My Saga Calling the Customer Disservice Center for Telephone Tech Support

My most solid suggestion for dealing with bad telephone support, other than escalating, is hanging up and trying again. 

Are you still trying to get that software you received as a gift to work? Still trying to get that new computer to connect to the Internet? You can always call tech support. Good luck and may the force be with you. 

I can still remember the days when WordPerfect was the leader in consumer tech support. They had free 24 by 7 by 365 tech support. 

Those were the days when tech support people were trained, courteous and hold times were shorter than the time it took them to release a new version. Today, something we seem to have lost along the way is good telephone tech support. 

Years ago, I had an intermittent problem retrieving my e-mail. The error message said that I was providing the wrong password. 

Since I could get my e-mail at least some of the time, it wasn’t a major problem and I knew that I hadn’t forgotten my password. Still, as the problem went well into its second day, I decided to call the Customer Disservice Center. 

After a ridiculously long hold (the real reason they invented the speaker phone is so that you can work and hold at the same time), I got my NASA rocket science reject of the day. After she asks me my password, she proceeds to tell me that it’s correct. (I knew that, but in her defense tech support people do have to deal with people who don’t know how to make sure their computer is plugged into the wall.) 

“OK,” I say, “What do we look at next?” 

Here comes one of her punch lines. She says, “There is nothing I can do to help you with a password problem” and she tries to end the call. 

Fortunately, I had my wits about me and said the magic word, “escalate,” before she could hang up. (She really couldn’t hang up after the magic word because as they remind you, “We might monitor the call for `quality control purposes.’ “Quality control?” I can’t help but smile as I contemplate that phrase in this context. Who says my email provider was a humorless company?) 

In case you’re not familiar with “escalate” as a magic word in the context of telephone tech support, it means that I’d like to speak to somebody with training. Normally, this is a trump card and you go up the food chain, but she had a twist to this I’d never heard before. 

“I can’t escalate,” she says. 

Now, that was a low blow and I wasn’t prepared for that one. I suspect that they had set up a task force, given it a half million-dollar budget and six months to make recommendations on how to deal with requests to “escalate.” After all that work, and a 1,000-page report, the final sentence of the report said, “Tell the customer, `You can’t escalate.’ “ 

I scrambled for words. She knew she had me staggered. As she was about to end the call, I mumbled, “Who can escalate?” 

I had her now. As she was going down, she said, “My manager.” 

“OK then, let me speak to your manager.” I had won the round. 

On hold I go. After several more minutes, she comes back on to tell me that the problem has already been escalated because they had determined that they had a problem with their e-mail server. (They fixed it during the third day.) 

Now that I had a reasonable answer, I hung up, but did pause to wonder whether people like her even care that they are so bad at what they do. I suspect they probably don’t. It’s a paycheck. 

Over the years, I think I’ve heard just about every annoying thing tech support can say. Here are some of my favorites: 

“You’re the first person to report that problem.” Why do they have to say that? It’s so annoying, and I don’t believe them anyway. 

“We’re expecting a maintenance release soon, which we hope will address that issue.” 

I’ve usually found that the maintenance release arrives anytime but soon and somehow, it never fixes my bug anyway. 

“I can’t call you back tomorrow to see if my suggestions fixed your problem. We have no outgoing lines.” Translation: Too bad if my recommendations didn’t fix your problem. You’ll just have to call back again and wait on that endless queue again. 

“Sorry, no support by e-mail either.” Again, you’re relegated to that long phone queue. Thanks for the great support. 

My most solid suggestion for dealing with bad telephone support, other than escalating, is hanging up and trying again. Although you’ll have to sit through the queue again, you might have the good fortune next time of connecting to a competent person. There are a few around. 

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