The Norman Transcript

September 7, 2013

Why is customer support so bad?

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I work on computers for a living and I love my job. I enjoy taking a customer’s computer and turning it into something they can actually enjoy, instead of being mad at it all of the time.

One of the biggest parts of my job is taking complicated and convoluted computer concepts and explaining them in ways that non-technical people can understand. Doing it over the phone is challenging, but doable. The main ingredients for successful phone support are respect for the customer’s intelligence and a willingness to explore someone’s frame of reference.

It is almost universally accepted that over-the-phone tech support is abysmally bad. I consider it an industry-wide disaster. Just about everyone who’s used technology for any length of time has some sort of a tech support horror story to tell, myself included. I believe the main reason for this sad state of affairs is a lack of respect for the customer.

During my career, I’ve been victimized by most every computer-related tech support department that exists. Of course, not every experience has been bad. However, too many of my tech support experiences have been, at the very least, inexcusably irritating and frustrating. Why giant global companies think it’s acceptable to insult their customers is beyond me. I’ll use my recent tech support experience with Hewlett-Packard as an example.

The first insult after calling HP came by being forced to talk to someone whose foreign accent was so thick that I could barely understand what they were saying. This is a common tech support complaint and the reason for it is simple: companies are too cheap to really care about customer service, regarding customer support as a money-losing department. Therefore, they outsource their service departments to giant, cheap call center conglomerates located in foreign countries, most notably, India. The truth is, when you call a customer service number, you are usually not talking to someone who actually works for the company in question.

The second insult was requiring me to divulge personal information before being able to ask my question. Even though I had an order number that could have been looked up for speedy help, my name, address, phone number and email address were all demanded before allowing me to ask my simple question; “Where’s the software that I ordered two weeks ago?”

The third insult was connecting me to someone that didn’t actually know what they were talking about. Bear in mind that when you call tech support, the first person you talk to usually only knows one thing: how to read from a chart. This is known as “Tier One” support. On the walls of their cubicle are two charts: first, a list of most common complaints, and second, a list of most common solutions. That’s all they know, and they are required to run you through a mind-numbing gauntlet of scripted questions and answers before allowing you into the tech support “Holy of Holies:” Tier Two support, where somebody might actually know something.

By this time, I was already 45 minutes into my phone call when insult number four came: I learned that I had been forwarded to the wrong department and should have been talking to a different department, all along. This meant that I had to give out all of my personal information to yet another person (even though I had been given a time-saving “case number”) and listen to another list of mind-numbing Tier One-style questions, all delivered by someone who had an even more confusing accent than the first.

Then came insult number five: I needed to be connected to yet another, different department, where I was assured I would get my answer. More time passed as I sat on hold, and, a full two hours into the call, another voice came on the phone. This time, though, I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief: it was an American voice, a voice belonging to someone for whom English was clearly their first language. I explained my situation and, within five minutes, all of my concerns had been competently addressed. As it turned out, my software order had somehow mysteriously been cancelled. Everything was cleared up, my software was promised to me by Fedex overnight and, by golly, that’s what happened.

A full two hours after calling HP and hearing,” Thank you for calling HP; my name is Bob,” and thinking, “Yeah, your name is Bob like my name is Abraham Lincoln,” I hung up the phone, exhausted.

Until companies take customer service seriously, they will continue ticking off their customers and then wondering why business isn’t as good as it should be. Good customer service may not seem like the most profitable thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 919-9901 or