The corporate mind seems to think that sending things overseas will cure all their monetary problems. In a very few cases this might even be true. But there are some things that should never be outsourced. Brain surgery using Skype comes to mind immediately. Crisis intervention is another. The major item I wish to expound on today is: Technical Support.
My Internet went out two days ago. My ISP is AT&T (what used to be SBCGlobal) so I call the AT&T hot line. Remember that I wear double hearing aids and cannot hear too well anyway so this tale will either chill you or strike a sympathetic chord. First crack out of the bag is CHIME CHIME CHIME WELCOME TO AT&T!! The phone blasts into my ear. Good, I think, at least I will be able to hear them – from across the room. Next, there is a click and someone way down in a rain barrel tells me, in Spanish, to press ‘1’ if I want Spanish. I say nothing.
Then this robotic voice appears and asks me in a conversational tone (I am paraphrasing here) “Well, howdy to friendly old AT&T. At any time just speak whatever it is that’s bothering you today. Things like ‘service’, ‘pay your bill’, ‘tech support’, …” At that point I speak and say “Technical Support”. Pause. “I’m sorry, what was that again?” I repeat what I’d just said. “I’m sorry, what was that again?”.
Now, I remember that he said ‘tech support’ instead of ‘technical support’. Well, maybe he’s brain damaged (from too much surgery over Skype, no doubt). I say ‘tech support’. A pause. Then “Tech support, fine. Now, for which type of tech support do you desire?” Hmmm. There are types? He launches again ‘home phone’, ‘wireless phone’, ‘megaphone’, ‘two tin cans and a string’, ‘internet’, …” Aha!
I speak ‘Internet’. Now I am faced with “Which kind? ‘dial up’ (does anyone still use that?), ‘high-speed wireless’, ‘DSL’, … Aha, again!
I speak ‘DSL’. “Thank you. Now, let me confirm your telephone number. I have you as calling from # # # – # # # – # # # #, is that correct?” I say “Yes”. He says “Thank you. Please wait for the next technician. Low-pitched BEEP! High-pitched BEEP! I wait, cringing from the tones while my hearing aid resets.
Now I am treated to a voice extolling the virtues of using the Internet to contact technical support simply be going to “ATT dot COM forward-slash Support”. Ummmm, excuse me, I can’t get ON the stupid Internet dude. That’s why I’m calling! Sheesh.
Finally the phone begins to ring. Thirty five rings later it is finally picked up and a singsong voice says … something so rapidly that I have no chance of deciphering it. I have been shifted to a country where English is perhaps a fifth language. I say “Huh? What was that you said? Please speak slowly because I wear a hearing aid.” He responds “HI, MY … NAME … IS … FLAUBERT … HOW … MAY … I … HELP … YOU?” Now, I have a wise-ass. I am only hearing impaired, not intelligence impaired. Now, this person reduces volume to around forty decibels and again sings me a song asking if he can help me – albeit a bit slower. I begin my explanation.
halfway through, this guy interrupts me to ask me what phone number I am calling from. I say “Hey, I was already asked that already. Don’t you have end-to-end CRM? (Customer Relations Management)” He says “Huh?” and asks me for my phone number again. I give it to him. Now he wants an alternate in case we get disconnected. I give him my cell phone (from rival Cincinnati Bell – take that, AT&T!)
I start again with my problem. He interrupts me after I tell him my DSL has been out for about an hour and tells me he is going to “run some tests against my modem and am I sitting in front of my computer?” “Which one,” I ask. “I have seven of them.”
This throws the guy for a loop. I already know how the game is played having gone through his once before though and have isolated my DSL modem so that it is connected directly to only one computer because I know that is going to be the very next instruction. I try my best to forestall ANY further kindergarten-grade preliminaries by telling him I’ve been in IT and computers for around 48 years. This has no effect and he keep driving ahead on the script he has in front of him.
“Please to be opening your Internet Explorer and entering the following numbers.” He gives me the IP address of the modem which virtually every modem in the known universe has as a default. “Stop,” I say. “I don’t have Internet Explorer on any of my computers”. “Oh, you are very mistaken, Sir. Every Windows operating system has Internet Explorer.” “Well, mine doesn’t ever since I ripped it out, threw it on the floor, and kicked it to death.”
This really fakes the guy out. “But, I do have Firefox so we can proceed from there and I’ll fake it.” He doesn’t understand the meaning of the phrase ‘fake it’ so I have to explain. Anyway, after socially dancing for five minutes I tell him I have the login page of the modem showing. Now, He tell ME what my username is and wants me to put it in the first box. I’ve already done that, but to make him happy I move the mouse over to the desktop and hit a bunch of keys randomly so he can hear them.
Now he really throws ME for a loop. “I have to ask you this security question to see who I am talking to.” He proceeds to ask me “Who is your favorite hero?” My what? What the hell is he talking about? Favorite Hero? I may, back in the dawn of Internet time when I set up my first DSL connection gave some answers to questions like this, but after around eleven years, who remembers them? I tell him this. “Oh, I am very sorry, sir, but I am unable to give you the password until you answer this question.”
I go ahead and type my password into the box and tell him I’ll just guess what the password is because I have no idea who my favorite hero is. He gets excited and tells me it starts with an “M”. Mickey Mouse? Margaret Thatcher? Missing Link? I haven’t a clue. I relent and tell HIM what the password is. He gives up and we proceed. I click Connect.
The modem thinks about it for around two decades and then resets the page to the login screen. At the top, in tiny little letters that my trifocals can’t read without the aid of a big magnifying glass I keep on the desk, “Cannot reach the Distant equipment”. I relay that to said technician. He thinks about it and then gives me another password to try. Same results. We go through five passwords (after re-confirming that I’ve entered my proper email address every time). Each one fails with the same message – which I pass on to this
Each time we go through this, I remind him of what the modem is telling me: I cannot connect to the distant equipment. This clearly (in my mind) tells me that there is a problem on the DSL line somewhere between the back of my house and the “cloud”. He refuses to believe it and pronounces my modem as bad. However, I am not to feel badly because AT&T will be happy to sell me a brand new modem for around a bazillion bucks plus tax, installation, and green stamps. I tell him no, I think I’ll keep mine and wait until the serviceman finds the blockage and fixes it.
“And what blockage would that be, Sir?” He asks. “The blockage between here and the rest of the world. Please assign a control number to this trouble call and pass it to the repair service so they can set up an appointment.”
By now, he is sputtering that things just aren’t done that way, but I override him and he reluctantly agrees (maybe to just get rid of me and keep his ‘calls per hour’ numbers higher). He finally tells me that I will receive a call “within the hour” scheduling a serviceperson’s appearance. We hang up.
Sometime, during the night, little technical gremlins (the good kind) went out and repaired my DSL line and left me a message on my cell phone (instead of my regular phone) at 0400 telling me they have judged it an equipment outage on their network and that a service call won’t be necessary. This morning, I reconnected my modem, router, switches, wireless access point, and all other things properly and I’m back in business.
Some things should never be outsourced. Give me a fast-talking New Yorker, a twangy Floridian, or a California surfer any day. Please, all you corporations, can’t you at least bring technical support back within our own borders so we can communicate better?