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Consumer Reports Discovers Tech Support Sucks 514

fuzzykitty writes "CNN just posted an article about how commercial software is filled with bugs and customers are used as an army of unpaid testers. It also goes on about the lack of good technical support. Best quote: 'I'm unaware of any company that would shortchange the customer in their speed to get the software to market,' LOL"
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Consumer Reports Discovers Tech Support Sucks

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  • by gokubi ( 413425 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:01PM (#6648369) Homepage
    From the article: Am I going to use this software as it's been marketed?

    Not as it was designed, mind you, but as it was marketed. We all know that in the "21st Century" (TM) marketing is reality.

    And tech support is always marketed as a smiling blond woman with the headset on saying, "How can I help you today?"

    I get a warm numb feeling just thinking about it. Problem? I don't have a problem...

    • by endoboy ( 560088 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:55PM (#6649063)
      Not as it was designed, mind you, but as it was marketed

      not that it really matters--how do you propose that J. Consumer find out what the design of software package X might be?

      Nobody needs to have a clue what the design parameters of their toilet or their lightbulbs were; why should they have to care about the software?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Amazing how long they took to figure it out...
  • by thrillbert ( 146343 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:01PM (#6648375) Homepage
    What? I'm sorry, what's your customer ID again?

    No, I'm sorry, I do not find your Cisco Router support anywhere on our systems. Have a good evening! <click>.

    I'll show you tech support that sucks... jerks!

    Companies spend millions on advertising, but pay minimum wage to those who will be the first point of contact with the customer. Ain't economics great?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I was just trying to register our IDS systems so I can get the latest code for them. Have to get a service contract, then apply that to your CCO account. Wait 4 days to process. Then find out they messed it up. And service contracts are valid for one year too. Great!

      Also, why is Cisco's site the SLOWEST site on the internet?!?!

      Sorry I post as AC, don't want my posts to haunt me later.
    • Whose fault? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siskbc ( 598067 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:30PM (#6648783) Homepage
      Companies spend millions on advertising, but pay minimum wage to those who will be the first point of contact with the customer. Ain't economics great?

      I don't want to defend this practice - I really don't - but we have to accept that companies are out to make money. And if people (on average) aren't willing to pay more to get better customer service, it won't exist. People say they want better service, but typically their wallets vote otherwise. And I readily admit I fall into this category, although that's only because I have learned to have absolutely no expectation of service at all.

      But bottom line, it's exactly like you said: Ain't economics great?. Sucks that such an approach works, but it does. Also blame the idiots that provide free help/tech support on company support forums. You're just enabling them, people.

    • by PurpleFloyd ( 149812 ) <> on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:33PM (#6648812) Homepage
      While Cisco's support contracts are expensive as hell, I've never once had a problem that they weren't able to handle. In fact, I'd say they have some of the best support in the industry: their techs are well-trained and willing to do whatever it takes to get dead equipment working again.

      While I would be seriously pissed if I couldn't use the support my company had paid massive amounts of money for, that's never happened to me. As for the quality of the support techs, though, I just wish that other companies would take Cisco's lead and train their damn techs, rather than have them read off a computer screen, fail to solve the problem, and bump you up to Tier 2, where the whole thing starts over again.

    • Companies spend millions on advertising, but pay minimum wage to those who will be the first point of contact with the customer. Ain't economics great?

      There's a good solution to this: have the software/hardware do one day a week (or half a day) of tech support. Answering angry/confused customers, they will:

      • make sure they write better software next time
      • don't let their boss release it too early
      • give good high level support to customer (from the horse's mouth)
      • And maybe improve on social skills of many pro
  • and.. not only.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joeldg ( 518249 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:02PM (#6648380) Homepage
    But that report says it is getting worse every day.

    This does not surprise me at all..

    I have heard more clients talk of choosing a product based entirely on the service offered.

    look at the Rackspace "insane support" model, they are doing well because of that.

    • If you're searching for a company that does customer support RIGHT, look into National Instruments []. They realize that encouraging customer success is paramount to a successful business.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Several have delayed their products in order to produce a higher quality game.
    • Depending on your propensity to wear a tin foil hat, one could say that id software delays their games to ensure higher quality.
    • Ahh, so that's why Duke Nukem Forever is taking so long.
    • A couple of things are different about games than normal Joe User applications, and the biggest one is that games get reviewed, and most reviews are fairly independent assessments (as opposed to, say, "reviews" of Microsoft Office, which most of the time is just sandbag marketting). In addition, these reviews are read by the target consumer, whereas I doubt very much Joe User "researches" his purchase of Windows XP like a typical gamer researches his purchase of Madden 2003.

      Given this, game companies hav

    • Could be because there's lots of competition in the game market and people have lots of other games and game platforms to choose from. A poorly written, buggy game that crashes all the time will be a flop and will quite possibly take the company down with it. Also, if the game is a dud, people don't have to buy it if they don't want to.

      Turn this around and take a look at commercial consumer and office desktop operating systems and office suites. Does one specific company who dominates the field and has
  • $59.5 billion! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BrynM ( 217883 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:03PM (#6648399) Homepage Journal
    A 2002 study funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated software errors cost the U.S. economy about $59.5 billion a year."
    And politicians are worried about entertainment piracy hurting the economy. Maybe there are more important things to fix than catering to the entertainment industry...
    • by Some Dumbass... ( 192298 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:42PM (#6648929)
      "A 2002 study funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated software errors cost the U.S. economy about $59.5 billion a year."

      And politicians are worried about entertainment piracy hurting the economy. Maybe there are more important things to fix than catering to the entertainment industry...

      Yes, but you must understand that entertainment piracy costs the U.S. economy more. In fact, according to the RIAA's numbers, music piracy alone costs the U.S. economy over _six quintillion_ dollars a year. If they could only convince all those 14-year-old kids to spend millions of dollars each on CDs instead of just downloading the same songs via Kazaa, the U.S. would not only be out of debt, but the average American's salary would increase to tens of thousands of dollars a day (just like the average music industry executive).

      Now do you see why entertainment piracy is more important?
    • by Ztream ( 584474 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:56PM (#6649065)
      Copyright violation: Caused by nearly everyone, one industry sector hurt.
      Software bugs: Caused by one industry sector, nearly everyone hurt.
  • by jlechem ( 613317 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:03PM (#6648406) Homepage Journal
    And how is this a suprise? Based on my many many calls to ATT broadband, Microsoft, etc I know many tech support reps a) have their head up their ass or b) the company itself has it's head up it ass. Also I used to work for MSN tech support and I think often times it's a combination of both. Lack of care for the customer and a lax hiring process that entails you can talk and will show upto work get you the job.
    • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:07PM (#6648462)
      Well, speaking from experience of working for ATTBI I know that no matter how much a tech knows there is very little that he/she could have done to help you.

      Call times aside, you had a strict list of things that you could help with and nothing outside of that.

      Powercycle, check connections, restart, release/renew, send to Tier 2. That's how it worked. Anything outside of that was considered in excess of what you were allowed to do and you were dinged on points for it.

      ATTBI techs were trained to "get you off the phone", whether that meant to powercycle/reset remotely and get you online, or sent you to tier 2.

      It's not a lax hiring process either. They just have an incredibly high turnover. Either people don't come to work, come in late, or just hate their job so VERY much that they leave, they lose people FAST.
      • by Matrix272 ( 581458 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:21PM (#6648656)
        It's not a lax hiring process either. They just have an incredibly high turnover. Either people don't come to work, come in late, or just hate their job so VERY much that they leave, they lose people FAST.

        Agreed. Tech Support has one of the highest turnover rates of any position in any industry... except maybe toilet cleaners. I worked in phone tech support for an ISP for about 3 years before I took a job that didn't have 1000+ irate people when they couldn't get their e-mail. I learned to enjoy my job by having fun with it. I had fun with it by learning a couple simple rules:

        1) Let the customer vent.
        When someone calls tech support, they've either already tried to fix it and failed (and are then upset at their failure), or haven't yet tried to fix it and are upset because it isn't working in the first place. In both cases, just let the person sit on the phone and scream at you until they run out of breath. When they stop to think about some more curses they can scream, you can calmly say "Sir/Maam, I have a couple ideas that might fix your problem..."

        2) Don't get stressed out.
        It's not YOUR computer that isn't working. It's theirs. Yours is working just fine, right? Besides, what's the worst that can happen? So what if you get fired for telling someone you can't help them. With the high turnover rate of tech support, you'll have another job in a matter of hours.

        Follow those two guidelines, and tech support won't seem that bad. Oh, and I almost forgot...
        3) Don't be afraid to yell back if you're having a bad day.
        If someone yells that you can go to hell on the same day your girlfriend left you, your house burnt down, your bank closed your account and siezed your assets, and the FBI is hunting for you, don't be afraid to yell "Well slap my ass and call me Shirley you dumb shit. I thought the whole time I was trying to help YOU. Maybe I should just shove your computer up my ass, think that would fix it, you ignorant fuck." That always puts them in their place.
  • Well, so far for the popular "Commercial software are more reliable than open source because companies are forced to listen to their customers, and provide better support" Slashdot myth.
  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:04PM (#6648410) Homepage Journal
    "I'm unaware of any company that would shortchange the customer in their speed to get the software to market," said Jonathan Thompson, vice president of the Washington-based trade group, which has more than 650 members.

    That's great. I'd put Mr. Thompson right up there with the Iraqi Information Minister [], and his "deathless quotes":

    "There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!"

    "God will roast their stomachs in hell at the hands of Iraqis."

    "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

    Oh, um... scratch that last one, ok?

    And he gets better and better!

    Thompson said customers need to have realistic expectations. He urged buyers to ask themselves two questions before plunking down cash for software: "What is it that I want this software to do?" and "Am I going to use this software as it's been marketed?"

    Well, if I were to use Microsoft software "as it's been marketed", I'd expect to be using it to magically draw pretty pictures around my everyday activities, transforming a burned-out building shell into a stage with a spotlight.

    "Make sure that your expectations are appropriate to what a product is marketing," he said.

    What the hell does that mean? Intel marketed its product -- a chunk of finely-etched silicon in a plastic box -- with a bunch of blue guys. What expectations are appropriate in that case?
  • by Sheetrock ( 152993 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:04PM (#6648418) Homepage Journal
    I've run the tech support gamut more times than I cared to, but my experiences have always been good ones. The majority of tech support complaints are no doubt people that just decide to call up all pissed off rather than calming down, looking at the situation objectively, and actually making some steps towards narrowing down the problem before making the call.

    Another consideration is that many bad experiences are had by people who constantly cheap-out on their purchases. You don't walk into a McDonalds and bitch about the paper napkins. Similarly, I don't doubt that if you're buying low end 'home' devices that they sell at the discount store that you're going to run into a few problems -- but the solution is simple: don't buy that $30 CD burner that was made in a straw hut. There used to be a time you could buy a television set that lasted 8-10 years, for example, but the lifespan of the equipment has been cut beyond the pricing.

    If you aren't constantly bargain-hunting but instead reading reviews online and buying things at the logical price point you might discover that the companies can not only afford to give you reasonable tech support but that you will also have less need of it. Additionally, buying the cheapest stuff you can find almost certainly promotes outsourcing and the hemmoraging of manufacturing jobs from our country, which hurts all of us in the end.

    Pay reasonable prices and try to buy only things that are made in the USA. Remember that you're going to get what you pay for.

    • First of all, show me any computer hardware, cell phone, consumer electronics, or cable TV equipment, made in the US.

      Secondly, could retailers and manufacturers who sell things that have never been tested and don't work as advertised bear any of the responsibility here?

      As for your assertion that paying a logical price to get something good means fewer and better tech support calls, I fully agree, which is why I use a Mac and Apple software almost exclusively.

    • try to buy only things that are made in the USA.

      Doc: No wonder this circuit failed. It says "Made in Japan".
      Marty McFly: What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.
      Doc: Unbelievable.

    • I'd go even further (Score:3, Informative)

      by Raul654 ( 453029 )
      The article says that about 1/3 of people never get the help they need. Quite frankly, I'm surprised that number isn't much, much higher, but that is beside the point. I think were you to ask the tech tech support handlers , the callers can be diveded into about 3 catagories:
      1) Total beginners - the ones who need to be told to click on the start button, then on settings, then on control panel, etc.
      2) People who have some experience and can navigate through the settings, but don't want to know the inner wor
      • by killmenow ( 184444 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:08PM (#6649210)
        3) Saavy people, who know what is going on and can describe the problem completely.
        Let me just say, I fit into this category. My experience with tech support is that I know *more* than the person on the other end of the phone.

        I don't call for support on easy problems. If I am up against something so gruesome that it requires a call to tech support, it will not be answered by Level I techs. I generally need to talk to the programmers who actually developed the software, the engineers who actually designed the hardware, or at the very least someone in a third or fourth level of escalation position.

        What drives me nuts is calling support and being FORCED through the F-ing script before they'll escalate.

        A prime example: we recently had a T1 outage. I call support. They want me to reboot the router. I tell the person to STFU and escalate me to someone who knows WTF they're talking about because the CARD IN THE SMARTJACK IS DEAD. I can reboot the router until Microsoft GPLs Windows and the circuit will not come back...yet they insist on leading me through the script.

        I hung up and called my sales rep. Nine times out of ten, that gets me the support I need.
        • by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:16PM (#6650033) Homepage

          What drives me nuts is calling support and being FORCED through the F-ing script before they'll escalate.

          I know you hate this. Everyone hates this. I certainly hate it. I hate having to walk someone through it.

          Unfortunately, we in the tech support biz don't have the clear, definitive, undeniable proof that you, you in particular, yes YOU, are not a dumbshit who happens to have picked up the vocabulary from somewhere. It's dumb for a tech to assume you diagnosed and applied the fixes correctly UP UNTIL NOW.

          I teach a workshop on using our email client at work. One of the things I show is how to turn on the automatic spellchecker. One day, someone in class piped up complaining that she was a touch-typist for 30 years, could type a jillion words a minute, and hated the spellchecker popping up and telling her no errors were found. Fine, I said, turn the option off and be happy. She did, and we went on.

          A few days later, she sent me an email thanking me for something and managed to mis-spell her OWN LAST NAME. Just a typo? Sure. Happens to everyone once in a while? You bet. Still looked like a stupid asshole? Absolutely.

          That's not a tech support issue, but I hope it gets the flavor across -- sometimes even when you're sure you're doing it right, you still do the dumb thing anyway.

          Most times it's best to start from square one when fixing a problem.
    • Made in the USA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:44PM (#6649631) Homepage Journal
      Pay reasonable prices and try to buy only things that are made in the USA. Remember that you're going to get what you pay for.

      Hell yeah! That's why I buy only American. Because everyone knows that:

      * At Ford, "Quality is Job One!", while those cheezy Nissans, Toyotas, and Hondas are always in the shop

      * The Linux kernel, started by an effite European, is vastly inferior to the quality server OSes cranked out by innovative Microsoft

      * There are no more American TV manufacturers any more, because although they were of tremendously high quality, they were done in by the shoddy workmanship and underhanded tricks of foreign manufacturers.

      Protectionism serves nobody. It pampers weak companies, maintains artificially high prices, and keeps less-developed nations from gaining economic self-sufficiency. Protectionism is not patriotic. It's just a fearful reaction to economic change.

      • Re:Made in the USA (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Alien Being ( 18488 )
        * At Ford, "Quality is Job One!", while those cheezy Nissans, Toyotas, and Hondas are always in the shop

        The Japanese makes have their share of problems, and when the cars break, parts are ridiculously expensive compared to the domestics. If you don't like Fords (lately I don't), have a look at Buick. And the Japanese makes are notorious for telling the customer to f*ck off when the tranny blows up 1 month out of warranty.

        * The Linux kernel, started by an effite European, is vastly inferior to the
  • by 47PHA60 ( 444748 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:05PM (#6648423) Journal
    Thompson said customers need to have realistic expectations. He urged buyers to ask themselves two questions before plunking down cash for software: "What is it that I want this software to do?" and "Am I going to use this software as it's been marketed?"

    I thought that bugs, marketing lies, crappy documentation, and clueless tech support were realistic expectations for most commercial software.
  • There are so many idiot users out there that it's not that easy to give good tech support to start with. The vast majority of the problems are defective end user problems. People think a piece of software functions in a certain way but they didn't bother to read the manual or built in help text to realize that it really works in a different way.
  • by Cytlid ( 95255 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:06PM (#6648439)
    But shouldn't the topic be Consumer Reports Discovers Software Tech Support Sucks ? Can I mod the article -1, Offtopic?

  • by pogle ( 71293 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:08PM (#6648475) Homepage
    Having done 6 years of tech support, I can conclusively agree with the contents of the article. We do suck.

    I've seen so many coworkers come and go, and only a small fraction of them possessed true technical ability. And a small fraction of those were actually able to communicate effectively to pass that knowledge on when it was needed. And even fewer had the temperment to do it for years at a time.

    Which is a real shame. There are a lot of people out there that need help, and by my calculations, maybe 0.1% of tech support personnel are truly able to provide the level of support needed in all cases. But remember, 87.375% of all statistics are made up on the spot too, so take it with a grain of salt.
  • by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:08PM (#6648476) Homepage
    I've worked in a customer service department (for MCI, no less) and I can tell you that it's not always the case that customers don't get the help they need -- but that they don't get the help they think they need.

    Example: "I want you to credit me for all my charges for the last six months, since you told me which calling plan I was on but I misunderstood! And I want a courtesy extra credit of $50!"

    Customers, sometimes, want the moon and the stars and neither customer support nor tech support nor any other department have the authority to fulfill whatever request they have. In the case of tech support, I have no doubt that many of the problems stem from the customer's inability to adequate explain their difficulty to the person on the phone -- and then the situation is escalated later as a resolution was never obatined.

  • Of the brainiac that "discovered" this?

    Der... I could have told you that...

    ever try calling at&t for a cable modem outage?

    "its your hub/router (I maintain to this day that they dont know that its a hub or router, but think its a hub-router)... plug the cable modem right into the computer, count to ten, pray to Thor, go the macarena, and chant... if that doesnt work, we cant help you and will schedule a tech"
    • fire is hot
    • water is wet
    • SCO is EVIL
    • grass is green
    sort of a revelation?
  • by JBG667 ( 690404 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:09PM (#6648494)

    ...a new device that overcomes most of the problems arising from pull-friction has been discovered. Round in shape and attached in pair to the bottom of a load it improves travel speeds significantly...the experts are calling it a 'wheel'...

  • fark (Score:3, Funny)

    by frieked ( 187664 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:11PM (#6648515) Homepage Journal
    I think if this were posted on fark it would have the headline "obvious"
  • by NetDanzr ( 619387 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:11PM (#6648521)
    Funny; I never had a problem with tech support, even though I'm calling various companies at least once per week. My secret - I'm friendly and humble. People on the other side of the line are just that, people. They appreciate if you don't yell at them, but joke with them instead. They are also not the brightest employees of the said company. They follow a certain routine, and don't appreciate if you try to interrupt them. So what, if I know how to change my network settings? It's much easier to follow their advice step by step ("Click on start." "Okay, now click on Settings.") than to interrupt them and tell them that you are already ten steps ahead. It yields real results. Back in the days when UUNet was still independent, I managed to keep a tech support person on-line from 4PM to 2AM, making her miss her wedding aniversary, just because I was friendly all the time (naturally, she wasn't one of the minimum-wage workers, but a tech support manager). Just yesterday, I spent 15 minutes on the phone with MCI, only to get a follow-up call ten minutes later. A coworker who tends to yell at them has never gotten a follow-up call. Same with Bloomberg tech support, Dell, HP, Earthlink and Verizon, all of whom I called in the past month.
  • tech support will always be a source of disappointment for anyone who seeks it

    it's psychology, not technology

    if you are dweeb, like me and most of us here, you pretty much figure it out on your own, and don't even go to tech support, unless you are in some fortune 500 company that mandates it's usage for ridiculous policy reasons and doesn't let you tinker, which is what is in line with most of our instincts to figure out problems with software

    for the technically uninclined, you go to tech support expecting them to answer question like "what is the purpose of my life?"

    i'm not joking

    the psychology of someone who buys technology that is beyond their understanding, and then expects some poor guy on the other end of a phone conversation to download technological insight into their cranium via a 15 minute phone call is what we are talking about

    you can't meet those expectations

    and thus, tech support will always be a source of disappointment, since it is the source of solace for people who don't understand that if you want answers to technical questions, you need to seek them out yourself, in order to develop your own technological proficiency

    unfortunately true for the technophobes

    the problem is psychology, not technology, and the problem will always exist as long as there are people who wade into the deep end of the pool not knowing how to swim and expecting to be taught how to swim in the short amout of time before they drown, rather than learn how to swim first, and to have enough technological common sense to recognize the deep end of the pool and that they are in over their head in the first place
  • Please (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <> on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:12PM (#6648530) Homepage
    I can't see how this is a case against commercial software (the reason, I assume, why it was posted here, "LOL"). It never is bug-free, but then it rarely is unusable. It's interesting that the article doesn't clarify how many of those calls to tech support are simply users that can't figure out how to do something, and ascribe their inability to solve a problem to a bug.

    I've been using commercial software for many years, like most other people, and I've rarely had to call anyone to do anything. Granted I'm more technical than the average user, but then that would be an argument for making software easier to use, not one against its existence. Now, there are companies out there that put out positively shitty software without hardly any testing, and that becomes plain the moment you open it up. The birthday card printers and the no-name PIMs and so on. Software from companies like Microsoft always has bugs, but these are rarely showstoppers and are normally fixed in service packs or whatnot. There's another issue - did the user check to see if there was a fix before he/she called? Microsoft (and most other big software companies) spend billions of dollars on testing. This article makes it sound like nothing is tested and software is simply unusable by the time it gets to the consumer. I don't think that's even remotely the case.

    And going back to why this was posted... how is free software any better? There is, by definition, no support. There's a formal testing protocol (alphas and betas) as well as thousands of unpaid testers. It's often released too early to "get it out there". The stuff is often buggy (oh, look! The KDE segfault dialog again!), but it's also patched regularly. The big-name stuff is about as rock-solid as most big-name commercial software. Both have their unique problems and strengths.

    I'm sure this will turn into the usual "hahah, m$ sux" fest, but I just don't see how all these "facts" make free/open source more attractive - at least to the consumer.

  • by ihummel ( 154369 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (lemmuhi)> on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:14PM (#6648556)
    Because companies either hire people who don't know what they're doing for peanuts or techies who do know what they're doing who hate their job and are again paid peanuts. On the customer end, the customer often doesn't know how to ask good questions even when the tech support guy knows how to listen to good questions. I once had a tech support guy for compuserve in '95 or '96 who didn't know what a directory was. He only knew them as "folders".
  • by tcc ( 140386 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:16PM (#6648594) Homepage Journal
    You pay someone minimal salary or a bit above to answer mails and phone about some products...

    For the sake of an example let's take someone in computer science or electronics...If you want that supportperson to have education in any of those fields so that he understands what is really going on in the system and not troubleshoot with a simple "issue-solution" sheet, such a person will be demotivated really fast unless he doesn't have minimal objectives with his career.

    The problem is usually those people are really incompetent if they end up in jobs like this especially if their education could get them 2x the salary or more. They either have to be really lazy or bad at their work (or the employment market to be really in a bad shape).

    So what does that give, if the person isn't good enough to work in his field on practical projects, he won't be any better in troubleshooting it, minus some exeptions. If they would want to hire competent people they would have to raise the salary grid a bit, and even give extras because, lets face it, if you're told you'll be answering tech support issues for the next 5 years of your life, most people will be depressed.

    The solution?

    Well look at National Instruments for example, they have one of the Best support site on the planet, you search, you find. You call, you get the information. I am not a big user of their products (labview) but I was *really* impressed with this. So the solution is a mix of putting issues in a database and have experience stored somewhere so that someone else can use it (a bit like the trouble-solution sheet but more dynamic and with good search filtering) and as for non-computer approach, well, either make a better product, or for ***'s sake, pay the price to get decent people in. Having 3 monkeys to not answer questions properly and having the people re-phoning 30 minutes later, or having 1 good professionnal person that will be doing his job correctly and effectively will not only benefit in customer satisfaction, it will require less infrastructure and while it's going to cost a bit more, if you stop being a lame manager and use some common sence, the benifits (even financial) will be higher than the costs of keeping a crappy system.

    Look at how many companies are starting to outsource their support center... this might work for some buisnesses like ISPs.... but for others it just shows that their system has failed and grew out of proportion... how many times people you know that used tech support had to phone back again because the problem wasn't resolved properly? This shouldn't happen for most of those calls right? well, there's your answer... putting more underpaid monkey won't solve the problem, it'll just cost more.

  • customers are used as an army of unpaid testers.

    Yah sure, I don't want to generalize here - but people who have never published software for a large number of users probably ought to know that even a large number of beta testers will always oversee a significant number of bugs if the software is appropriately large. That's because with our current development tools, both free and commercial software is always prone to any number of strange bugs, some of them even only detected out in the field under strange circumstances.

    Even if you test very thoroughly, there are always bugs (even obvious ones) that slip through, it's just a matter of probability. And we're going to have those problems for some time to come, until software finally moves to higher-level development for which we do have neither the technology nor the technique yet.

    But the realization that tech support is bad? OMG, just thinking about tech support makes me cringe! (Allright, maybe that's because I'm from Germany, where tech support is not only *always* grossly incompetent but also employs *only* people with the most insulting manners - I believe Germany is the world's leader in that respect!)
  • by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:22PM (#6648669) Journal
    I worked in Tech Support for a while.

    I liked it... for a while.

    Of course at the time I made the rules. I started at a small company as their first tech support person. Being a full fledged software engineer dealing with highly technical customers on a cutting edge product was good fun.

    It involved problem solving, helping people.

    Then the volume increased. We added more hands, volume increased etc...

    I was fine as long as I had more time than questions. Once the number of questions coming in surpassed the time to deal with the problems then things start to not be pretty. Stress, long hours, un-fun stuff.

    If you need any proof that getting developers to test their software according to real world test situations and actually fix bugs they find, look at your tech support requests. Realize that each bug multiplies into hundreds of problems. Not because the bug itself grows, but the number of people encountering it grows.

    As systems become more complex, so do their interactions. What works for a startup (e.g. monthly releases) only works while your software is simple, straightforward. Once it gets more than a basic set of features and starts to interact then everything goes up exponentially in the support department.

    I'm very glad that I don't do support anymore. I also think that I design better programs now as a result.
  • Story time (Score:5, Funny)

    by pergamon ( 4359 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:24PM (#6648693) Homepage
    Back in the day (you should be able to determine timeframe soon), I had to call Gateway 2000 tech support to get some information on our spiffy new 386/16. Now, they were pretty good when you finally got them on the phone, but until then one usually had to wait for at least 30 minutes. On one occasion, I ended up having to wait over an hour, which put me in a rather hostile mood. When the support person asked me what my problem was, I asked them to hang on for a second.

    I put them on hold, went downstairs, had dinner, watched some TV, and then finally moseyed back up stairs about half an hour later. To my great surprise, they were still sitting there on the line and we got my problem solved.

    Now of course I only made the situation worse, wasted other people's time, etc, and that's not something I'd do today after being in a tech support-like position myself and having friends who have had similar tech support roles.

    But damn it felt good to do it once, at least.
    • Re:Story time (Score:3, Interesting)

      by willith ( 218835 )
      I put them on hold, went downstairs, had dinner, watched some TV, and then finally moseyed back up stairs about half an hour later. To my great surprise, they were still sitting there on the line and we got my problem solved.

      I worked support for Gateway (actually for Convergys on the Gateway contract) near the end of 1997. We were judged, metric-wise, on the amount of time we spent logged in vs. the amount of time we spent on the phone. I would have loved to have taken a call like that--it would have re
    • That you proably made some tech support persons day.

      Most support houses have a very strict rule of no hanging up on the customers. (And yeah, paid my dues with SBC, AT&T, and a few other smaller ones.) So when you told the person to hang on they did just that. Meanwhile they didn't have to take any other calls during your time off and were free (Hopefully if they wern't in too bad of a call-center.) to surf the web or play some freecell.

      By the time you got back and had calmed down they were also we
  • by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:25PM (#6648714)
    Allow me to introduce you to EA Games. I'm sure you are familiar with the Sims, but let me tell you about this great RTS game: C&C Generals.

    Generals was rushed to market in one year, despite using a entirely new engine. The result? Well, it was released in February, and just 2 weeks ago a patch was released that finally made the game work through firewalls. Congratulations. Unfortunately, the have redefined "direct connect" to mean "lan play" so there is no way to "direct connect" over the internet. Meanwhile, every game ends in a disconnect as disconnecting prevents the loser from getting a loss on his record, there are 115+ pending bugs found by users, a map hack has been around for weeks and EA has never even mentioned doing anything about it, and in fact EA has abandoned their own forums and plans to delete all the posts shortly. Oh, and many of the features promissed do net exist, the ladder pack still does not exist (there is no ladder right now and multiple people can use the same username) and many people who preordered to get a special CD not only did not get the CD but got the game later than people like me who bought the game in a store, for less money, with the special CD (which turned out to be their website on a disc).

    In other news, an xpac for Generals will be out in a few weeks.

    115 bugs: oards/g en/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=025104
  • Welcome... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pebs ( 654334 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:36PM (#6648861) Homepage
    Welcome to the real world. Hate to break it to you, but this is how software is made. Many companies can't afford to test software for lengthy periods of time, and customers expect the product to be ready immediately, so of course they are going to get buggy software. If you are not paying extra for tech support, don't expect it to be good. Want good support? Pay large amounts of money for it.

    This is the way things are. Don't like it? Just try to find another source that does a better job. You probably won't.

    Its the old saying:
    1) Low-cost
    2) Quality
    3) Fast

    Pick 2.
  • "duh" (Score:4, Informative)

    by krray ( 605395 ) * on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:38PM (#6648886)
    "shortchange the customer in their speed to get the software to market"

    I thought Microsoft's motto was more like "GET THE SOFTWARE TO MARKET FAST!" written like it was done by programmers on speed. Sshh, they're not _supposed_ to know that Office has a 80% markup [suckers] and forget shortchanging them. We take bills. BIG BILLS. Many of them. Overcharge all you can, while you can [suckers].

    I mean, don't get me wrong. Heck, I first rolled out WFW 3.11 [happily mind you] @ the office and was rather finally forced to the 98se migration (it was either that or NT -- 98 had more apps). Windows 2000 "Professional" was some relief, but surely not much and not worth the cost/hassle/time to do so.

    Some equipment died and was mysteriously replaced with some Mac's. Productivity is amazing. I always bought custom built and fairly decent/mainstream hardware -- I've seen how long Dell's last and compared costs to performance, etc. My computers tend to _easily_ last 3-6 years. Sometimes 10 (!). Funny, but the cost of a Mac really is about the same for me (and sometimes CHEAPER)...

    Of course the core office servers are Netware, BSD, and of course Linux (FU SCO :). OS X is a serious consideration now too. Funny, but the *thought* of a Windows server turns my stomach. I've got too many geek friends that are damn fine admins -- and see the crap they go through.

    Funny, but I *STILL* remember having to pay the Microsoft tax years ago for Linux boxen that are, well, still running Linux. My only option to avoid it was to build my own PC's from the ground up for the company (?) There was a day I couldn't go through 99% of the mom & pop "Microsoft Certified" OEM's, HP, Gateway, who? They made it tough for me and my business.

    Funny, but I don't feel that way with the Powerbooks, iMac's, PowerMacs, and my original & favorite test/learning box -- my now brother's Cube [yeah, the cabling on the bottom was a dumb ass idea, but it *works*]. Sure, Apple could screw me -- I realize some felt shortchanged by one of the $129 OS updates (there's ANOTHER one coming... :). Whatever. Personally, I have not.

    Nor do I feel shafted by Redhat. Autodesk is pushing it a bit though. :)

    As for the bugs... rotflmao -- after administrating for all the various OS' -- well, Windows, by far, been the most problemactic of the group. Buy American like good 'ol Apple. Bill's got the pie ... [didn't know how to finish it? "hole" or "in the face"?]

    Consumer Reports: "duh"
  • by JayBlalock ( 635935 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:45PM (#6648958)
    I worked Road Runner tech support for two years. (cue the groans) Unless you got actually cursed out by a tech, chances are whatever they did, it was on orders. Our support boundaries were defined by what we COULD do, not what we couldn't. And we couldn't confirm an outage without it going through about three levels of high mucky-mucks, which could sometimes take more than an hour. So even if we, the techs, knew an entire city was out, we'd still be forced to drag you, the customer, through half an hour of fruitless troubleshooting. (and by forced, I do mean "or else we're risking termination") This was intentional, BTW. If the local engineers could fix the problem before RR officially announced there WAS a problem, no outage went on the record and their service performance looked better. So if a tech is being unreasonably beaurocratic or telling you he's not allowed to do something, he's almost certainly not making it up. Quit arguing with him, ask for his supervisor (POLITELY!), and hope you can complain your way up the chain of command.
  • by Cytlid ( 95255 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:49PM (#6649000)
    I must say, I'm in tech support, at least a good percentage of my job, but it's more Service Provider support, as in an ISP. I can imagine this being terribly different than software tech support (see my other comment in this article), but I can imagine my job being much easier. My secret is to treat the customer very decently, as I would a friend or relative, and make them come around to helping you. The unspoken words "I'm not going to fix this, we are" go a long way. A litte encouragement, explaination and nudge in the right direction is usually all it takes. They're only people, after all.

    On the other hand, there's some software I wouldn't want to support 100% all the time...
    (leaving that part up to your imagination)
  • LOL? (Score:3, Funny)

    by mraymer ( 516227 ) <mraymer@centuryte[ ]et ['l.n' in gap]> on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:52PM (#6649027) Homepage Journal
    AOL kiddie speak on the frontpage? OMG... WTF is /. coming to! I mean, uhh... wait... nevermind.
  • by realmolo ( 574068 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @03:55PM (#6649061)
    The very first line of the article: "Of the estimated 8 million computer users who seek technical support from software manufacturers every year, about a third never get the help they need, according to a survey in the latest issue of Consumer Reports magazine." Well, the question is, what kind of help do they think they *need* anyway? Do they "need" the Dell support guy making $7/hour to explain to them, in detail, how to make a Powerpoint presentation and use and MP3 of "Wind Beneath My Wings" as the soundtrack? Or do they "need" their local ISP's tech support to troubleshoot their broken printer, because they can't print a web page? You see, there is bad tech support, no doubt. But the real problem is that the VAST majority of users don't know what their problem is. They call the wrong people, ask the wrong questions, and flat-out lie.
  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @04:43PM (#6649618)

    That implies that problems found by the customers and complained about to product support personnel will be reported to some programming team that will fix them. That seems to rarely be the case. I know of many organizations that have near zero communication between product support and development and many more that even disband the development team when a version of software is complete and come up with another team if and when they decide to do another version.

    From a business perspective, especially in the case of small companies set up as a front to milk a single product (there are many examples of this), if people are buying your product and complaining about it, in many cases, you've already won. They bought the product. As long as you sell enough copies to recoup the development costs and your Indian product support service doesn't cost more than what you're pulling in, you're going to walk with a profit that you can use to build the next company. Some companies don't even seem to have to go that far. There are companies that seem to go on forever selling crap that makes Microsoft look mil spec for $10 a copy to uninformed consumers.

    So, what incentive does a company have to make software better? If they spend more time and money on it while some crap house builds market share and name recognition, they will lose the marketing game and their investment shirts.

  • by karlandtanya ( 601084 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:11PM (#6649974)
    I've requested and gotten tech support for many GPLed drivers, libraries, and apps.

    I do my research, make my good-faith effort to solve the issue, and then post to the mailing list or newsgroup. Drivers?--I've gotten test code and patches from developers. "Try it; if it works, it's in the next release." Apps? I've gotten many immediate and useful responses from other users, often there are several solutions to my problem.

    To be fair, I do pay for this. A little of my time, a little exercise of thought. And it's stuff I like to do! Paid no dollars, though. I get excellent support, the code does what I want it to do. Time to satisfactory solution is rarely more than a day when the problem is my ignorance. Time to satisfactory solution is rarely less than a week when there's actually a problem in drivers or code.

    And you can't beat the price.

    Commercial tech support? Different story. I bought a MS product once. Windows 98, for my work computer. Paid real money for it, too. Wouldn't install even though the machine was listed as Win98 compliant. MS admitted it should work. "Reformat your HDD" was not a deterrent; I had a spare. I made those fsckers stay on the phone and waste their time while I wasted my time working on that turd. MS spent 12 hours on the phone with me over about a week. They had no clue. They never solved the problem. I sent the machine back to the mfr, they installed Win98, and I ghosted the HDD.

  • Insider's acount (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iamatlas ( 597477 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:12PM (#6649987) Homepage
    I work for unamed company and provide support for digital imaging products- scan, copy, print, etc. High end large-iron type stuff. (I'm in the networking/software training/troubleshooting end)

    Service contracts are where they make their money, and promises of x-hour response time and qualified technicians are how a majority of the sales are made, and yet still the support often sucks, not enough techs, too many of those undertrained, overworked and undercompensated, and still it goes on- angry customers, long response times, unresolved issues... sad thing is, a lot of custromers come back to us because other companies are even worse.

  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:28PM (#6650161) Homepage
    "Oh yeah? Well, the quality of the customers isn't very good, either!" <SLAM!>
  • Support (Score:4, Informative)

    by Quill_28 ( 553921 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:28PM (#6650163) Journal
    Tech support sucks. You know why?

    Most consumers aren't willing to pay for it.
    It costly to the companies.
    It doesn't sell.

    If I started a company with great tech support I would never be able to compete(unless I found a niche market).

    Yes, here is my $250 sound card no better than the other guys $75 sound card but it comes with great tech support. Just not worth to most people.

    Now once you get into businesses and expensive hardware/software the support gets much better. You should also expect to at least $1000/year and usually much more than that.

  • 12 years (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday August 08, 2003 @05:45PM (#6650307) Homepage
    Over my long and illustrious career as a support rep, I've made a few observations. Are they valid for all cases throughout the industry? Perhaps. I make some generalizations which may or may not be accurate:

    Back in the OLD days, when I was working for a small startup software company, PRE dotcom, support reps who were talented generally were not programmers, but often you'd run into reps who had a wide skillset, and they were like magic. Some learned out of the position, to become field consultants, or programmers. Some were content to be the Hero - the firefighter. I was one of those.

    As my career progressed, I found myself flying to customer sites to troubleshoot issues that could not be easily done remotely. This was great for building long-term relationships with customers, and would garner less adversarial incidents, more cooperation, and enhanced sales. It truly worked like that. But the more time I spent on the road, the less technical I became. Without working directly with the product, and doing more "install and configuration work" instead of troubleshooting, I became dumb. I begged to be put back on the phones. I still travelled for a while though, because it was absolutely a crucial part of the equation of support at that level.
    Another thing we did right was, we shared proprietary information with the customer. We were honest and straightforward about bugs, and we fixed them.

    As my company matured, and was bought, and sold, and merged, my support team went from 6 people, to over 1000. Corporate politicking meant that the officers tried to reduce the role of the Jack of All Trades type engineer. Everybody had to have a well-defined job. Support reps could not travel. Field reps travelled all the time, billed their time, and worked for the Sales department. Bugs were an embarrassment. Bugfix releases were non existant, we had to bundle bugfixes with paid upgrades. REAL information was to be kept at a minimum. So were numbers of REAL talented support reps. They were phased out or replaced with large numbers of low-paid phone monkeys.

    The end result was - customers now would get thier calls answered quickly. But until they finally got to talk to that experienced backline guy, the problem would usually not get resolved. Unless it was one of the very common issues in the knowledgbase (which were the issues that got addressed in the updates) - and those were the issues the customers could have looked up on the web. Field reps, because they spent so little time focussing on any single product, and so little time in the lab, they generally had the same level of expertise that a customer who spent a half hour browsing the manual could get. Often this was the extent of their training anyway!

    Then there was the increasing attempt to charge for support in order to make support a profit center, not a cost center. In order to do this, they had to strictly measure performance, and built out this huge infrastructure to do so. The problem is, they had no clue what they were doing. They established quotas for phone reps which all but ensured that the customer would get a bad experience for their money. They built a new call tracking database, which was slow, buggy, and forced users to jump through hoops to record the necessary information. It was designed not to be a tool for techs to track calls and issues, but rather a tool to measure their performance and document their work. It was a liability, not an asset. In the end, though, even if most of use percieved the decline in customer service from our organization, the management managed to produce astounding numbers. I guess they must have attended the Enron school of business process.

    I found my job increasingly becoming the focus of customer criticism. They weren't criticising ME, they were criticising the whole process. I was ending up with a huge stack of other people's messes to clean up. I was the one who cleaned up the messes our incompetent field reps made. I was the one who so
  • They just needed to get tech support from me. My support doesn't suck; I'm the tech support MASTER! True, I might've been rude to them if they couldn't grasp computer basics. And I would be writing a perl script, reading slashdot and editing an XMMS playlist while helping them out with their problem. This might make me lose track of what their problem was part of the way through the call, but I would be able to get back on track by grumpily asking them to restate the problem. But at least their experience wouldn't suck...

If I were a grave-digger or even a hangman, there are some people I could work for with a great deal of enjoyment. -- Douglas Jerrold