We Don't Support That

Salon has a great article (you'll have to click and watch the annoying ad before you can read it for free) today about the folks who provide telephone support for major computer vendors. It paints a grim picture of that industry, and leaves you wondering how people ever get any problems solved. In reality, you're going to need a local tech to diagnose most problems, as most of those script-readers are fairly useless, as the article points out, the system actually works to get rid of the helpful and knowledgeable technicians.

In my years of doing desktop support, I've developed my own tricks to work around their system. First and foremost, just plan on lying about something before you call. The reality is that I have 15 years of experience with PC hardware, and the person on the other end of the phone likely has about 15 minutes of experience. Is it unethical to lie to them? That's up to you to resolve. I think it's pretty unethical to sell people on your great phone support, which is really provided by a guy in India who has a lifelong dream of making minimum-wage someday, reading scripts to you that have nothing to do with the problem you're experiencing. The American call centers aren't any better, because they're run the way the article illustrates.

So, assuming you're knowlegeable, what should you do? Waste all day performing the random tasks the callers want you to try, when you already know what the problem is? Or feed them a bunch of crap to send you the new part that you know you need? I'll take the part, please.

The article talks about three types of people you might reach: the punters, the givers, and the formatters. All of them can be defeated.

Punters can be easily defeated, I've done it many times, you just keep telling them that you already did whatever it is they're going to tell you to do. Refuse to let them get you off the phone, no matter what punt they try. Eventually, they'll give you what you want, or escalate you to get rid of you. You may have to tell some whoppers here, but they're probably not going to be gutsy enough to call you an outright liar, so just keep going with it.

Givers are pretty good, when it comes to desktop support, they'll give you what you want to fix the computer, with a minimal amount of hassle. Being condescending to them actually helps your case, because you can overwhelm them with your technical knowledge, and they'll assume you're right, and you know what you're asking for, so they'll give it to you to get you off the phone.

Formatters are my favorite to deal with, mostly because I'm a formatter at heart. If it could possibly, in any universe, be a software problem, I'll have formatted before I called, and I love being able to throw that back in their faces. This forces them to fork over the part I want, or to escalate me to someone who can actually help me. You can usually hear the defeat in their voice as they do it, too.

Keep in mind, you should really know what you're doing to use these strategies. If you truly have no idea what the problem with your system is, hire someone locally to come fix it for you.