell have the correct address)

I wonder if the apparent failure to send the survey email is linked to the fact that the technician knows that the outcome of the call was not satisfactory?

Anonymous Coward


I feel the pain. I know both sides of the story as I've done tech support, but as a 'power user' it can be very frustrating.

Take, for example, the dedicated server I have with 1&1. It's a simple Linux server. I've dabbled with Linux a lot over the years, and although I'm by no means an expert, I do know the basics. My server goes down on a Friday, whilst I'm away. I come back on Monday, give them a ring after running the obvious checks, and am met with a malfunctioning phone system.

The reboot and recovery console features of their control panel aren't working. Off goes an email explaining thus. The reply comes back, nearlytwo days later, that 'Yes sir, your server is down. I cannot access it with the recovery console. I'll escalate the ticket and get someone to contact you.'. Five further days later and no progress whatsoever. The phone system is still broken, so I hunt down a non-geographic with noto0870, and get through. The guy basically says the same as the email, but can't put me through to anyone who can help.

The annoying thing is that when I pestered, and after checking with his supervisor, I got given a working direct number for their server support guys onsite. One quick call, and it's up within a matter of minutes.

Suffice to say, my dedicated server, which I've had for several years and pay a rather healthy price for, is getting cancelled. Why do you have to make the paying consumer jump through hoops? 10 days total downtime, and a 2minute fix (problems with the remote reboot system).


"Power Users"

Firstly lets kill the term power users. I hate it basically because it means nothing. I have the honour of working in a relatively small IT department and am involved in all levels of support to our employees and customers. I recieved a call earlier in the month that started with the words "I'm what you people would call a Power User". What he meant by that was that he was upper management and knew the difference between the mouse on his desktop and the one hiding under the stairs at his house (Him having a rolled up paper and a mouse trap gave him power user rights there).

Anyway, what this all comes down too is how much common sense the helpdesk guys have that you're dealing with. I had an experience with a Dell Server with an internal tape drive. The thing was completely dead. Power was getting to it and it wasn't visible in the BIOS or the OS. I explained this to the helldesk techie who asked me to run a diagnostic tool on the drive. This of course was impossible as the drive wasn't available. This I explained politely and requested that he send a new dive out which he then explained to me was impossible until I ran the diagnostics on the drive (as his script had advised). After about 15 mins of this I actually exploded! Once I'd pulled myself together I demanded I sdpeak to his manager who apologied for the Helldesk moron and sent me a new drive. This was just a case of a guy who had no clue what he was talking about doing a job he shouldn't be doing. I've since had issues with other devices where the Helpdesk tech has completely ignored his script after listening to my problem and sorted the issue in a rational way.

When interviewing for helpdesk staff common sense should be the order of the day for recruiters. Give the applicant a square peg and round hole. See what happens. Anyone that tries to force it through should be shot. (Probably 25% of current Helldeskers out there).


I used to have hair

I'm with Jeremy above with his comments about BT - I could have written his account myself, except in my case it was the abismally cranky BTHomeHub rather than microfilters. I'm on my 4th in 8 months, and like him I'm just waiting for my contract to expire.

I don't mind hardware breaking down - it happens. But I do mind having to spend several hours on the phone trying to get their customer support to accept there is a problem, even when it's screamingly obvious where the problem lies: "I've temporarily replaced the HomeHub with a wired router, and the problem has gone away. In what way can this NOT be a problem with the HomeHub?"

It use to be an effective strategy to just repeatedly point out that you hadn't changed anything on your system until they gave in and moved down the menu to other factors. But the Bangalore Brigade are so shit-scared of losing their jobs in the only game in town that they are absolutely slavish. When a helpdesk monkey is more concerned with preserving his own skin (understandably) than giving the best service to the customer, something has gone hideously wrong.


Views from both sides of the fence

As an ntl broadband customer a few years ago I experienced a problem with my machine getting an IP address of I called their technical support in Swansea and spoke to a guy who must have used a one line script which read "buy a new Network Interface Card". I duly spent £20 on a new network card from Maplin Electronics, installed the driver and hardware but the problem remained. As a last resort I re-installed Windows which resolved the problem.

A couple of years later I experienced another problem getting online via ntl broadband and again I called technical support. I spoke to another technician who was also using the "buy a new Network Interface Card" script who refused to try anything else until I did so. He didn't even ask any diagnostic questions, he just simply offered the above as the solution. Re-installing Windows instead resolved the problem. I never called technical support again.

On the other hand I used to work for a technical call centre which supported PCs bought from stores which were part of a large, international organisation. All I can say is that it was another call centre more obsessed with high call stats that satisfied customers. The number of times I dealt with repeat calls caused by someone quickly rattling through the script to get the customer off the line ready for the next call became quite depressing. Oftentimes the "solution" was to advise people to run their recovery software for the umpteenth time. I was frustrated to be constrained by this script, because if I couldn't prove to a technical coach that all steps had been taken - usually because the (obviously IT literate) caller would say "I've tried everything" and would refuse to elaborate - then I wasn't allowed to book an engineer with a part.

I agree that helpdesks should be more flexible and staffed by intelligent people not constrained by scripts or other procedures. Consumers receiving a positive, helpful experience for their supplier's helpdesk are more likely to recommend that supplier to their friends, family and colleagues.


Even Worse for Penguin-Shaggers

Tech support can be an even bigger nightmare if you happen to be running GNU/Linux.

I used to get my broadband from a certain cable TV company which was recently taken over by a certain buffoon with a balloon, then stopped showing "The Simpsons". They provided an (absolutely OS-agnostic, provided you had drivers for your own NIC) RJ45 port on the back of my TV receiver. All I needed to know was how to perform the initial provisioning manually, which the handbook was advised was possible if the included Windows software didn't work for you (bear in mind that I had no access to a Windows PC). At one point, they even tried to tell me that Linux was not compatible with the Internet!

Eventually, I managed to speak to an actual GNU/Linux using tech who talked me through the manual set-up process. Why they couldn't just have put this information in the handbook or on the free beermat (aka Windows/Mac installation CD), I don't know.

Later, I discovered problems with my bundled web space: PHP scripts were displaying the source rather than executing. At first, Tech Support tried to blame me for running Linux on my end (as though the absence of those gratuitous \r characters ever hurt anyone!) and insisted for me to try using a Windows machine instead. Not having access to such a thing, I resorted to outright deception -- I was justified, since they had lied to me first. First I called up a friend who knew both Windows and Linux to translate their instructions for me (eg. "Drag the index.php file to the folder representing your website" => send the file to the server => "put index.php" and "Open it in Notepad" => edit it => "Open it in pico"); then I told them I had borrowed a Windows 2000 laptop. Following their translated instructions, which translated exactly to the same procedure I had already done the first time, I achieved exactly the same ends they were aiming at, only by different means. The logs would betray me, of course; but I figured if they knew how to read a logfile they would have known how to sort my problem out. The result was -- rather unsurprisingly, since I had not done anything different than before -- still a screen full of PHP source code. They got me another support assistant.

Three or four support personnel and countless repeats of the same procedure later, someone explained to me that, being a residential customer, my webspace did not actually include any PHP support (server signature notwithstanding) and I would have to pay extra for this since this was a "business-grade" service! To my mind, that's like promising someone a free car, with a brochure showing how they can wash on a Sunday morning and drape fashion models over it for photo-shoots; then telling them that they need to pay extra for the "sports model" if they want one with an engine so they can actually drive it! Their Linux guru helpfully suggested that I could install Apache and PHP at my own end (as though I hadn't already! Where did they think I had developed that stuff I had written?); however, my IP address was dynamically-assigned and subject to change at any time.

I could go on with a story about how a certain large ISP managed to get one of their SMTP servers listed on a spam blacklist, or how a certain other large ISP arbitrarily decided that mail originating via my company's SMTP server was spam. But you get the idea already.

This topic is closed for new posts.


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018