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Where Did Your Tech-Support Call Go?

I want to stay on the subject of tech support today. Everybody likes to complain about it, and with good reason. You call for help--with your computer, your cell-phone service, your plane ticket--and you get into the same-old-same-old of hold music, useless suggestions from a script and an unwillingness to do anything out of the ordinary to solve your problem.

Many of these complaints now also involve the word "outsourcing." It's not just that you're talking to somebody who's uninformed and unhelpful, it's also that American English might not be their native language.

I've had readers tell me that they'll pay more to do business with a company that hasn't farmed out its tech support to some other country--although there can be a whiff of xenophobia to some of these gripes about talking to a foreigner. Conversely, the companies doing this outsourcing invite suspicion when they tell their phone reps to make up new names and fib about their location. (On a Labor Day weekend, let's not forget that life is not a picnic for the overseas rep who has to go to work in the middle of the night.)

In general, I am a fan of regional distinctiveness--anytime I'm in a new city, I'll order a beer brewed there instead of whatever mass-market product they have on tap. So I enjoy hearing a local dialect that matches a company's location; it was a pleasure to call L.L. Bean the other week and hear a flinty Downeaster accent.

But it's just as important to speak to somebody who can help in the first place. The last time I called American Express, the rep spoke with an obvious South Asian accent--but understood every word I said, provided the assistance I needed and did so with unfailing politeness. (If anything, he was a tad too obsequious.) But when I phoned Apple to test out its tech support for this week's laptop review, the rep's all-American speech did not make up for her failure to get the correct answer to my question.

Either way, companies need to remember that the people answering their support lines speak for them. If you're greeted by a Tier One rep who struggles to understand your speech and has no authority to do anything helpful, you're completely justified in thinking the company doesn't care about your problem.

Who in the computing industry is doing this well right now?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 31, 2007; 9:51 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: More Laptop Thoughts
Next: Apple to NBC: Fine, Take Away Your Downloads


Thank You!

Yes, It's _All About The Service_

Many is the time where I have done troubleshooting (restarting/reinstalling/re-whaterving), call support, itemize the tests that I had already done, then have the 'support' person be stuck in the script and tell me to do all the things I had already done. When that happens, usually after they hit the third or fourth test I had done, my response is to say "Thank you, second tier please."

Posted by: JeffP | August 31, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Excellent post. It sums up the current state of CS exactly.

Would I pay more for someone who is a native speaker of my language (which happens to be U.S. English)? No.

Would I pay more for a CS rep who can go off script, has some authority, and is allowed to use their native intelligence to help me? You bet your sweet bippy.

It should not matter where customer service is located. It does need to be about the customer and proper service.

Gateway had (has?) great customer service. Last time I called (about 1.5 years ago), they walked me through a complete tear down of my computer to replace the CMOS battery. Absolutely great experience.

The most annoying things are: the CS rep having to stick to a script (esp. when it's apparent the script doesn't address the problem or that is geared toward a third-grader with their first PC), dropped calls, wait time, and the inability to make decisions. I hold the computer manufacturer entirely responsible (not the CS rep) for current poor CS. So much so, that I refuse to buy a new computer until the situation improves. Or, if needed, will build my own. Thanks.

Posted by: Brent Heuss | August 31, 2007 11:43 AM | Report abuse

The Gateway service will undoubtedly go once they're part of Acer. I had to take an Acer into be repaired in Helsinki under the "International Traveller's Warranty" that ships with Acer units. They'd never heard of it at Acer Finland. After losing my power adapter, they sold me a new one and charged me twice the cost of the adapter for an engineer's service fee for printing the receipt!
Back in the UK it got even worse. They don't even have telephone support now - you have to wait 2 weeks for your email to get a response from support. By the time you've gotten close to addressing your issue, your device is antiquated.

Posted by: Mike | August 31, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I called Logitech when the wireless mouse died - it had been twitchy from the start. We'd done extensive troubleshooting, since my son owns the same mouse/keyboard set. I told the rep what we'd done, and she said, "OK, we'll send you a new one" - no return of the dead item needed, no script to walk through, and it was even an upgrade. I love Logitech.

The Linksys wireless router went at about the same time. 3 calls, 2 tries of 45 minutes with a script read by someone who spoke minimal Indian English, credit card numbers needed, return of router, long wait for replacement - I'm never buying Linksys again.

And the one time I needed help with my Dell laptop, I got a knowledgeable Indian man who quickly solved my problem. Of course, the fact that I had the most extensive, iron-clad ever written (it came from a major corporation, and the tech was actually startled to see the coverage this laptop had) may have helped.

I don't care where they are or what the accent is, there's no substitute for knowledge and authority. We all remember The Chronicles of George, right?

Posted by: Judith | August 31, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I recently contacted HP regarding a faulty CD/DVD drive on my computer, still under warranty for another month. I was shocked when I got right to tech support without spending any time on hold! The individual I spoke with seemed to be a native, was easy to understand, and very courteous. He couldn't fix my problem, as it appears to be a hardware failure, but he made arrangements for me to ship the CPU back to HP at their expense for repair. A local repair option would have been nice, but all in all I can't complain.

Posted by: Brian | August 31, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

My Mac Powerbook charger died. It was under warranty, so I called Apple, got someone in Sacramento who was very helpful--we made sure it wasn't any of the cables, it really was the charger. He said he would ship a replacement charger and it would be here, in Southern California, in 3 days. The next day, which was a Saturday, it appeared on my doorstep!!! Talk about great service.

Posted by: Janice Zenor | August 31, 2007 6:17 PM | Report abuse

"the companies doing this outsourcing invite suspicion when they tell their phone reps to make up new names and fib about their location." Absolutely. It's no secret, so why do that? I don't need a CS rep's name; a number will do just fine, and it wouldn't be a lie.

Posted by: A | August 31, 2007 7:02 PM | Report abuse

The battery on my MacBook Pro warped, and I noticed it one evening about 6:00 pm. I called Apple and read off my serial number and the rep said they'd send me a new one. The whole call took about 90 seconds.

Turns out this was a known battery defect and there was already a battery-replacement program in place. I had a new battery delivered to my home in Canada by noon the next day!

That contrasted dramatically with my husband's experience with Dell; his laptop screen died ONE WEEK after the warranty expired and after keeping him on the phone for more than half an hour (most of it spent on hold) told him, "tough luck."

Guess where my next computer will be from?

Posted by: jp | August 31, 2007 8:11 PM | Report abuse

See my reply posted in Rob' column "More Laptop Thoughts".

I'm a Thinkpad/Lenovo 3000 laptop tech support rep, and we're REALLY in Atlanta. In fact, I was born and raised here.

One of the major obstacles to good tech support is from Call Center management policies. Unfortunately, in most call centers, the PRIMARY measure of TSR performance is the number of calls you take per shift, and the total time spent on each call. This is because call center contracts (you don't actually think the computer companies man their phone support with direct company employees, do you?) are paid based on the total number of customer calls TAKEN, not number of problems solved or satisfied customers. This creates a direct conflict with the original purpose of customer support. In fact, the call center gets paid MORE if it takes several calls from the customer to resolve an issue. This emphasis on taking the MAXIMUM number of calls often leads to shoddy troubleshooting, since a TSR's performance ratings, pay, and opportunity for advancement are determined almost completely on call volume, not technical ability and customer satisfaction. And if a tech cares more about customer problems than call times, he gets written reprimands, and eventually, dismissal.

Everyone who complains about being on hold for a long time contributes to this metric, because the more time a tech spends resolving a customer's problems, the fewer calls he can take, meaning longer hold times. And because call volume is, in the end, unpredictable, there's really no way to continually adjust manpower levels in response. You can man for a predicted average number of calls, but customers won't cooperate by calling in at a steady rate. Call volume ebbs and flows with no real pattern. You can call in sometimes and get a tech immediately, then call back 15 minutes later, and stay on hold for half an hour.

Here's a tip: Try to avoid calling on Monday or Friday, if possible, because you'll probably be on hold for a while. And if you are, please don't vent your frustration on the Tech Support Rep who finally gets your call. We're here to try and help you, and the more time you spend complaining, the longer it will take to resolve your problem.

Just a reminder, PLEASE have your laptop with you when you call. And don't call while you're driving! Also, have access to a small Phillips-head screwdriver if possible.

The bottom line is, until companies stop basing call center compensation on call volume, Tech support/Customer Service will continue to be a problem.

And, until the colleges and universities start teaching MBA students that in technology-related companies, good service & support is just the cost of doing business, the customer service and support that customers receive will continue to degrade. One of my former Field Service supervisors put it this way:

"They could close the Sales Department, and
the Service Department would still have work for years to come. But, if they closed the Service Department, the Sales Department would be out of business in 6 months."

Posted by: Bill in Atlanta | September 1, 2007 4:47 AM | Report abuse

I spent a frustrating day yesterday with Sprint - both in a store and on the phone. I think they must give a reverse IQ test when they do their hiring. Everyone had an American accent however, just proving that linguistic familiarity does not equate to competence. Next time my contract is up, I'll have to give serious consideration to moving to a different carrier. Who's best right now?

Posted by: Jerry in New Orleans | September 2, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I am no xenophobe! I'm a white male in my mid 50s and have been around the block a time or two. I know that the Indian customer service reps speak perfect English but I swear I cannot understand them on the phone and must get them to repeat every other sentence. And they are so soft, I am not hard-of hearing. Would it be too much to ask that they learn AERICAN English?

Posted by: rick4965 | September 4, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

This isn't strictly a computer issue, but Crutchfield has GREAT technical support. I've installed two car stereos from them. Last week, I couldn't figure out how to match the plugs in my car to the adapter they provided, so I called. I got a guy who didn't know the answer but quickly found it and gave me the correct answer. I tried his answer, but some odd things in the wiring made me (incorrectly) suspicious, so I called back. The second guy was amazing--he not only gave me the right answer, but explained to me exactly why that was the right answer, and why my concerns were misplaced. Talking to someone who really knows what he or she is talking about really makes a difference!

Posted by: Gary | September 4, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I do think service can be hit-or-miss. I recently purchased a Dell Inspiron laptop and a NetGear router. I had a question about the router and called for service...but I simply could not understand the gentleman on the phone (India). He was polite, enthusiastic and obviously trying to be helpful but in the end I just had to give up. I wasn't saying anything except "Excuse me?". It was sad. My on-line attempts to register the product have not been successful after 3 weeks; passwords and serial numbers are rejected and, although they send follow-up e-mails, they have yet to respond with a workable solution and I haven't heard from them for a week or so. Dell, to give them credit, delivered the laptop a couple of days before the expected date, responded promptly to e-mail queries regarding the order, and a service phone call (when the laptop wouldn't "wake up" one time, was answered by a patient, knowledgeable and helpful (Indian) rep who was not only intelligible, but careful to ensure that all instructions and steps were understood and followed. When I complimented him on his assistance he asked if I would speak to his supervisor, which I was happy to do. Both were articulate and appreciative. I have also received e-mail surveys from Dell, asking for feedback on their service. They do seem to be trying. So, as I mentioned, I think you dial your number and you takes your chances!

Posted by: Carol | September 4, 2007 6:16 PM | Report abuse

I can understand difficulty with language but I can not tolerate Lies and Misinformation from a TECH when trying to solve a problem.For example-trying to get a Seagate Free Agent Pro drive to work with a DISH 622DVR via USB. On five seperate calls to Seagate the first level techs gave me incorrect information about the device; how it was programmed; or how it could be reprogrammed without sustaining a loss of data recorded on it. Five was the magic number who gave a correct answer, connected me to a higher level tech in the US who provided not only a software link, but also a detailed how to. Why did it take five tries? What if I'd listened when told to reformat-advice from a previous tech? Not good support.

Posted by: Paul Corsa | September 9, 2007 9:06 AM | Report abuse

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