?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Tech support horror stories - Baxil [bakh-HEEL'], n. My Sites [Tomorrowlands] [The TTU Wiki] [Photos]
View My LJ [By Tag]


June 26th, 2007
10:53 am
[User Picture]

[Link]

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Tech support horror stories
As noted in my previous post, jhitchin's "Tech Support" song is dear to my heart. Part of the reason is that, as a tech support worker myself, I have had those moments to which the song refers.

That confusion as the caller describes a situation you're pretty certain violates several laws of physics. ("I'm telling you, my modem works beautifully during the day and then refuses to dial out at all after sunset.*" "Yeah, our logs show that too. Umm ... have you tried garlic? Or a cross?")

That shock as the mists of innocent miscommunication casually burn away and the full depth of a problem is revealed in all its glory. ("I haven't been able to dial up to 555-0616 in a while." "That's not one of our numbers. Aha ... you know, I bet that's the dial-in phone number from the company that we took over from. Wait. How long exactly has it been since you were able to connect?" "Uh, a little over a year."*)

That pants-wetting fear as a Machine That Should Not Be (e.g., anything containing both Windows 98 and a network card) shambles into view like a digital zombie. Or, for that matter, as a User that Should Not Be Allowed Anywhere Near Computers (e.g., anyone who thinks making a Windows 98 box their primary Internet machine is a good idea; or someone who misunderstands the meaning of "tech support" *) moans and latches onto your head to eat your brain.

And the reason I transcribed the song today is because I recently had an encounter that can only truly be described by quoting Hitchin.

The background here is that the outgoing mail server at the Internet Service Provider I work for is restricted to people on our dial-up network as a spam prevention measure; mail-only and webhosting customers have to use their own ISP's outgoing mail server. (This restriction is the case at most ISPs, but since virtually all Internet service comes with free e-mail, it's really never an issue.) One of our e-mail only customers calls up with complaints that he can't send messages, so I explain the policy. Then I discover that his Internet service is satellite.

It has been my experience as a tech that, without exception, satellite ISPs' tech support is hideous. Hughesnet is perhaps the worst offender -- last time I checked, the tech support number prominently plastered all over their website had been disconnected, and the number recycled to an online florist (who was probably sick of getting tech support calls*). But all of them suffer from utterly impenetrable Web sites, unusable documentation, and a burning desire to never have to speak to one of their customers. So when I heard that Customer had satellite service, I winced and decided to give him a hand in setting up his outgoing e-mail server properly.

After wading through WildBlue's hedge maze of a support site, I learn that they specifically don't provide mail server information. Their only public support option is an application to download that will accelerate your connection, and also oh by the way fix Outlook Express' settings so that it will access your mail account.* **

This is, of course, unacceptable. It's a slow day, so I jump into an online-chat tech support queue on behalf of Mutual Customer; I figure I'll know the right questions to ask (and, maybe, have enough credibility) to get all the necessary setup information from one of their techs.

I'm going to skip the story of how connecting to their online chat queue at various times (and apparently at random) cited me a 45-minute wait, booted me out entirely, and immediately threw me to the head of the line. Because that's neither here nor there.

No, the real story starts when I connect to "Senior* Technical Agent 3."

I introduce myself and identify our mutual customer. Then I start asking for details of mail client configuration.

Server name, check. ("But hey, you got one! One out of ten ain't bad.")

Then I ask him the port to connect to their outgoing mail server on.

This is something that end users often don't know anything about; it's a technical detail that's transparent after initial setup. But it's a basic component of the support job. Asking an ISP technician about the connection port is like asking an auto mechanic to check the level of your transmission fluid.

And Senior Technical Agent 3 -- Senior Technical Agent 3 -- says:
> "Port 25? Or 587?"
"we would not know that" * ** ***

Rob, working at the next desk over, is interrupted in his work by a heavy, rhythmic thumping. Seconds later, he has leapt from his seat and is attempting to persuade me to stop whacking my head against the table.*

When I recover, unfortunately, I still have a job to do. I'm not quite masochistic enough to press the issue (I figure I can just try both and see what sticks), but I do have to ask some assorted questions about authentication and connection encryption. At least with those, Senior Technical Agent 3 gives me things that sound like real answers.

I probably don't have to explain that, once Customer called back and we tried to get his connection working, absolutely nothing the tech told me worked.

Except for the server name. But hey, even a stopped time measurement device is right once per solar cycle.

--
* True and not embellished, not even for dramatic effect.
** Oh, dear god, I only wish I was embellishing the depth of the stupidity here.
*** Everybody say it along with me: "OH MY GOD, THEY GAVE YOU ROOT?!?"

Current Location: ~/brainstorm
Current Music: "Teleport," Man With No Name
Tags: , , ,

(18 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
[User Picture]
From:sinboy
Date:June 26th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
(Link)
"I'm telling you, my modem works beautifully during the day and then refuses to dial out at all after sunset.*"

I had similar problems once. Turns out that a switching junction was badly overheating during peak sunlight hours, and lots of people were getting dropped from the net if they were on the right, old badly corroded copper circuit. 2 block over, no problem.

I hate sat modems. Even when they work, they work through really lame unalterable proxy servers that break everything. I hate trying to be third party support for sat modem customers too. I've called a sat modem help desk once. It got nothing done other than me understanding that you should never use one for anything other than non-streaming web access.
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 27th, 2007 08:18 am (UTC)
(Link)
Huh. I figured it had something to do with the temperature differential, but hadn't considered the junction. If she calls back, I'll suggest it.
[User Picture]
From:sinboy
Date:June 27th, 2007 09:54 am (UTC)
(Link)
The thing is, if you check the junction, and it's fine form there, you know it's between the home and the junction, and the phone company can fix it too. Unless it's house wiring, which may be the owner's responsibility.
[User Picture]
From:hafoc
Date:June 26th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Of course, tech support horror stories from the OTHER side also exist.

***ring***ring***ring***

"hell-o thank you for call-ing voy-a-ger dot net tech-ni-cal sup-port my name is bri-an how may i help you"

"Um, hi. This is Bill, a user in Some Town. I need to talk to Craig. The modems in Some Town aren't answering calls. Craig needs to tell the tech to cycle power and reboot the modem bank again."

"what op-per-ating sys-tem do you have run-ning on your com-pu-ter"

"You don't need to go through all that. Please let me speak to Craig."

"what op-per-ating sys-tem do you have run-ning on your com-pu-ter"

"You don't need to go through that. The modems in Some Town need to be rebooted. Please, let me speak to Craig."

"what op-per-ating sys-tem do you have run-ning on your com-pu-ter"

"I will not tell you! Let me speak to Craig, please. Now!"

"how can i help you if you won't tell me what op-per-ating sys-tem do you have run-ning on your com-pu-ter"

"You can help me by letting me speak to Craig!"

"i am sorry I can't help be-cause you won't tell me what op-per-ating system do you have run-ning on your com-pu-ter let me trans-fer you to my su-per-visor craig"

"Thank you."

"Hello, this is Craig. How may I--"

"Craig? It's Bill."

"Oh. The modems in Some Town need to be cycled again?"

"Right."

"OK. I'm on it. Try them again in ten minutes."

"Thank you."
[User Picture]
From:necama
Date:June 26th, 2007 11:41 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I've had roughly the same conversation a few dozen times. Sometimes I wonder if the tech support front line is there to help the computer illiterate and make the competent people pull their own hair out.
From:premchai21
Date:June 27th, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)
(Link)

It's there to protect the competent technicians from being deluged, of course. If the real technicians had to deal with every user who (e.g.) hadn't checked to make sure they owned a modem first, they'd all disappear; now you have no technicians.

[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 27th, 2007 08:17 am (UTC)
(Link)
My personal opinion is that it's a short-term savings for the company and its techs, at long-term cost. In the eight months I've been with Yubanet, I and my fellow techs have actually been able to train our users, with a little bit of patience and free time and willingness to explain. People like to feel like they know what they're doing, and a little hand-holding through common problems can increase their confidence at taking care of it themselves the next time it comes around.

Also, taking care of a problem with patience and attention to detail really helps prevent callbacks. If your goal is only to keep wait times low, the incentive to actually solve people's issues vanishes; much better to string them along in a series of short calls.

I prefer the long-term strategy. And it's paid off. The number of support calls we've taken for the most basic problems has literally plummeted since last year, and the number of distinct users (as opposed to inveterate repeats) has increased. Our userbase has dropped, yeah, but not nearly as much as our call volume.

(... And never mind the economics of people leaving your service for companies with better tech support.)
From:premchai21
Date:June 27th, 2007 05:57 am (UTC)
(Link)

The annoyance that comes to competent users is just an unfortunate side-effect. *nod*

[User Picture]
From:charles
Date:June 26th, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)

"Of course, tech support horror stories from the OTHER side also exist."

From the alt.sysadmin.recovery FAQ, emphasis mine:

There is a device the telco puts on the phone that ensures that whoever is on the other end of a service call is always a drooling moron with the IQ of a potted plant. Note that this applies both ways.

[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 27th, 2007 08:09 am (UTC)
(Link)
I would have been so, so tempted to answer his question "Amiga."

It probably would have increased Time Before Craig, but at least it would have been a good way to blow off stress.

"Amiga."
"Umm ... what?"
"Amiga. You know, that company that was big for a while in the 80s?"
"Oh, so is that a type of Yoo-nix?"
"No, it's .... *giggle* aw, man, I'm sorry. I'm just fuckin' with ya. I'm actually running Windows."
"Oh! Okay. Is that Vista, or XP, or --"
"Three point one."
[User Picture]
From:kistaro
Date:June 27th, 2007 08:55 am (UTC)
(Link)
I still have a Windows 3.1 computer. I need something that'll play Oregon Trail, after all.
[User Picture]
From:sinboy
Date:June 27th, 2007 09:56 am (UTC)
(Link)
OSX. Emulator. Muahaha!
[User Picture]
From:necama
Date:June 27th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
(Link)
If you really wanted to make the guy on the other end of the phone go nuts, try Windows 0.91b. First version I saw. And god did it suck.
[User Picture]
From:necama
Date:June 27th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
How about a BeBox? That would be truly evil.
[User Picture]
From:krinndnz
Date:June 26th, 2007 10:51 pm (UTC)
(Link)
>_<

You have successfully shared your pain.
[User Picture]
From:kistaro
Date:June 27th, 2007 05:07 am (UTC)
(Link)
Desk: Apply forehead directly to.
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:June 27th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
Or, to steal from elynne:
[User Picture]
From:summer_jackel
Date:June 27th, 2007 09:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
hahaha, I know very little about computer tech stuff but that sounds hideous. Entertaining as hell in a scary way tho.
Tomorrowlands Powered by LiveJournal.com