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Techs Discover End Users Aren't So Bright 650

hkypipe writes "In response to a CNN story slamming tech support, a former tech fired back. He correctly points out that much of the trouble end users have with their PCs can be traced to their skillset, which in many if not most cases would make them more qualified to operate an Etch-A-Sketch." Not everyone who calls support is clueless though. How many of us have had to sit on hold for hours and reformat a hard drive as DOS just to convince the tech support lackey on the other end that a hard drive really is bad? The article also covers other factors like scripted support, and per-customer time limits, which can make for a poor tech support experience.
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Techs Discover End Users Aren't So Bright

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  • Dur (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:30AM (#6654248)
    Well I never! Here I was thinking people always read the manual, always took the time to understand what they were trying to do, always listened to instructions and never tried to do something stupid.

    Who'd have thought?!
    • Re:Dur (Score:5, Informative)

      by terradyn ( 242947 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:39AM (#6654623) Homepage
      If you like tech comedy this [techcomedy.com] site is hilarious. It's got audio and video clips as well as stories.
  • by 403Forbidden ( 610018 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:32AM (#6654258)
    From THIS??? [rinkworks.com]

    • by FuzzyBad-Mofo ( 184327 ) <fuzzybad@nospAM.gmail.com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:45AM (#6654328)

      That's a great site. I like this gem:

      * Customer: "I got this problem. You people sent me this install disk, and now my A: drive won't work."
      * Tech Support: "Your A drive won't work?"
      * Customer: "That's what I said. You sent me a bad disk, it got stuck in my drive, now it won't work at all."
      * Tech Support: "Did it not install properly? What kind of error messages did you get?"
      * Customer: "I didn't get any error message. The disk got stuck in the drive and wouldn't come out. So I got these pliers and tried to get it out. That didn't work either."
      * Tech Support: "You did what sir?"
      * Customer: "I got these pliers, and tried to get the disk out, but it wouldn't budge. I just ended up cracking the plastic stuff a bit."
      * Tech Support: "I don't understand sir, did you push the eject button?"
      * Customer: "No, so then I got a stick of butter and melted it and used a turkey baster and put the butter in the drive, around the disk, and that got it loose. Then I used the pliers and it came out fine. I can't believe you would send me a disk that was broke and defective."
      * Tech Support: "Let me get this clear. You put melted butter in your A: drive and used pliers to pull the disk out?"

      At this point, I put the call on the speaker phone and motioned at the other techs to listen in.

      * Tech Support: "Just so I am absolutely clear on this, can you repeat what you just said?"
      * Customer: "I said I put butter in my A: drive to get your crappy disk out, then I had to use pliers to pull it out."
      * Tech Support: "Did you push that little button that was sticking out when the disk was in the drive, you know, the thing called the disk eject button?"

      Silence.

      * Tech Support: "Sir?"
      * Customer: "Yes."
      * Tech Support: "Sir, did you push the eject button?"
      * Customer: "No, but you people are going to fix my computer, or I am going to sue you for breaking my computer?"
      * Tech Support: "Let me get this straight. You are going to sue our company because you put the disk in the A: drive, didn't follow the instructions we sent you, didn't actually seek professional advice, didn't consult your user's manual on how to use your computer properly, instead proceeding to pour butter into the drive and physically rip the disk out?"
      * Customer: "Ummmm."
      * Tech Support: "Do you really think you stand a chance, since we do record every call and have it on tape?"
      * Customer: (now rather humbled) "But you're supposed to help!"
      * Tech Support: "I am sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do for you. Have a nice day."
      • by CoolVibe ( 11466 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:48AM (#6654691) Journal
        Me: "Hello, helpdesk.
        user: "Yeah, hi. I can't seem to connect to the internet"
        Me: "Ah, right. What operating system are you running?"
        user: "Netscape"
        Me: "No, what version of Windows are you using?"
        user: "Uhhh... Hewlet Packard?"
        Me: "No, Right click on 'my computer', and select properties on the nice li'l menu"
        user: "Your computer? It's _MY_ computer!"
        Me: "No sir, I mean the little picture called 'my computer' on your desktop"
        user: "I don't see an icon called that on my desktop. I do see one called that on my screen."
        Me: "Right, just right click that, and choose Properties from the menu"
        user: "right-click?"
        Me: "Just a moment, Sir." *mutes phone* AAAAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!

        This went on for a while. Somewhere I just snapped and had him format his disk and call the manufacturer. As long as he _stayed_ ot of my hair.

        • by dissy ( 172727 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @11:54AM (#6655097)
          At an ISP I used to work for, after that customers first two lines, we were allowed to return:
          "I'm sorry sir, being an Internet Provider we are only authorized to provide technical support for your internet connection. It is outside of our scope to provide support for Windows or your Computer itself. I would suggest contacting [insert contact info for either the local computer hardware shop, or the local 'basic classes' at MicroCenter, depending on the problem.]"

          If they did not know what a desktop was or how to right click, we would out right tell them we will not explain how to use a computer, they need to learn that elsewhere or have someone else call who knows and can be in front of their computer, or they could bring the computer out to our offices if they desired.

          Only once or twice (out of hundreds upon hundreds) of times we did this did any customer get pissed off for us basically calling them stupid.
          And trust me, those arnt the type of people you want as a customer anyway, so your better off with them canceling and going to your competition to cost them man hours ;)

        • by edunbar93 ( 141167 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @01:52PM (#6655666)
          Your post shows the amount of experience you have. It's very low.

          Here's what I do:

          Me: Hello, helpdesk.
          user: I can't get on the internet.
          Me: Okay, what happens when you try to get on the internet?

          ###
          Notice I don't try to ask anything technical here, about anything the user probably doesn't know, like the operating system they use. My response gives much better results.
          ###

          user: Um, it gives me an error

          ###
          Responses vary. Sometimes they'll actually give me the error. If I wanted to know what the operating system was, I would know from the error. Like if they said "It says 'error 691'" I would know right away both that they're using windows, and that their password is wrong.
          ###

          Me: What does the error say? I'd need that information to find out the problem.

          ### again, no technical knowledge required.

          user: I don't have it in front of me right now, I closed that window.
          Me: Okay, can you try to connect to the internet right now, or do you have to hang up the phone first?
          user: I've got a second phone line. Lemme try this again.

          ###
          It's not always this way, but I want to be somewhat brief. If the user answers that he has to hang up first, then I tell him that he should write down any error message he gets and call us back. Sometimes this is where he reveals he has ADSL, which again, is very helpful.
          ###

          user: it says "The computer you are dialing is not answering" And I can hear a voice coming from the computer. Oh, it's starting to dial again.

          ###
          Here we see why we didn't get the error message earlier. Oftentimes, the user will leave the error message on the screen before calling us, because they know they'll need it.
          ###

          Me: Okay, click cancel, we don't need this window anymore. Can you see your "My Computer" icon?

          ###
          Notice I said "your 'my computer' icon" not "my computer." Microsoft has always irritated me with that little naming convention.
          ###

          user: No, I just see "This page cannot be displayed."
          Me: Okay, close this window. Umm, for that matter, close anything you have open right now.
          user: okay, all I can see now is my icons.
          Me: Okay, double-click on the My Computer icon, and then open Dial up networking.

          ###
          Two steps at a time, max. Even YOU couldn't follow instructions much more complex than that unless they were written down.
          ###

          user: Okay. Now I've got "Make new connection," and "Internet Foo"

          ###
          See, we've just established that the user has windows 95 or windows 98. If he had Me or XP, he wouldn't get this, and I would ask him what he *does* have in this window, and I could figure it out from there. At any rate, I now have the information in our database so we don't have to guess next time.
          ###
          Me: Okay, now right-click on the "Internet Foo" icon...
          user: right click?
          Me: click with the button on the right side of the mouse. It should pop up a menu.
          user: Okay, it says 'connect', blah blah blah
          Me: Alright, now click properties at the bottom.
          user: right click or left click?
          Me: Unless I say otherwise, I always mean left click.
          user: okay...
          Me: we should see the phone number here. More than likely, we've got the area code in the area code box. Windows will just assume you don't need to dial that unless you're dialling long distance. Just type '604' at the beginning of the phone number in the phone number box.

          ###
          Finish up the call, various troubles getting user to edit text snipped, close windows, haveaniceday.

          The user I just walked through here is pretty typical, although perhaps a bit on the slow side and certainly not clued when it comes to computers. You'll notice there's no yelling, no frustration on my part, and most of all, it's not that hard.

          I hope this helps.
          • This proves you are a good helpdesk tech, and I tip my hat to you. I am a system admin who occasionally gets called in for such duties (read: when nobody else is around, which doesn't happen often), and I admit I am better as a second or third line tech (because that's where the more clued in people end up with wholly different problems).

            Sure, I've could've handled that the way you decribed. But helldesking is not something I do often, or do gladly. But I do have great respect for my brothers in arms at t

    • by Woxbert ( 315027 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:56AM (#6654376) Homepage
      I always find it difficult to jump in the rink with other techies complaining about the naivity of users.

      If users suddenly started understanding the technology, 1/2 of the people on slashdot would be out of a job - and not just the clueless ones.

      People calling tech support lines have bought a product which is meant to do something. The fact that they can't work it out even when everything is working is the fault of a bad UI - not the users.

      When things are broken - tech support get paid to fix problems because people either can't do it or don't have the permissions to do it. For those working in tech support - stop whining as long as these people are providing your pay cheque.

      And yes, I'll just in with the obligatory "I used to work in front-end and network support". Users seemed to appreciate the fact I wasn't judging them for going snowboarding and clubbing instead of sitting at home learning how to use our products.
      • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:26AM (#6654533) Homepage
        For example, we have Dell servers where I work, that have RAID arrays. Sometimes a disk fails, so we grab our spare (we keep one spare for each type of RAID so that we can quickly rebuild in case of a failure) and pop it in, and it rebuilds and all is happy.

        Then comes the hard part; convincing Dell support to send us a replacement disk, under warranty. Even though their own hardware reported the disk was bad, and the spare disk formatted and rebuilt fine, they insist that we run diagnostics on the disk. Running them, of course, would require that we down a production server! I once spent a good deal of time explaining this simple concept of not being able to down a production server to verify a disk is bad, when we already know it is.

        Eventually we manage to convince them to give us an RMA and cross ship us a replacement disk, but not after a lot of hair-pulling and grinding. Speaking of grinding, sometimes we fib and tell them the disk was grinding to speed the process.

        Tech support people: Stop ASSUMING your customers are idiots. Especially system administrators at your customer sites. We know when a disk is bad!

        • You didn't just lie, and say "sure, we ran the test; it reports an error"?

          OTOH, and you'll see this more later in the thread, it's impossible for tech support to distinguish between idiots and clueful users. Experience has shown that most callers are indeed idiots, so that's a reasonable assumption. I've worked on both ends of the phone, and I can vouch for the reasonableness of that assumption.

          The best way to get better support, in my experience, is to have a support contract with a professional price tag--for instance, $1-2K. That line tends to be answered by better techs, and people that pay that amount for support usually know more about what they're doing--but not always. There's still the stupid admin in an otherwise competent admin center that will call the pro line and say stupid things.

          For instance--I work as a Mac Admin; I've worked with varying qualities of other Mac Admins. I worked with another Mac Tech once who called Apple Pro Support to complain that he couldn't cut-n-paste between classic and cocoa apps (a well known issue in the early X versions; since fixed, I believe.) The Apple Pro people, to their credit, explained that it was being "worked on" and my co-worker was satisfied that he had discovered and reported a previously unknown bug to Apple, who repaid him by alerting their development team.

          On another hand, I currently work with complex biomedical gear with attached computers; although I know much about the computers themselves, I know zilch about the bio gear. I actually don't know how to turn it on. I need to call tech support for the bio gear occasionally--on the aforementioned pro support hotline--and I'm sure that I sound just as stupid to them.
        • I run into that problem a lot with support departments.. keep in mind most system admin jobs can be had with a 2 week crash course in MCSE.

          I've had to walk "qualified system admins" step by step through reboots.

          And of course that person will think they know all and tell me how expert they are.

          The real problem is that clued in users are a minority when it comes to tech support callers so the entire system has ended up being designed by them.

          It is the job of first level tech support to weed out the idiots
        • by FueledByRamen ( 581784 ) * <sabretooth@gmail.com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @02:28PM (#6655843)
          OK, Here's what you do. I'm assuming your drives, being part of a hot-swappable array, have the 80-pin SCA connector on the back. Go on eBay and buy an 80pin to 68pin SCSI adapter (fairly cheap). Then, next time a drive dies, pull the dead one out, hook it up to that adapter, plug an old AT power supply into it, and fire up the drive (without a computer connected to it - just power). Call the RMA line. While on hold, bang the drive against the (wood - leaves no marks on drive) table until it _does_ grind. Then, when the techs ask you to run diagnostics, simply hold the phone up against the drive.

          I've gotten a few replacement drives that way, without having to run the goddamn diagnostic programs (which sometimes don't even see the drive as bad). If they still make you run the diags, at least you know that it'll fail!
      • Point of order (Score:3, Insightful)

        Half the users on /. are out of a job.
      • Far too general (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dmaxwell ( 43234 )
        People calling tech support lines have bought a product which is meant to do something. The fact that they can't work it out even when everything is working is the fault of a bad UI - not the users.

        There is a major point you're overlooking that even the best UI will never fix. Photoshop will not make someone who can't draw an artist. Cakewalk will not make a musician out of a tin ear. CAD/CAM software won't make instant engineers and DTP software does not create instant pro magazine publishers.

        Many us
      • by drayzel ( 626716 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @02:20PM (#6655810)
        AHMEN!

        I worked front line support for Microsoft Windows ME. The first 'live' call I had was from an ER doctor that specialized in trauma. The guy was a genius compared to 99.9999% of every tech in every company in the world. I spent 8 hours over 2 days removing the bunged up 98 -> ME install, restoring his 5+ years of medical notes, convention presentation, and 2GB+ Outlook data (that was a mess!).

        At the time MS and their outsourced tech flunkies (CONvergys)did not worry much about call time. It was 100% customer satification driven. A marathon call like that would be nonexistant in the current outsourced to India MS call center, I'm sure his hardrive would have been formatted and his data would be lost.

        We geeks sometimes forget that some people use computers as tool for their proffesion, rather than FIXING or building said tools as their profession. I'd much rather have an ER Doctor researching life saving techniques than investigating whether or not his hardware and software are compatible with some new toy operating system.

        There is NO excuse for the elitest bastard tech attitude that I am seeing in all these posts. God like tech skills mean crap if you can't get along with the caller. If the caller is ignorant on the inner workings of his computer, then you need to have the skills to help them fix their machine. If the caller is a fellow geek, you need to have the skills to extract the data you need in oder to fullfill your documention procedures without making them feel like an idiot.

        Sure you can feel all high and mighty when hanging up on guy that dumped butter in his floppy drive to remove a disk, OR you could walk the guy through the process of cleaning the system up, installing a new floppy drive and getting his system fixed, OR assit him in finding a reputable local repair shop in the area to fix it for him.

        ~Z
  • by BandwidthHog ( 257320 ) * <inactive.slashdo ... icallyenough.com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:33AM (#6654260) Homepage Journal
    My personal favorite is when the RoadRunner tech support drone refuses to believe that some computers don't need to be rebooted to change network settings. But no matter what you tell them, they refuse to put down their precious script and accept that maybe, just maybe, I'm not running windows.
    • If you had read the article you have clearly seen that tech support HAS to follow those scripts, even if he was perfectly versed in non-windows OSes.
    • Re:Please reboot. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by adamruck ( 638131 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:38AM (#6654282)
      its hard enough for them to support windows users and all of there troubles, looking from a buisness point of view why should they help linux users? If you are going to run linux and want support from isp, either just fake it and act like you are running windows, or understand that they probably dont have resources to help you.

      Although even when I do fake it and act like a windows user sometimes they still can be unhelpfull and on some occasions even rude.
    • Re:Please reboot. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by isorox ( 205688 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:44AM (#6654313) Homepage Journal
      I spent 5 minutes arguing with tech support that it made no difference I was running linux. I eventually told him I'd install windows.

      5 minutes later I rang back, and said I "found" windows on another hard drive. He then started asking me what my MAC address was, and how I could have another hard drive as the address I gave him was the address my laptop net card was (I spoofed it on the router). He then told me do run winipcfg, and I had to rack my brain to remember roughly what the window looked like. He was never convinced I was running windows, constantly accusing me of running an unsupported OS (even though the problem was between the modem and the headend), and doing anything not to send a modem-refresh signal thing down the line. (The guy I phoned up a couple of months before was fine, even knowing I ran linux).

      Suffice it to say, after about an hour, I finally got my refresh, and immediatly started looking up DSL providers in the area.
      • I worked 2 years as tech support for Road Runner.

        Often it's not that the techs don't want to help; they simply can't. There is a QA dept. that randomly monitors call. Sometimes the QA guy sits right besides you and evaluates your call. If you happen to support an unsupported product, you're in trouble (basically you fail your audit). The techs are doing their best really, but it's management that sets the rules and gets down on you if your stats aren't quite right.
    • by SiO2 ( 124860 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:50AM (#6654354) Homepage
      Exactly. I ran into this same scenario when I signed up for Road Runner. The exchange went something like this.

      Me: I would like to sign up for Road Runner.
      Tech Biscuit: Fine, sir. What operating system are you running?
      Me: Mac OS X.
      Tech Biscuit: And what version of Windows is that?
      Me: It's not Windows.
      Tech Biscuit: What version of Windows?
      Me: It's not Windows. It's OS X.
      Tech Biscuit: You're not running Windows? How can you not be running Windows?
      Me: Look, just schedule a fucking lackey to come out and install the splitter. I'll do the rest myself.

    • by suwain_2 ( 260792 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:59AM (#6654395) Journal
      Heh, that's when you blatantly lie. "Okay, hang on, lemme reboot." Put the phone down for a minute, grab a drink, and come back. :)
    • Re:Please reboot. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wmansir ( 566746 )
      The reason they wanted you to reboot was most likely to get you off the phone.

      I worked phone support for a few months and the #1 concern (by far) of the support provider (especially when the are contracted third parties, which most are) is talk times. Most supervisors would rather have an incompetent, fast tech who NEVER FIXES ANYTHING than a slower tech who fixes the problem and makes the customer happy. They would PREFER a customer call back 5+ times with 5 minute calls, half of which do nothing or repea
    • Re:Please reboot. (Score:3, Informative)

      by dissy ( 172727 )
      > But no matter what you tell them, they refuse to put down their precious script
      > and accept that maybe, just maybe, I'm not running windows

      In most locations atleast (My city for sure) road runner specifically states they only support Windows and nothing else.

      They say you can USE any OS, but they only SUPPORT windows.

      If that was the case, it is your fault for calling them.
      Its like calling ford to ask a question about your chevy, knowing ford has nothing to do with chevys but assuming because they

  • Our users would not seem so stupid if we had better software. A lot of software is particularly bad.

  • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) * on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:36AM (#6654265)
    In other news, it was discovered that everyone looks like an idiot when they require the services of a domain expert. What's next, neurosurgeons complaining that patients don't know as much as them? Of course end users don't know much about tech - that's what they're paying support workers for! Just like drivers pay auto mechanics, and anyone who has a bathroom pays a plumber.

    Just because someone doesn't happen to have some specialized piece of knowledge you have, that doesn't make them "not so bright". I know plenty of PhDs who are extremely competent in their fields, which aren't computing, who need to call helpdesks from time to time. You see, and this will sound harsh to a Slashbot, most people have better things to do than learn the minutae of their PCs.

    Most of the people who call for help don't even know what operating system they're using -- even though they've spent their money buying the machine.

    How many drivers know what OS runs their engine control computer? Even tho' they spent their money buying the machine. You see, techies are into operating systems are care a lot about them. End users care about getting their jobs done, and the computer is just a tool. One version of Windows looks a lot like another - can you tell the difference between '95, '98 and ME with just a glance? You can? Can you tell the difference between Red Hat, Debian and SuSE at a glance? You think so? I didn't tell you they're all in console mode at a $ prompt.

    Tech support needs to stop thinking of end users as the enemy and start thinking of them as what they really are, its bread and butter.
    • True, not many care what OS drives their engine control computer. However, when they can't figure out how to turn the windshield wipers on, that's no longer the manufacturer's fault.
      • I have to disagree. If the auto manufacturers decide to add a new foot switch that you have to step on while pressing the horn in order to enable the wipers, it's not MY fault.

        The other thing that people need to remember about computer systems, is that unlike a lot of mechanical systems, there's not physical analogue to support your understanding of the concepts. It's all built on metaphors (desk top, fle cabinet, etc.) and both the customers understanding of the metaphor and the implementation can be a
    • by InsaneCreator ( 209742 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:45AM (#6654327)
      Tech support needs to stop thinking of end users as the enemy and start thinking of them as what they really are, its bread and butter.

      True. Supporting end users has a lot in common with eating a lot of butter - both lead to heart attack.
    • by Frater 219 ( 1455 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:47AM (#6654335) Journal
      What's next, neurosurgeons complaining that patients don't know as much as them? Of course end users don't know much about tech - that's what they're paying support workers for! Just like drivers pay auto mechanics, and anyone who has a bathroom pays a plumber.

      Let's not confuse the roles of a repairman and an instructor, both of which can come into play in technical support. The repairman is paid to come in, fix something, and leave. You don't care how the Roto-Rooter guy cleans out your pipes, or what goes into the tar-paper the roofer uses to repair your leaking roof. However, when you call technical support and ask how to do something, you are not asking for repair -- you're asking for instruction. You are asking to be taught: perhaps only to be taught a specific, limited task (like defragging your hard drive, or getting your cable modem to sync) -- but this is still very different from asking for repair.

      Repair doesn't involve your understanding or acceptance -- just get out of the way and let the repairman do his job. However, teaching doesn't work that way. In order to learn, you must be receptive -- willing to learn. You must already know the prerequisites to whatever it is you're being taught. And you must not willfully resist instruction -- as by being impatient, calling your teacher rude names, or demeaning the subject at hand: "I don't need to know what a hard drive is, I'm not some kind of nerd. Just tell me what to do to maaake it goooo!"

      Think about the question you are asking the tech-support guy. Whenever that question begins with "How do I ... ?" you are asking to be taught. Make sure that you are ready to be a good student.

    • by spinkham ( 56603 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:09AM (#6654452)
      Forget detailed questions about the car's internal workings, having worked in the automotive serive industry I know that people often don't even know the year, make, and model of their car...
      People just usually don't spend to much time worrying about such things, in general. Though those in the industry may know about some major change that happened in x year on y car, most people don't care as long as their car is working.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:13AM (#6654475) Homepage
      In other news, it was discovered that everyone looks like an idiot when they require the services of a domain expert. What's next, neurosurgeons complaining that patients don't know as much as them? Of course end users don't know much about tech - that's what they're paying support workers for!

      Trust me, neurosurgeons would complain to hell and back if they were asked to instruct the patient on how to do the surgery themselves over the phone, and if they had to foresee any possible complication that could arise and keep asking for the feedback they need to see all is in order, and to foresee any mistake that could possibly be made and instruct them on how to avoid it.

      I've been there myself, a friend had his windows install go bad with a missing *required* DLL file, don't ask me how it happened. Tech support shipped him the "restore" disks and asked him to reset it back to the original state.

      I copied in the one DLL from the Windows CD, and everything was just fine. Why? Because I was on-site, and could assess the situation myself, try a possible solution, and review the results. Over the phone, I couldn't have done any better either.

      Kjella
    • by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @11:13AM (#6654874) Homepage Journal
      Hold on there, cowboy.

      I worked tech support for a couple of years and you are way off base.

      First, let me say there are a lot of lousy techs out there. No excuse.

      But given that the tech is on his game, let me address some of the things you've said.


      How many drivers know what OS runs their engine control computer?


      The opening script was "Thank you for calling Dell, my name is Peter, may I have your service tag number please."

      This was undersandably confusing. If they didn't know the tag I'd say "It is a five character alpha-numeric code on a white, bar-coded sticker on the back of the computer." I'd often get a 12 digit code from the back of the monitor. Counting is a grade-school skill. If you don't know the difference between 5 and 12 you don't need a computer, you need special ed. Of course it was usually the guy who introduced himself as "Dr. Soandso." So the problem was HE WASN'T LISTENING. Furthermore, a monitor and a computer are two different things. I'd say this is like being confused by tricky technical terms like "hood" and "trunk." I can just see some guy calling GM and responding to questions about the engine (which has been established as being under the "hood" with frustration from the owner: "There's no engine in here, just a tire!"

      Once we established the service tag number I would confirm by saying "Okay, that's a XX" (Dimension XPS R450 or something). I would get seriously bent out of shape when the reply was "I don't know." Okay, it is written on the front of the computer. It is on the invoice. It is the thing they bought. It is NOT like knowing about he OS in a car, it is like knowing the model of the car. It's right there on the trunk lid. You bought the thing for Christ's sake.

      In terms of the OS itself, it is printed right on the screen every time you hit the start button. For the love of god, help me to help you.

      My bigger point, however, is about:


      everyone looks like an idiot when they require the services of a domain expert


      I had NO problem with customers who didn't know squat about their computers. I had a very nice call with a lady whose initial problem was that she wasn't sure which way the floppy went in the drive. Once I told her "Metal rectangle first, metal circle down." she was good. As it happens she got a POST memory error during the call. I talked her through re-seating a DIMM. It resolved the problem. Of course, she didn't know what the hell a DIMM was, but we were both patient and she LISTENED.

      She was certainly ignorant, but she was no idiot.

      OTOH, I was forever getting calls from guys (as often as not MCSEs) who were trying to re-install NT 4. (I worked in the server group at this point.) It said no disks were found on the system, so they wanted replacements. I would patiently explain that NT said there were no disks if it didn't have a native driver, that this was normal. I'd explain that help re-installing the OS is normally billable after the first 30 days, but since they were concerned about their hardware, and Dell is such a nice company, and I'm personally such a nice guy, I'd help them get the reinstall going.

      "No, I want a tech out here with (as often as not 4) new disks."

      "As I said, this message is expected on a functioning system. Since nothing out of the ordinary is happening I can't send hardware. But even if I did it wouldn't help. Let me help you make a driver disk, and I'll walk you through up to the partitioning portion of the install."

      "No, I need new disks."

      This is where the stress came into the job.

      I don't think neurosurgeons have to put up with:

      "Sir, you have a small tumor in your frontal lobe, we'll have to remove it."

      "No, I want you to place a titanium stent in my medulla oblongata. Just do it, damn it. I read a book once and the customer is always right!"

      -Peter
  • Glass houses (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sanity ( 1431 ) * on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:38AM (#6654279) Homepage Journal
    The number of times it has been clear that the person providing me tech support has no real understanding of what they are doing is amazing. They make me follow steps that are totally unnecessary, and that I have told them are unnecessary. Often, the only way to make any progress is to get bumped up to second level support, or even third level.

    Before tech support people rant about the lack of knowledge of their users, remember that it isn't the user's job to be an expert in use of the software or hardware - but it is their job, and it is one they often fail at.

    • People will rant both ways as to whether this is a problem with users or tech support. Both sides can trot out horror stories (with varying degrees of entertainment level) and stupid fill-in-the-blank jokes.

      I think the main problem is expectation management. Users occasionally encounter the tech support person who is everything that they could hope for - within 5 minutes, they've figured out that the hard drive cable was plugged in upside-down, and they're back in business thanks to Harold Sharpstuff. Howe

  • Even better (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I work for a computer science department at a well known university and our Chairmen doesn't know anything about computers. Numerous times we have to go to his office and show him how to do things such as find the size of a folder in windows. Ever since I graduated high school I vowed to never do tech support again, but here I am (along with my coworkers) helping the chairman (that makes 10 times what we do) operate his computer.
  • It's really quite simple.

    There is no common base of knowledge between the two individuals, and therefore no common basis for communication.

    Until the education level is equalized for both ends (and I doubt this means the tech needs to learn less), this barrier will continue to exist.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    although, i do work for a mac only shop, ...

    the people are really bad, when i switched from doing face to face support to phones, i realised people are alot more daring, and quicker to snap, or scream when there on the phone. it's like there less inhibited when there's that barrier between you.

    the big problem is that less and less people do the research and read the manuals (and read me's) and more and more, just want instant answers and walk throughs. they don't want to learn how to fish, aka learn the b
  • Personal Favorite (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gregarican ( 694358 )
    I recall doing independent consulting awhile back and visiting a client who for some reason would experience data loss on a constant basis. Things would be corrupted to the point of having to totally rebuild all datafiles on the server.

    After going over things with them on the phone I decided to drop by and see for myself. Back then hard drives (even in RAID arrays) weren't awfully reliable compared to nowadays. So I prepared myself for the standard fare.

    When I got there I saw that the bookkeeper had pla

  • Amen! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Chicane-UK ( 455253 ) <chicane-uk.ntlworld@com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:43AM (#6654307) Homepage
    Yep.. end users seem to be getting worse IMO.

    There is no excuse not to be learning how to use a computer in this day and age, yet the majority of support calls I get are for people with most basic problems.

    "Oh, my start menu has moved up to the top of the screen! No, I never did anything to it, it just went by itself!"

    "Everything in my Inbox has vanished! No I never pressed delete! I think I know how to use the email thankyou!!" - "Funny, but our records show that it was you who deleted the email.."

    And so on.. most end users think tech support guys just came down with the last shower, and think they can lie about how they have just broken the machine.

    Can be frustrating sometimes :-|

  • Get a clue (Score:2, Funny)

    by cybercuzco ( 100904 )
    Delivering Clue to Users [cashncarrion.co.uk] An o'reilly book never written
  • Support Anomalies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Khomar ( 529552 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:43AM (#6654309) Journal

    I do a little bit of support in addition to my primary duties as a developer (so I can keep in touch with the customers and their requests/etc). We have commercial products that we sell, but we also have a limited, free service accessible from our web page to serve as a demo of the product. I find it interesting that the customers that call in who have purchased our products are generally friendly and respectful. The customers that call in about the free service are almost always rude and demanding. They ask for more features and complain about the limitations. Sometimes you just want to tell them: IT'S A ~FREE~ SERVICE!!! You can always buy our products.

    That aside, I have also noticed a serious lack of knowledge in many customers, some of whom are the only "IT" person in the company (I put IT in quotes since their knowledge expressed during the support bring this claim into serious question). I find it really sad how many people I have to walk through the basics (saving a CSV file in Excel, for example) especially when these are people who are supposed to know what they are doing (IT, programmers). Sometimes the web developers are the worst. I have run into so many who know how to use Dreamweaver, but they have no concept of how to actually modify an HTML page by hand. (Another example of where learning the basics before learning the fancy tools is vital... please keep calculators out of schools until at least High School... but I digress...) It is so refreshing when you find someone who actually seems to know what they are doing!

  • by trs998 ( 696344 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:44AM (#6654314) Homepage Journal
    i'm a tech, and I have to treat the customers as dumb, otherwise I find us getting out of synch, or assume the customer knows what an icon is or something.
    The problem being if you treat a user as intelligent, they'll catch you out by not bothering to tell you about something i would regard as blindingly obvious.

    For example:
    I was talking to a user who was trying to set up one of our mail accounts. When i tried to talk him through outlook expres setup, he irately pointed out that he'd be and engineer for 5 years and knew what he was doing. He tried to tell me that there was a problem with his mail account, despite the fact that I logged int it fine.
    It turns out he'd broken his DNS somehow, and my standard debug procedure, had he acted like a dumb user would have been far faster....
    can you send mail? no?
    can you see our web page? no? your problem.

    wahey, a early post!
    • by jackb_guppy ( 204733 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:33AM (#6654575)
      But at issue was not the HOW you treated him, but the WHY.

      I have done tech support for over 20 years becuase of all the roles I have had in creating software. By the time I normal;y got the problem, it was VP yelling.

      You have to start off controling the customer experance but explaining HOW you are going to determine what is wrong, and appligise for putting the person through the experence. This in almost every case (I have not had problem) calms all down and gets the process done quickly.

      One old piece of equipment, its reset button required the user the hold it and count to five. We could not get a user over the phone to do that. So instead we requested that the bring the power cord back to phone to help determine the model. Of course the cord was a standard "PC" style of cord we use today. But that trick allowed the machine to fully reboot. After words we explained why did have them do it. And they all laughed and UNDERSTOOD why we did it. It made both sides have fun. What we liked was some of these guys we did this too, started to use the same methods with their internal people for the same reasons.

      The better stories though, were telling them to disconnect the equipment and drop it on the floor... We had a few arguements about breaking the equipment, and we pointed out that IT WAS FULLY WARRENTED, that was why you called us in the first place... You called because it was broken, and if dropping it does not fix it, we would still be sending them a new box. So what is the problem?

      Box was a single flat board with a heavy metal backing - dust built up on it over years of use, dropping knocked the dust loose.

  • Screw Tech Support (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Asprin ( 545477 ) <<gsarnold> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:44AM (#6654321) Homepage Journal

    Back when I started consulting in the late 80's, I could pick up a telephone and call an 800 number and usually talk to a REAL LIVE ENGINEER (in many cases, the guys and gals that actually designed the software or hardware in question) because a lot of companies rotated through their engineers through the tech support department as part of their dudies. Nowadays, they get way too large a volume of calls for that to be prectical.

    Most of the time, I don't even bother calling tech support anymore becuase it's not worth my time unless I have a specific question. I wish I had an ID card I could swipe on my phone that would ID me as compenent to stand trial by direct-escalation-to-third-level-support.

    Odds are, if I'm bothering to call, it's not a loose plug.
  • I am currently using Comcast cable internet, formally ATT&T internet....formally @home.

    We have outtages in our area from time to time, not as bad as it used to be, but they do pop up. Every time I try to call the 800 number to tell them an outtage is in the area, I get the same canned response.

    They always say, "sir, we can't see your computer, are you hooked up to a router"?

    I say "well, yes, but that's not the point. The connection is out in this area...I'm just reporting it to you as you don't have it on your outtage board."

    "I'm sorry, we don't support routers, please plug your computer directly into you cable modem."

    At this point, I'm getting a little irritated..."no, I'm not, I'm reporting a outtage...there is NOTHING wrong with my equipment. Nothing has changed on my settings. I'm not going to sit here, re-route my cables and change settings just so you can finally know there is an outtage in my area. Trust me, the problem is on your end."

    "Sir, I can't help you unless you follow my directions".

    Ok, so the first time through this, I go with everything they tell me, and finally after 45 minutes of trying everything under the sun short of putting all my computer parts in a paper bag, going out on my lawn, waving it over my head and screaming like a chicken...they finally figure out that it's a problem on their end.

    Now I don't even mess with it, I call them up when an outtage happens, and get all my neighbors that are out to call them also. I cut them off right away, and tell them they'll be getting 5 other calls from the neighborhood telling them the same thing and hang up.
    • Explain that your "router" is a hardware firewall and that if any worms, viruses, etc. infect your computer their company will be held entirely liable. Make sure you get their name. Make them spell it.

      If that fails, just pretend you're doing what he asks. Your average tech can't tell the difference between a direct connection and a DMZed router to begin with.
    • Every once in a while, though, they're right. Three years ago, I was having intermittent problems with my cable modem.

      Call up tech support. One of the things she asks: "is the modem plugged into a surge supressor?"
      Me: "of course."
      Tech:"Unplug, and plug directly in wall."
      Me (dripping in sarcasm) "Oh, I'm sure that's the problem."
      So, to humor her, I move a bunch of furniture (disconnecting the phone in the process). Low and behold, the sumbitch is fixed.

      Now, previously I'd been rebooting by unplugging the a
      • by wfberg ( 24378 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:05AM (#6654434)
        Every once in a while, though, they're right. Three years ago, I was having intermittent problems with my cable modem.

        Call up tech support. One of the things she asks: "is the modem plugged into a surge supressor?"
        Me: "of course."
        Tech:"Unplug, and plug directly in wall."
        Me (dripping in sarcasm) "Oh, I'm sure that's the problem."
        So, to humor her, I move a bunch of furniture (disconnecting the phone in the process). Low and behold, the sumbitch is fixed.

        Now, previously I'd been rebooting by unplugging the adaptor from the back of the modem, so it wasn't a simple power cycle. Can anyone explain why this fixed it, or did she just get lucky?


        1) simple surge surpressors are single use and when they do encounter a surge they're supposed to burn straight through, maybe a semi-surge semi-burnt it out?
        or, most likely,
        2) when you told her you actually went to do it, she quickly fixed the problem at her end, so as to mystify you, so you would NEVER doubt tech support ever again LART LART LART!
    • Noooo siree.

      I work technical support for a large ISP that provides high speed access through both DSL and cable services. Do you have ANY idea how many calls I get every day from people whose equipment isn't the problem, the problem is on our end? Very literally, 1 in a THOUSAND of these callers is right. Thus, if you are that 1 customer, you're going to be treated initially as the 999 who are NOT right.

      When we go down in an area, most of our call queues light up like it's Christmas, regardless of time of
  • I kind of laughed with my co-workers at the topic when I saw It..
    OK.. maybe I put the customer on hold and told the guy next to me, but while this is somewhat true....

    From a more serious standpoint, some tech's exagerate the inabilities of users, and tend to be not as patient as they could be.

    So, Joe Smoe forgot to plug his power cord in? Well why not just have him plug it in and see if he can connect? Why make a big deal?

    There are a ton of similar issues which seem to be downplayed as stupid thi
  • Over night, one of my hard disks had developed about 10,000 bad sectors. I called Gateway support.

    "Sir, do you know how many sectors are on that hard disk?"

    "500,000 or so," I said. This was 1994, and it was a 1G disk.

    "So you've got a lot of GOOD sectors left, right?"

    Uh . . . BWING! Head hurts! Owwww!

    After an additional 20 minutes of idiocy, they finally decided to replace the disk under warranty. After which, I decided the best course of action if I ever had to call back with the same (or similar)
    • by AntiOrganic ( 650691 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:58AM (#6654389) Homepage
      I presume this is the same Gateway support that told my dad's friend to run fdisk when he was having trouble connecting to AOL.
    • I had a problem with the "techs" at Best Buy a few years ago. I was in 6th grade, and didnt know much about computers at the time. Me and my dad decided to add a new hard drive, upgrade the ram, and put in a 56k modem (upgrade from 14.4) in our family computer, an HP Pavilion pentium 100 system. Anyway, we started with the RAM and hard drive, figuring once we got htat working we would tackle the modem. We followed directions exactly, got everything hooked up, booted the computer, it detected the RAM, but wi
  • T'is true. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dark Lord Seth ( 584963 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:49AM (#6654349) Journal

    Most computer users are utterly and completely retarded concerning anything related to computers. They know that the power buttons turns on the damn thing, that clicking twice on OE or MS Word starts a program and that Steven McGregor likes to send funny mails with .exe files attached. Even the most basic questions about computers to these people will be answered with a "Huh?".

    Now, comparing it to a car is a good thing, though one should remember that one should not known the complete design of the engine to be able to drive a car. There are two other things that are more important; being able to properly handle the car AND being able to conform to a set of rules and regulations set up to protect you and others from yourself. The thing is, knowledge of these rules are enforced (or at least around here) and violating them will cost you money. But the difference between a car and a computer, damage wise, is the fact you can kill someone with a car accident. No one gets hurt if you run "anna kournikova.jpg.vbs".

    Eventually, the worst problems will solve themselves; the most error prone people are those who haven't grown up with computers. Kids nowadays grown up with computers all around, so it's going to be easier to solve stuff later on as the general population slowly becomes more tech-savvy. Still, a few good regulations regarding the teaching about computer usage might be nice, especially in the modern world where nearly anything is somehow related to computers. Teach kids the basics, some more advanced things later on, like basic component knowledge (what's an HD, what's a CD/DVD-ROM, what's a processor, how to recognize them, etc) and explanation into the use of various office applications and what to do and what not to do with them. (to prevent people from writing essays in powerpoint and making a database in excel while recording financial data in a word document)

    • I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by debest ( 471937 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @11:31AM (#6654968)
      Kids nowadays grown up with computers all around, so it's going to be easier to solve stuff later on as the general population slowly becomes more tech-savvy.

      Are they really more savvy, or just accostomed to executing a different set of tasks than the previous generation? As computers get more complex over time, is your average computer user today really equipped to handle learning the new tech?

      I might actually propose that the opposite may be the case. As computers become more "appliance-like" for average users, all the scary configuration stuff will be even more mysterious to an average user than they are today.

      Look at the history. It used to be that computers were very difficult to use: you had to be a qualified expert to use one. Typically, if you were dedicated enough to learn to use the thing, you also learned enough along the way to be able to fix it as well, or at least be helpful to someone supporting him/her. Today, the average user uses Windows, which is somewhat easy enough for non-savvy people to use, but the expectation is there that things will break and they will have to change some stuff around to "make it work" again. In the future, I would wager that the average user will be completely incapable of (or not permitted to) making any changes to a computer's workings.

      The analogy is, once again, the automobile. Early on, old timers refused to have anything to do with cars, and if they tried they'd fail, while the early adopters had a steep learing curve on how to drive and maintain the car. Later (30's-40's), anyone who owned a car had a neighbour who was an expert on maintaining it, while the rest relied on just learning to drive. Now, it is very rare indeed that you can find anyone outside of the "customer service" ranks (a garage) who has any inkling on what to do if something breaks, or for that matter on what some of the technology under the hood is doing in the first place!
  • Am I the only one who's wondering why this 400 word blurb made it to CNN.com? Not only is there little to no information supporting his point (albeit valid), it's also completely uninteresting. Good thing I'm not in charge there, otherwise I would fire the person who let that slip by so hard, he'd be picking up his unemployment check with a pair of tongs gently held between his lips.
  • Weak fire back (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrWa ( 144753 )
    Instead of a smart rebuttle, he basically said "people are stupid and management is to blame for tech support not being able to solve your problem." Does that seem productive to anyone else?

    Working on the front lines and dealing with end-users or customers is not something new that tech support people had to invent. Instead of - once again - placing all the blame elsewhere (users, management, poorly written and tested software, etc.) this could have been a good chance to look and say "Yes. We could deal

  • Adelphia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suwain_2 ( 260792 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:56AM (#6654378) Journal
    My cable ISP, Adelphia, possibly has the worst tech support ever.

    I've called before, and literally said "I'm losing packets past the third hop, [router name] in Albany. I have a link, I just can't get out onto the backbone."

    She had me reboot my modem. Unsurprisgly, still didn't work. Then she wanted my IP to try to ping. After what seemed like a few hours, she concluded "Hmm... I can't get to you." Really?

    Better yet, my dad somehow ended up having to explain how to the tech how she used ping.

    (I'm not mentioning the 30 minute wait times, the horrible on-hold music that cuts out, or that ads for phone service that play while you're calling to report that your cable modem's down -- rather a bad time to try to sell me stuff... And the ads interrupt each other if you wait long enough, too.)
  • Wow. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jellybob ( 597204 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:58AM (#6654384) Journal
    Someone noticed.

    It does annoy me though when people who are meant to know what they're doing don't, and continue not to know what they're doing. I work at computer training centre as the Sysadmin, which comes with support for the clients from "you've got your mouse upside down" (try saying that to someone without lauging), to "WTF? How did you manage to start a recalibration of the smart board, it's not even plugged into the machine." and the clients will learn.

    The staff (the ones meant to do the teaching) don't - two or three times a week I'll show one member of staff how to do something, and everytime I have to explain that a menu is the bit at the top of the window (which is what the program is in). The first couple of times I thought they just needed some time to let it sink in. I'm bored of explaining it now, they simply aren't listening to me, and I have better things to do with my time than walk them through Windows 101. Such as getting the Exchange server back online again.
  • Missing the Point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @09:58AM (#6654385) Homepage Journal
    In the majority of applications the guy who answers the phone on the support line isn't paid to be bright, and management will view his being so as a problem and not an asset. His job is to move the 90% or so people with common problems through the queue as quickly as possible. In most cases he is not allowed to deviate off the beaten path. If the problem can't be solved in under 10 minutes, schedule a call-back from higher level techs and get on with the people with frequently asked questions.

    The helpdesk is a great place to pick up a little experience before moving somewhere else, but it's the burger flipping job of the IT world. Most people don't stay on the lines for long and you really don't want to talk to the ones who have made a career out of it.

    Despite the fact that these positions are the lowest-paid in the industry, they seem to be the ones that are also most frequently "best shored" to other countries. That's because the company doesn't really care what happens to you after you buy their product. If they could get away with no support line at all, they'd do that. If they "best shore" developers, they might not be able to get all of the shiny features that make you buy the product in the first place. See how it works?

  • by mental_telepathy ( 564156 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:02AM (#6654409)
    "How many of us have had to sit on hold for hours and reformat a hard drive as DOS just to convince the tech support lackey on the other end that a hard drive really is bad?"

    I work in tech support. I actually don't mind helping old people learn to use computers, because I am fortunate enough to work without a time limit. Most people are friendly if you are patient and don't talk down to them.

    Know what is 100 times more annoying than the computer illiterate? Computer experts. That's right, slashdot readers are the bane of my existence.

    That fact that you can write software/build a network from paperclips and phone line/replace a hard drive does not mean you haven't forgotten your password. I have talked to hundreds of computer geniuses who wanted to go "Off script" only to realize that their password was l33thax0r3, not l33thax0r4. How about you just take two seconds and clear your browser cache instead of giveing me your resume?

    Web designers are worse. Apparently, being a web designer means you don't have to read the most basic instructions on any website. If you can't login with your eyes closed, then they could have done a much better job with the site.

    Keep in mind, no matter how many times you TELL me what a smart guy you are, I have no way of telling if you really know how to diagnose a bad hard drive, or if you're one of the many people who thinks "surge protector turned off" and "bad hard drive are the same thing. Save some time and answer a few simple questions.

    Of course, if you really are the the genius you would have me beleive, do us both a favor and don't call. I'm sure you'll get it figured out.

    • Of course, if you really are the the genius you would have me beleive, do us both a favor and don't call. I'm sure you'll get it figured out.

      Bullshit. Not every call to tech support is the result of a screwup on the user end. For example, I have made probably 10 calls (total) to my various broadband ISPs (AT&T, SBC, etc.) over the past 3 years; in each case, THEIR network was broken, not mine. I am highly competent in the area of networking, and can maintain a reliable network on my end. If my ISP
  • Smart Users (Score:3, Insightful)

    by suwain_2 ( 260792 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:03AM (#6654415) Journal
    I think ISPs should keep a record. When I tell them exactly what's wrong, and turn out to be right, they should put a star next to my name or something, designating that I have a clue. Until you've experienced it, you don't know how irritating it is to have to reconfigure your network so you're not behind a firewall/router just so they can see you were right in the first place.

    There are some people who definitely need to be asked routine questions, but I'd be unbelievably happy if they'd pick up the phone and see, "Hey, this guy must know what he's talking about" and believe me when I tell them what router on their network is down.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:04AM (#6654418)
    He correctly points out that much of the trouble end users have with their PCs can be traced to their skillset

    Ding ding, thank you! And why is that? Because companies just expect people to know how to use computers. So, every time someone's printer "doesn't print", does the user stop and think/look around/check anything? No. They pick up the phone and pester IT.

    Users a)get set in certain ways and become highly resistant to change because they are too lazy to try and learn, and b)don't know how to do anything except type in their login password in the morning, reply to emails, etc.

    If only companies would sit their employees down for honest-to-go "here is how to use ____" training, productivity would be so much better(because they'd be able to take advantage of all the features their software offers, and they'd know how to handle little bumps in the road), and IT departments would get more infrastructure work done, instead of constantly answering "my printer won't print because it's out of paper" problems.

    Oh, and did I mention that in internet/sofware/etc companies, you should be given a basic computer skills proficiency test?

  • by ellem ( 147712 ) * <ellem52@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:04AM (#6654421) Homepage Journal
    I have turned off The computer several times and every time I turn it back on it says "You may safely turn off your computer"

    "What does it say next to the power button?"

    "NEC MultiSync"
  • End Users Stupid? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by futuresheep ( 531366 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:13AM (#6654470) Journal
    A few years back I had the VP of a department call because his laptop suddenly shut down. I went to look and found that the power supply wasn't plugged in. He turned red, looked at em and said "I should have known better". I replied by telling him not to worry about it, as long as he did his job of keeping the company running, I'd do mine of making sure his laptop worked.

    Point is, end users aren't stupid, they simply have other things they do, and what we find intuitive, they may not. It's tech supports job to help them, and make them feel better about it when you walk off into the sunset.
  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:16AM (#6654485) Homepage
    Years ago, I had a Sun Enterprise 150 as my "home box" -- it's basically an Ultra-1 with a bunch of disk; looks a lot like an E450.

    Anyhow, my cable modem stopped working one day. So, I called tech support, and told them. Long story short, I was a student at the time, and since the University had a deal with Cogeco, they felt obligated to at least not tell me to fuck off because I wasn't running Windows... but they weren't much help, either. After consulting with his boss, my telephone lacky got back to me -- "I'm sorry sir; Suns don't work on the internet".

    I felt like reaching right through my phone and choking the living daylights out of him!

    It turns out the local cable installer had put a one-way filter on line.

    Assholes.
  • by Neil Watson ( 60859 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:17AM (#6654497) Homepage

    I have been a network administrator for over five years. It has been said that administration is hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer panic. Through the highs and lows of this existence, there is one constant: answering user requests.

    Help Me Help You

    Accounting for a large part of my day, users requests can be both rewarding and frustrating. Users, I know your computer can infuriate you at times. I feel for you. I want to help you. I want you to learn how the computer can make your day-to-day work easier. Unfortunately, I cannot help you unless you are willing to help yourselves.

    By far, the most valuable commodity in the business world is time. You want your computer to save you time. As I sit at your desk, I tell you, "Outlook would run much better for you if you would delete all your unwanted mail. Your pst file is too large."

    "I don't have time to read them all, and I may need one later. I have to keep them all, just in case."

    You tell me that you cannot afford to spend time performing preventive maintenance on your computer. Instead, you spend time waiting for me to repair your computer.

    Let me put it to you this way:

    You will spend a finite amount of time each month either maintaining your computer or waiting for me to repair it.

    Many think I'm ranting, and tend to ignore me. Ask other computer support personnel. They will tell you the same thing. I want to help you. I can show you how to prevent many problems from occurring. Heed me, and I guarantee you will have more time to do your work.

    Information is at least as valuable as time, for without information, how will you know how to spend your time? Information is as important to me as it is to you. Too often, my inbox is filled with vague support requests with little or no information. Because of them, I have to waste your time asking you for the information I need. I have to ask you to repeat your problem and write down the error. Give me all the information in the first request. Tell me exactly what you would like to accomplish. Often, your goal is more important than the steps you have followed. Given your goal, I may be able to show you how to cut steps and save time in ways you would have never imagined. Regularly, I supply you with information. I write FAQs and HowTos on the company support site. I send email offering advice to those who may need it.

    "My disk is full, and now Windows has stopped working," you say.

    "Did you read the section on the support site about keeping your computer running smoothly?" I ask. "There is a section at the end about keeping empty space on your hard drive."

    "No," is the usual reply, in my experience.

    Read the documents I provide for you, I beg you. If you had read them and followed my advice, quite often you would not have had to contact me in the first place. You would not have had to waste your time. I do not wish to hide knowledge from you. I will tell you all that I know. Just ask!

    I know I seem harsh and borderline abusive. I do not wish to be. Indeed, some of you are a joy to work for. Yes, I meant work for. Part of my job is to work for you. Some of you come to me and ask questions. You question why things on your computer seem so difficult. Sometimes, I'm able to show you a better way. You smile with joy. Your work day is suddenly easier. Those are the times I enjoy my job the most. When I see you take to heart and fully embrace my advice, that is the most rewarding part of my day. Thank you.

    I know your jobs are busy. I know spare time is hard to find, but that computer on your desk is expensive. You owe it to yourself to learn how and why it works, in order to get a good return on your investment. Do not make learning about your computer a side project. Make it part of your everyday duties. To the best of my abilities, I swear I will give you the knowledge you need. You will be happier in the end. I promise.

  • by Kong99 ( 618393 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:19AM (#6654500)
    I had the unpleasant experience of managing an internal tech support group for a company with 9 locations and 250+ computers, 800+ handheld computers (sales force), 20 servers. I did so under protest and only did it for 3 months. If you have never done tech support then you have no idea what it is like. It is all of the following: boring, stressful, frustrating, infuriating, inconvenient, unrewarding, thankless. On many days when the phone rang all I wanted to do was throw it out the window, during this time I would sometimes disconnect the phone at home and would not talk on it at night unless forced too. The sound of the phone ringing became synonymous with an unhappy employee complaining.

    I would say at least 50% of the calls and problems were user error, this is probably higher but this was 10 years ago so I am not sure. The real joy was trying to troubleshoot what the person did, this was made even more exciting by doing it over the phone (now click on the Icon that looks like a Computer, long pause... where?, try the top left corner, under breath (Moron)) AND the user not being honest about what they did to screw it up! I do remember thinking how much time I could save if the user would just fess up to what they did.

    There is no reason why any sane/intelligent person would work in support for any length of time. It is the worst IT job and surely competing for worst job period. Therefore what is the typical support person going to be like? I'll let you figure that one out.

    Scripts are used to deal with dumb customers and dumb tech employees. I hate 'em, I understand why they use them but it drives me nuts.

    I think the typical Slashdot reader is frustrated with support because we usually know more about the problem, and software than the tech support person we talk too! This is frustrating! It is also frustrating when you can only understand about 50% of what the support person is saying, I will not identify any ethnicity but I think many people know what I am talking about. I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to say, "listen I know what the hell I am doing can you put someone on the phone who knows what the hell they are doing too!". I call support as my last option, and when I do I expect the person to not understand or care.

    When I did tech support it was always a pleasure to deal with an intelligent user, being intelligent myself it was usually a quick or easy process to help. Dealing with average users was difficult and dumb users was simply an exercise in frustration. I can only imagine what a dumb user, dumb tech interchange must be like... oh yea...

    Paradise!

    • Here's one idea that could help:

      If you are a novice computer user, press 1.
      If you have been using computers for several years, press 2.
      If you know more about computers than 95% of the population, press 3.

      Then your screen-pop will show you the experience level of the user so you know how to deal with them. Then you can decide to ask "is the properties file read-protected" vs. "Move the mouse to the My Computer icon and click the left button twice really fast..." Less frustration for both of you.
  • by fruity1983 ( 561851 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:21AM (#6654508)
    I was working for RMh Teleservices a while back (doing TS for MSN IA), and the problem is both stupid customers and stupid techs. Some techs come into the place computer illiterate. You can tell: they are bad with their mouse, they have to search for notepad, they type slow.

    Then, they get put through a joke of a two week tech class, where they learn scripted responses to scripted problems, based on ideal computer systems.

    We have support bounds. I cant count how many time the problem could have been fixed by me redoing the Windows XP user tiles. But no, that is out of my support bounds. Or how many times it could have been fixed by removing tens of extra protocols from their network stack, but I cant do that.

    And, we are on a time limit. They want you to have calls no longer than 15 minutes (they get paid by MS per call). If we are going to go over, we are encouraged to tell users it is a hardware problem, and have them phone their OEM. I didn't follow this rule too well, my average talktime for a day was usually 30 minutes or so.

    Users are stupid too. They dont know how to reset, type, the difference between the space bar and typing "s p a c e". They ask what IPs are, why I cant come to their house, if DNS is some word I made up to confuse them, why they are fixing the TCPIP stack (if they want to try it again later, by themselves), why AOL works so much better, if I am from Canada, how they hate getting East Indian techs, why the last person made it worse. The list of stupid things they ask, and wont let you avoid telling them so you can get on fixing their problem is long enough to double the length of this comments page.

    There's no way to fix it short of requiring people to pass a course before buying a computer, and ten courses before being aloowed to be tech support for on.
  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:23AM (#6654521) Journal
    There is no requirement for users to know a great amount about how their computer works. It is not their JOB, it is not what they get PAID for! Their computer is usually a tool, and they need to know enough about it to do their work--period.

    Tech support are PAID to know how to fix things with the computer when they go wrong. It is their JOB, and if they don't like it, then they can leave, rather than blame the end user. Yeah, we all roll our eyes about being called out to turn off someone's caps lock key (same person two days in a row), but can I do the company accounting? No. Can I do the geophysical mapping/modelling for oil development? No.

    So to the author of the rebuttal: don't blame the users for not knowing stuff they don't HAVE to know. Just do your job.
  • ISP tech support (Score:3, Informative)

    by golgotha007 ( 62687 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:26AM (#6654534)
    the best advice i can give when calling tech support is not to act/point out/pretend to be smarter than the tech. when you do, it immediately puts them into a defensive mode and they may not want to solve your problem in the easiest fashion.

    regardless if you know exactly what the problem is (misconfigured router, etc), telling the tech will not convince him/her to act on your diagnosis. at all.

    i remember being able to call Pacbell Internet (SBC) and say, "hey, this router is misconfigured.. what engineer handles that particular router?"
    a minute later i would hear... "ya, this is dave, what's up?"
    usually after telling him the problem, they would be like, "wow, thanks for pointing out this problem. i'll take care of it right away."

    never, ever tell your ISP tech you're running linux. if they run you thru some script to look at your Network Neighborhood settings or whatever, fake it.

    i have also discovered that if you're talking with a female tech, talk a little slower and sweeter and they will help you at all costs, or even better, direct you to someone that really knows their stuff.
  • by joel8x ( 324102 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:28AM (#6654547) Homepage
    I work for a large technical services company in the USA, and a large part of our internal phone support is in India. The difference in service is blaringly apparent when you spend half of the phone call overcoming communication issues. Its also more obvious when you are connected to an offshore tech that they're reading a script.

    Also, I've witnessed how the management gages service in many a meeting, and its ALL ABOUT NUMBERS. While lately customer satisfaction has come up, they have no way to acurately judge it. They think if a call ends in under 10 minutes that its representative of a customer being satisfied. I work in deskside services and we are the only group that faces the costomer in person. I can tell you that people say a lot when they have a living body in front of them, and while management is patting themselves on the back for reaching their number goals and reducing costs, the customer is looking for a way out of their contract!

  • by GordoSlasher ( 243738 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:29AM (#6654548)
    Once upon a time if you owned a computer you were a programmer. Want to balance your checkbook? Write the code yourself. Everybody was an expert. Everybody did their own tech support.

    Today computers are mass-market products. Most computer owners cannot be expected to know how to troubleshoot their computer, just as most car owners do not know how to troubleshoot their car. Mom can't rebuild her car's engine, why would you expect her to fix a broken software configuration?

    The mass-market computer industry has failed to setup an appropriate tech support structure. Microsoft tries to weasle their way around it at http://www.microsoft.com/security/home/ [microsoft.com] by saying "Cars need maintenance from time to time, and so do computers. Use these tools and tips to help keep your computer running smoothly."

    OK, Microsoft, so you're telling me I need to maintain my computer just like I maintain my car. True story: I bought a new car last year. I've been faithfully taking it to the dealer for an oil change every 3000 miles. A few months ago it started having acceleration problems. I took it to the dealer, and they fixed it for me under warranty in 1.5 hours. I waited in the service lobby drinking free coffee. Cost me nothing but the inconvenience. It's worked perfectly ever since.

    Let's say I bought a new computer last year. I've been faithfully applying the almost-weekly XP security updates. A few months ago it started launching programs slowly. The dealer I bought it from won't help, tells me to call the manufacturer. This isn't covered by any kind of warranty. The manufacturer tech support wants me to reinstall everything which will lose all my customized settings, maybe some data, and isn't guaranteed to fix the problem. Microsoft has me spend countless hours of my own time troubleshooting the startup programs through emails. This takes several days of trying things and exchanging emails with a low-level Microsoft tech support person who's copy/pasting from a script. If it does happen to isolate the problem to a particular program I installed, all they helped me do was to isolate the problem. What's the fix? Don't install that program!

    Yep, that's a great comparision you make, Microsoft. Maintain my computer just like I maintain my car. I spend lots of time and do all the work, and you don't even help me fix the problem in your operating system! If my car service were like that, I guess I wouldn't be able to accelerate anymore because it's incompatible with my last oil change or something.

    This is not a jab only at Microsoft. The entire industry gets an F.
  • by Jack William Bell ( 84469 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:30AM (#6654555) Homepage Journal
    Go here [slashdot.org]. Follow links. Watch video. Laugh your ass off.
  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:52AM (#6654727) Homepage Journal

    I work at a computer store, and we offer free tech support to our customers. We've got a half dozen techs in the back doing computer repairs and system buiilds, and the front desk transfers the support calls to us randomly. We don't have a hard-set time limit, but we try to keep support calls to five minutes for random people that call, although we are ok with spending more time with someone that bought the computer from us. Today I got a call from someone having some random problem with their system, and I knew immediately it was going to be an interesting call when I asked what model of computer she had and she answered "ViewSoniq".

    The next several minutes of the call were spent explaining what the basic parts of her system were. (she was also calling the computer "the hard drive") This was not a stupid person, just someone that hadn't learned what things were, what each of them were for, and what their names were. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to know the difference between a computer, a hard drive, and a monitor to effectively compose a spreadsheet - but it does make receiving effective tech support tricky...

    Probably the biggest barrier to effective tech support for us is when the customer's telephone and computer are not in the same room. Waiting sometimes several minutes between asking them a question and getting an answer (or having to have them make several trips back and forth to get the answer) can be frustrating to the tech.

    On the other end of the problem, cable modem companies are the worst for tech support. One lesson we all eventually learn, never ever ever tell them you're using a "cable router" to break out connections for multiple computers - this throws the drone into "whatever it is, you caused the problem, we don't support it, and we're not going to help you fix it" mode.

    Favorite phonecall to cable modem company tech support: "Hello, my service is down." "ok, have you tried resetting your modem?" "Yep. didn't help, it's not synching up. By the way, there's a blackout in this part of town." "Um... but sir.... your computer..." "Is on a UPS. It's doing fine." "Oh. But the cable modem-" "Is also on the UPS. Both are running just fine." "Oh....(long pause)" "Is your system fully protected by UPS's?" "Of course our servers are all protected, but the distribution system on the poles probably isn't." "So will I be receiving a credit for this service failure?" There was some more discussion after that, but what we finally agreed on is I was probably one of the only customers in the blackout area that was actually experiencing a tangible "service failure" because I was one of the only ones still able to use their service which was down. That month's service was free. :)
  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @10:52AM (#6654733) Homepage
    Telocity tech: OK, what version of Windows are you running?
    Me: I'm not running Windows.
    Telocity: OK, click the Start button.
    Me: I'm not running Windows.
    Telocity: Ok, then try right clicking "Internet Explorer" then going to properties.
    Me: I'm not running Windows.

    Situations are reversed:

    Me: OK, click on the Start button.
    User: OK
    Me: Now go the "Run" menu.
    User: OK
    Me: When the box comes up, please type in cmd -- see emm dee.
    (Long story short -- the User's "way ahead" of me and has typed in "command" -- which works differently that "cmd" on Win2K. None of the tools will work properly, things will act differently. Took another five minutes to diagnose this because the user couldn't follow directions).
  • by TheNumberSix ( 580081 ) <NumberSix@simpli ... EL.com_minusfood> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @11:05AM (#6654818)
    I work for a hotel chain. We are entirely a resort hotel company, the people staying at our facilities are people on vacation.

    Customer service is a big, giant issue for us. We aren't going to hassle our vacationers with grief over losing their room key while they had a drunken walk down the beach. We aren't going to berate someone for being so stupid as to allow their kids to ride the elevators just for fun while unsupervised.

    The company exists to support these folks, make them happy and make them want to come back to us again and again. Some of them are clueless, some of them are mean, some of them are thieves. Then again, most of them are nice folks.

    At the end of the day they have a choice on if they want to stay with us or not.

    IT support departments have the luxury of having a captive audience. However in a business like ours, we work very hard to spread a customer focused culture throughout the organization.

    If you can imagine what it's like to be an immigrant housekeeper working for a bit over minimum wage and having to do manual labor to clean up after folks who earn vast sums more than you and act like you don't exist, and do your job with a smile, then you can see that maybe working at the IT help desk isn't the most difficult thing in the company, talking people through how to get Word to print in landscape or something equally as silly.

    The IT folks that I work with are fantastic, and just like the housekeepers, and the front desk staff, and the food & beverage folks, they realize that they too have customers to serve and the purpose of our company isn't to support the IT staff, to buy many l33t Sun boxen or to provide a rationale for a data center, it's to serve customers. And as far as we go in my firm, there's no difference between an internal and external customer.

    I'm in the training department for my company. Mostly I develop multimedia CBTs to train reservation agents and front desk staff on how to use their systems. So my PC isn't the standard MS Office/Outlook setup. I have all kinds of weird multimedia programs and development tools that sometimes don't play nice together. Needless to say, I have to get IT help from time to time. (Even as a power user, some installs don't run and so on. Plus we have a training room with multimedia laptops set up as a CBT learning lab and the dongles break, the laptops are old and lousy and require lots of help since they get constant use and abuse.) When I told an IT staffer that I hate to submit lots of tickets he jumped up and down and got mad. "You should submit as many tickets as you need! We have some people that routinely put in 15 tickets every day! The more tickets I can close the more justification I have for IT staff and those are people's jobs! If you need something to get your job done or the laptops aren't working right or whatever it is, don't even hesitate to call us. If i catch you not submitting tickets, I will beat you up."

    All I could think was "Wow!" Here is an IT help desk guy that has a customer focus, which is what the whole damn company is about!

    So maybe the end users aren't so bright sometimes, or they don't know what OS they are using. Look on the upside. If they don't know what OS they have, it will be easier to transition them to Linux.
  • by evildead ( 150474 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @11:22AM (#6654926)
    To be fair, there are multiple problems here:

    1) The users -- they range from completely helpless with computers to grand masters, and there isn't a system yet by which helpdesk can sort them out quickly. This is compounded by people who think that just because they can install a new mouse, they're expert level and expect to be treated so.

    2) Tech support personnel -- Ummm, putting this gently, tech support is a stepping stone on the career path. Support personnel either rise out of it to developers, admins, etc; sink below it to cashier at the fast food joint; or find a new job. It's a big hole in the company into which you shovel people. So, you may get a good tech support person, who eventually might be a very good developer or sysadmin; or you might get a loser whose next job will be reading "this end towards burger" in his training manual.

    3) The companies. They're half the reason tech support is a big hole in the company, into which you shovel people. They see it as a giant cost center, and continously attempt to minimize it by hiring cheaply and getting rid of more expensive people. Eventually, they're at the bottom of the barrell, and in order to use their front line people, they create scripts for them to use before escalating them to 2nd tier. Which annoys the end users and annoys the tech support personnel. Then the companies decide on ticket quotas or time limits, in which the tech's job is dependant on how many tickets they close, not how well -- which annoys customers and tech support, further contributing to the problem.

    I've had hororible experiences, including one company that insisted I reinstall windows 98 on their laptop, as obviously I was too clueless to install win2k and linux -- because the onboard mouse had died! (I called back after downloading their diagnostic utils and gave them the error output)

    I've also had tolerable experiences, where the tech asked a basic question, and I responded with "no, I did not try $VENDOR diag utility, but I did do $X, $Y and $Z, which if the device was working, should have given me $A, $B and $C. Instead I got $SOS". One notable one, the tech shouted over the cube wall "Anyone know what ping and tcpdump are?" and a reply came back "The router's broken".
  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @11:47AM (#6655059) Homepage Journal
    There are three types of people calling tech support:
    1. Users who are clueless and know they are clueless.
    2. Users who are clueful and know they are clueful.
    3. Users who are clueless but think they are clueful.

    Group 1 users aren't too bad - they can usually be handled with the troubleshooting script. They will generally do what you tell them to do (within the limits of their understanding of your instructions). As long as you treat them reasonably well they will treat you reasonably well.

    Group 2 users are a bit worse simply because their problems are NOT going to be handled by the script - if they were they wouldn't be calling you. However, once you identify them as being in group 2, you can "kick it up a notch" and use "the big words" to quickly find the problem (assuming the problem can quickly be found). However, the problem arises if they user is in Group 2 and the tech support person your standard Tier-1 meatware text-to-speech unit - the user will want to skip over the script (because he's already run it) and that leaves the meatpuppet floundering.

    The group that causes the problems for ALL of us is group 3 - the luser who thinks he is a tech:god. Look at this guy from the tech support person's perspective:

    • He won't follow the script.
    • He wants to "be transferred to somebody who knows what the fuck he is talking about"

    In other words, to the tech support person Group 3 looks just like Group 2.

    If a Tier-1 person passes one of these jokers on to Tier-2, when it comes out that the moron didn't have something plugged in (as step 4 of the script checks), the Tier-1 guy gets dinged for it. Now, if you were the Tier-1 guy, would you be really willing to transfer somebody like this to Tier-2?

    Of course, these Group 3's make it harder for us Group 2's to get anything done. So how do we Group 2's work around this?

    1. Establish a relationship with your tech support:
      If you have a tech support group you need to work with on a regular basis, try to get to know them by name, and be known to them by name. IF you prove to the Tier-2 guys that you really are Group 2, they MAY give you a direct number to them. Example: I have just such a relationship with my ISP - they know that when I call them and say "router 3 is down", they need to fix it, not ask me to reboot Windows.

      However, this is not always an option - if the organization is large, or you contact them infrequently you won't be able to do this, so:
    2. Start out like a Group 1 user.
      Let Mr. Tier-1 drive the conversation. Play dumb. If he says to reboot Windows and you are running Linux, just say "OK, give me a minute" and lie. Follow his script. Remember, Group 2 and Group 3 look alike to him, so the only way to not be taken for a Group 3 blowhard is to look like a Group 1.

      Accept the fact that you are going to have to run the rat's maze of Tier-1 support, take a deep breath, and get over it. Eventually, when you hit the end of the script you will be transferred to a Tier-2 support, and can start to "use the big words".
    3. When you make it to Tier-2, don't suddenly act like a Group 2 - remember, that will just make them think you are a Group 3. Instead, slowly ramp your way up:

      Them: "Did you reboot your modem?"
      You: "Yes, I rebooted the modem, and tried to ping the gateway, and got no response."
      That way, the guy on the other end slowly comes to the realization that you actually know what you are doing, and are NOT simply trying to impress him.

    Yes, this is time consuming, even time wasting. But in the long run you are more likely to get your problem fixed this way then by coming across all arrogant.

    Final story: I've been on both sides of the phone - I frequently have to do Tier-3 type support on my projects (and sometimes Tier-1, before I cracked the whip over the service manager and told him in no uncertain terms that I would NOT accept his people dropping calls on me cold

  • Users Lie (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cyranoVR ( 518628 ) <cyranoVR AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday August 09, 2003 @12:11PM (#6655208) Homepage Journal
    What about the fact that users lie? I have had many many cases where a user calling in would not tell me what they had done to crash their computer / download the file / whatever.

    Me: What were you doing when it crashed
    Usr: Nothing, I was just typing a letter and it crashed.
    [after I go to the user's desk on a different floor]
    Me: ok, I it looks like there is a "printing..." box up. So you were trying to print?
    Usr: No, it just crashed, why won't you get me a new computer!!!!

    OR

    Usr: I can't download the file into excel
    Me: Ok, what do you see on your screen
    Usr: What does that matter I want to download my statement!
    Me: You see the underlined words that say "download file."
    Usr: [immediately]Yeah sure.
    Me: Click that
    Usr: [slience]
    Me: Well?
    Usr: NOTHING HAPPENED!
    Me: Ok, you didn't see a box pop up that said "save as"?
    Usr: There isn't anything that says "download file!"
    Me: You just said clicked it, right?
    Usr: Look, just help me download my statement ok?
    Me: Ok, can you scroll down?
    Usr: Ok i found it.
    Me: Um ok click "download"
    Usr: [immediately]I did. Nothing happened!
    Me: Uh you have to wait for the file to download.
    Usr: Ok I clicked it. It says "downloading"
    Me: Ok good
    Usr: But excel's not opening! Look, ok, I just want to get this done. Give me your manager.

    (Sidenote: customer's account manager confirmed later that this is a "problem" customer - i.e. stupidity is not a factor here).

    Arg.
  • by furry_marmot ( 515771 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @12:48PM (#6655382) Homepage
    I worked in tech support at a couple of companies in the late 80's and early 90's and I sort of consulted to tech support in the company I was working for until I got laid almost two years ago (workin' now, though). Over time, I developed a theory about at least one of the roots of "computer illiteracy," besides the obvious bit about never using one before. I've come across plenty of seemingly intelligent people who were just out of their element. And they knew it, too. Some examples, as much for fun as to illustrate my point:

    Me: Please put the disk in the drive and close the door.
    Him: Okay, wait a minute. (sound of walking and a door closing) Okay, the door is closed.

    I got a letter from a customer which explains that another tech had asked her to send a copy of her data disk so we could fix it. Enclosed was a photocopy of said disk.

    I got a letter from another customer. Enclosed was a floppy disk with "Bad Disk" scrawled over the label. The handwritten letter explained that he was furious because this was the third disk that he had received that had bad sectors on it. The paper on which the letter was written was a printout of chkdsk, which had clearly been run on his 20MB hard drive. After showing everyone, I wrote back and explained that his floppy was fine. Then I sent him back Bad Disk.

    The longest call I ever took was from a guy who could run his programs, could back them up, could see his data in the list in his backup program, but couldn't find the data on his disk. I had him cd here and cd there, all to no avail. I finally caught on to his use of the phrase "I installed the program to my DOS" and had him look in his C:\DOS directory. Sure enough, he had installed all his software in the same folder.

    So, my theory is that proficient use of a computer requires not only seeing what's in front of you, but also maintaining a model in your head of what's going on. In all these cases, the person misunderstood something fundamental about what they thought they were trying to do and consequently could not work out a correct sequence of actions.

    I'm sure most slashdotters would recognize the experience of "seeing where you're going" (a folder, a dialog box, a menu in an application) before your fingers make it happen. If you are generally proficient with your tools, you probably are really irked by the experience of, for example, navigating up and down the menus of a new program (or an MS-Office upgrade where the menu items have been pointlessly shuffled); and you feel like you're getting somewhere with your new app/tool/whatever when you start memorizing the keystrokes to get where you're going, and you no longer actually read the menus most of the time.

    This is where I think most "technically illiterate" people differ. They don't have that model, don't really think that way, and can't understand it if you try to explain it to them. For instance, my dad used to insist he couldn't use a computer because he didn't learn the New Math in school. He simply would not hear differently until his company made him use a browser to access his reports; he changed his tune pretty quickly, after that. :-) But if he hadn't been forced, he never would have made what seems a pretty simple leap to most of us. Whether it's biological or cultural, some people don't "get it" at a deeper level than I think is generally realized.

  • by skinfitz ( 564041 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @01:04PM (#6655455) Journal
    The majority of people are just plain stupid. Fair comment that people should not have to be computer experts to operate a computer. I have no idea how my car's engine works but do I really need to if I can drive the thing? Similarly you should not have to possess expert knowledge to write a letter in Word.

    I've done my time working tech support, and I have some personal favorites.

    First there was the person who filled in an order for a new telephone, had it approved and delivered and fitted then complained to the Helpdesk that their voicemail was still full.

    I've had someone who didn't know their own name.

    One of our departments called complaining that their phones were broken. We asked what made them think that they were broken and we were told "because they hadn't received any calls." (Nobody had called them and they didn't think to test by calling themselves).

    My current all time favourite however has to be this caller who commented on the call queue music -

    Luser: "Ohh that sounded like I was listening to Barry White then - but I can't have been can I?"

    Tech: "Why's that?"

    Luser:"Because he's dead."



    It wasn't even Barry White - it was Thin Lizzy.
  • by StarTux ( 230379 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @01:21PM (#6655530) Journal
    Here is three facts from my time doing Tech Supp.

    1. Most companies have a time limit per customer, which varies between 5 and 20 minutes. Time is money to the company and also aginst other customers who are waiting.

    2. Management is generally poor and these are the ones who try to make sure that each agent follows "the script", unfortunately if you know the answer and give it you can actually be penalised for doing so. Not all managers/supervisers are techs!

    3. Your mileage will vary. Even within companies you're going to get quite a varience with regards to tech quality. Rule here is that if you're not happy, call back until you are.

    Never doing tech support ever again, just too repetitive and boring :).
  • A Bit of a Rant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jefu ( 53450 ) on Saturday August 09, 2003 @05:13PM (#6656572) Homepage Journal
    I'm a college professor (or profess to be) and I agree with some of the posters here that at least some of the problems stem from users who are computer illiterate - often even though they spend much of their time (at work, school, home) working with computers.

    Often enough they're considered "literate" if not even "power users". Why? Because someplace along the road they learned how to use MS Word or Excel.

    To complicate things, they're usually considered computer "literate" by someone - completely on the basis of having once put together a tiny spreadsheet in Excel and changed a font or two in Word.

    To me this is literacy in the small - about fourth grade level in literacy-as-reading terms.

    The analogy is always made with cars. Many people drive and drive well - but they are often said to be "car illiterate" because they don'tunderstand the internal combustion engine and can not adjust a cars timing with a yardstick and an alarm clock. So, the argument then goes, why should anyone need to know anything more about computing?

    I find this analogy unpersuasive. Think about it - almost everyone who drives is "driving literate" in some sense. They know the basics of how to drive a car (not entirely simple) and how a car works (enough anyway to know that you need to put gas in it and change the oil ) and usually things like how to change tires. They also know the basic mechanics/physics of driving, the general rules of the road, basic road etiquette, how to read a map (well, mostly) and so on. "Driving literacy" is really pretty complicated. A good driver who's had some years of driving experience in a variety of conditions knows a whole lot. (Admittedly, much of this is not usually taught - Driver's Ed notwithstanding.)

    But even so, a car is a pretty simple device compared to a computer. Cars do one basic thing - carry their contents from one place to another (serious reductionism here!). Computers are complex and very flexible in comparison to cars. Most computers can run software that does many different (and sometimes very different) kinds of things (think Word vs Excel vs Blender vs Mozilla vs Big Complicated Game).

    So, counting someone as "computer literate" because they can turn on a windows machine and use a specific version of word (or whatever) just doesn't work for me.

    Computer literacy for me is much more. I'm not sure what I'd consider computer literate, but at a minimum it would involve :

    • knowing a basic approach for learning new software
    • understand how to start to diagnose relatively simple problems -- that is, instead of calling the help desk immediately, at least look through help, search web sites if the web is accessible, get error numbers, try a couple of different things
    • have some kind of basic model about how files work
    • understand that the whole world is not insert os name here
    • understand some simple email etiquette (don't send huge binary attachments if text will do, don't just quote a whole mail message at the bottom of your message, don't automatically forward the latest collection of light bulb jokes)
    • understand that things do need verifying and debugging (spreadsheets often have errors - but the people who write them don't usually even think about checking/debugging them)
    • and a few more things....

    The most important parts for me are the meta knowledge. Not knowing how to change a font, but knowing how to approach finding the information about how to change a font. This can not be taught simply by teaching a couple simple applications.

    I've proposed "computer literacy" requirements in a couple of different universities that would at least go a step or two beyond MS Word (even if not to the meta-knowledge I mentioned above) and the bulk of the faculty have responded predictably. Most common is the attitude of "We dont know that. Our students don't need to.", next is "But why? All anyone ever needs to know

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