Letters

"That is outside our support parameters." Readers clamor to respond to Kyle Killen's "We Don't Support That."


Salon Staff
February 28, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

I can't wait to see the crop of letters coming from people who say the reason tech jobs are being outsourced is because of the horrible attitude of the unqualified employees, as demonstrated by your most recent article written by someone working in tech support. Then I can scream "Bullshit. Total Bullshit" while I read them.

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I worked briefly (thank God!) doing tech support eight years ago, and while not identical, his experience was very similar to my own. In my four weeks of training, less than 5 percent of the time was spent on actual troubleshooting. It was the same kind of 1984 world where incompetence was rewarded, as long as the person was incompetent quickly. Actually solving problems was wrong if it took too much time.

Back in 1996, the job was a springboard to better jobs for most of the competent people I worked with. (The incompetent ones moved up the food chain at the same company.) Now, anyone stuck in one of those positions needs to be grateful to just have a job, no matter what the conditions, because the alternative is having that job done in another country, where the labor costs are a fraction of what they are here. Of course answering the phone is not a physically demanding job. But being coerced into screwing people for a living takes a toll, too.

-- Linda Miller

Like Kyle I worked phone tech support for a while. I was lucky; I worked for a small ISP with a relatively low call-volume and none of these fancy monitoring tricks that big companies use. My job was annoying, tooth-grindingly frustrating at times, and my customers expected me to do magic. It was flattering that they thought I, completely self-taught, could.

Then my job got outsourced to a firm like Kyle's and the complaints started rolling in as phone workers deluged with calls from a dozen companies were unable to help. I was sympathetic to my customers, several of whom I knew by name, but also to those techs.

What was worse was when my company had to try and get support for server purchases we made from Dell -- imagine Kyle's company, but outsourced to India. Imagine punters, givers and formatters who barely speak English and haven't got even the vague camaraderie of shared culture with which to care about your problem. It's increasingly common, and it's insane.

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-- Lindsey Wilson

This was one totally brilliant article. It hit the problems of computer support hotlines right on the spot. More than that, this situation is not only commonplace in the U.S., it is very similar over here in Europe. When I'm calling my Dell support line from Germany I'm transferred to a calling center somewhere in Eastern Europe where the employees have problems not only with fixing a computer but even with just communicating with me -- because they don't speak enough German. "The Mantra", as the article so elegantly calls it, is what you hear over here, as well.

You installed a different operating system? We don't support that! Oh, the problem is with the hardware? Never mind, we don't support that! Congratulations on this piece that is comical but in fact very sad. We can just hope that articles like these will one day have an effect on these companies. Or rather, that there will once be one company who does it differently, so that customers at least have the choice.

-- Magnus von Koeller

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This was probably the best description of my job and workplace that I have ever seen. The only difference is we do wireless phones and the dreaded Average Handling Time is 320 seconds a call. This includes all required "client" scripting (i.e., advertising), pulling up a customer's account on a computer that is slower than molasses in the winter and God forbid that the customer's phone doesn't work and needs to have troubleshooting done. In the latter case, punt: It's a network issue, your phone's fine, give it an hour.

The phones NEVER stop.

-- Michelle Gherren

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I have been a paying subscriber to Salon for several years. However, in the last few months, I have noticed an influx of "whiny call center worker" articles, of which "We Don't Support That," is merely the latest offender. Frankly, I'm not sure I see the point of running these articles. Do the editors have some grudge against call centers?

I find these articles irritating for several reasons. First, the writers (and this case is no different) take absolutely no responsibility for their actions or inactions with the company. If you have no idea how to fix a PC, why would you even accept a job as a phone help desk technician? Also, since Mr. Killen seems to be learning something in his job, as evidenced by the video card issue, apparently "Chad" wasn't the only source of training available. In short, I question whether Mr. Killen was using all the resources available to him.

Second, I find that these articles all imply that senior management is incompetent, greedy, clueless or some combination thereof. Granted, in the era of Enron, one should not automatically assume management competency, but the implication is that nobody gives a damn. As a computer professional, I have called into a number of help desk lines for warranty support (specifically, Compaq, HP, and Gateway) and I have found the phone support people reasonably helpful and competent. And no, I'm not calling into some "special" line, these are the same 800 numbers given to the general public.

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My final objection to these articles is one of common sense. Call centers are not known to be fun places to work. They are the McDonald's of white-collar work -- you go to one to get some experience and then move on up or out. Whining about working in one is like trying to teach a pig to sing -- won't work and you'll annoy the pig. If you don't like working there, move on.

-- Chris Gerrib

I worked technical support for a major Internet services provider for a total of three weeks. Then I stopped coming to work, and ended up spending a month in bed. I never actually quit, I just moved on with my life.

I want to assure anyone who read this article that it does not contain any fanciful exaggerations. It is not a humorous Dilbert-inspired corporate fantasy. It is exactly what I experienced during those three weeks, from the ludicrous training to the ulcer-inducing job itself. I was one of those few who believed I had a responsibility to help people with their problems. I never learned a strategy to get people off the phone. The problem was, I did not have access to any real technical support resources. My real job was to get people to hang up.

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This was over seven years ago. Why am I not surprised that things haven't changed?

-- Erik David Even

It's been eight years since I sold computers. It's reassuring to know that tech support hasn't changed any in that time.

-- Greg Gentry

Great piece, reads like "Catch-22"!

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BTW, no wonder the jobs go to India, huh?

-- Yakshi

"We don't support that" was entertainingly written, but remarkably uninformative. Anyone who has ever called tech support could infer everything in the article, i.e. that the responders are ill-trained and apathetic. It would be much more interesting to read about what might be done to solve the problem, or whether any of the big computer manufacturers have suffered any financial consequences as a result of their poor tech support. If they haven't, the incentive to solve anything must be low.

-- Steve Renaker

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I work as an IT specialist and I'm finding companies are getting better and faster at brushing me off. One tech company in particular has developed the tactic of picking up the phone line quickly and taking your name and number saying you'll get a call back later. I have personally never gotten a call back from them. After doing this several times, I got wise and told them no thank you and instructed them to put me on hold to wait. The technicians are wise to this scheme also. After discovering they lack the ability to help me they also tell me they'll give me a call back. They have never called me back. Once I was told a manager would call me. If you extrapolate, you can figure out what actually happened.

After reading this story, I wonder if this company outsources.

-- Ryan Kellerman

I found Kyle Killen's article "We don't support that" engrossing, and very believable, even though in 19 years of using computers I've rarely had a hellish experience with tech support. Most of my dealings are with Apple and Adobe, where support technicians are generally friendly, not to mention extremely competent and effective.

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All we can do is support the companies who treat us well and get the word out when they don't. Write to your favorite PC magazine when you're treated badly, and tell a technician's supervisor about a good experience. An increasingly vocal and empowered consumer market could eventually make bad support, bad business.

-- Lisa Robertson

I worked in a technical support call center, and watched it morph from a 20-person operation where, though it was disorganized, everyone cared about fixing problems (1999); to a 200+ person monolith where you could be fired for not operating the phone correctly, but never for lack of technical knowledge (2003). We weren't allowed to say "we don't support that" -- the preferred wording was "that is outside our support parameters." Other than that, everything in the article was very familiar to me. Even the 12-minute goal, though at the time I left, there was talk of stepping it down to 11, then 10, maybe lower. Nothing mattered except the stats, and there was apparently no way to measure our ability to troubleshoot computer problems -- no wait, the preferred term is "issues."

-- Meredith Blanchard

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Although I had had my suspicions that this is how tech support really functioned, to see if explained that clearly makes me want to scream to the Federal Trade Commission about truth in advertising: if they say they are going to provide free tech support, then by God, it better be real tech support and not a bait and switch! Can you imagine another industry getting away with this?

-- Liz Madigan

This is one of the best stories of call-center hell I have ever read.

I did my time answering phones for one of the biggest credit card companies in the world and the parallels between my experiences and those of the author are amazing. The biggest difference, our average call time was supposed to be 90 seconds.

I ended up quitting after my manager threatened to fire me for "going to the bathroom too much." Best decision I ever made.

-- Marlana Shipley

I would be surprised if this office even exists one year from now. These are exactly the kinds of jobs that are moving to Bangalore. This horrible "service" won't be improved, but according to Free Trade 101, the cost of the computers should come down, respectively, right? At least enough so I can take my savings and buy myself a Computers for Dummies book. Or a gun so I can shoot it.

-- Mathew Kessler


Salon Staff

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