Commentary
4:17 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Carl Wernicke: Calling Tech Support...

I have often stated my reservations about the growth of technology and where it’s taking us, while also understanding the benefits it can offer. And like most people I have come to an uneasy truce with it, from smart phones to pads to online shopping.

But it pays to remember that while the whizzes might be whizzier and the bangs bangier, technology remains a human product and subject to human weaknesses.

One of those weaknesses is that when technology fails, or you fail to operate it correctly, you are helpless. And that’s where tech support comes in.

Or not.

In the good old days, if your phone didn’t work you called Ma Bell. Bad wire outside the home, bad wire inside, bad telephone, you only had to call one number, and Ma Bell solved the problem, whatever it was. And when you called, you got a human being.

But in today’s relentless quest to maximize corporate profits, companies believe it’s too costly to let you talk to actual people, no matter how little they are paying them.

Instead, they drive you into self-help forums where customers with similar problems are supposed to help each other.  We used to call that the blind leading the blind, but today it’s called technical support. If you are lucky enough to find a telephone number, you are usually unlucky enough to be connected to a computerized checklist that never includes your specific problem.

In using Skype recently I kept getting an onscreen message that I was offline, but I couldn’t figure out how to get online. Clicking on tech support, I was directed to a  forum where many other saps had the same problem, but no one had a solution.

After 10 frustrating minutes of clicking links, I stumbled on a support chatline. It connected me to what purported to be a human (it gave a female name), but which gave responses that seemed suspiciously robotic.

Anyway, I gave her, or it, a succinct summary of the problem. Ten minutes later, after a lot of stuff I didn’t understand, she, or it, asked to take remote control of my computer. I watched as the cursor danced across the screen as she, or it, made a practice call, and my very problem cropped up: an onscreen message said you are offline. Just as I was about to type Aha! in the chat box, the cursor whipped to an obscure little symbol that opened a box that allowed you to select online or offline, and proceeded on with the call. She, or it, apparently was totally unaware that the answer had been revealed.

I quickly typed in the chat box that I had spotted the solution, thanked her, or it, and ended the chat. As it turned out, the solution was simple and easy, and could have been explained to me verbally, or via chat, in about 30 seconds by a reasonably competent human, at least one who spoke English as a first language.

While I eventually decided that my chat partner was human, of undetermined national origin, I suspect she had been hired for as little as the company could get away with, and provided with the minimum training possible to create a minimally competent support tech.

I would call somebody to complain, but I don’t have the time, much less the skill, to figure out how to do that.      

Carl Wernicke
Carl Wernicke
Credit IHMC