Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Disclaimer: This blog was written when I was a horrendously disgruntled tech support agent. It may or may not reflect the views of other tech support agents. I no longer feel this way about people. When I first wrote this, I thought it was funny. I find it creepy today that I once believed this stuff. -DaveSchell, Feb. 27, 2010

The following story is true. Only the names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.

People have funny ideas about tech support agents. They tend to stereotype us as suit-and-tie 24-year-olds with college degrees in IT. To them, we’re sitting straight up in our office chairs at our spacious desks, and we have no lives other than those 18 minutes they’re on the phone with us. In reality, when I’m on the phone with a customer, I’m not in a suit and tie. I’m in a hoodie, jeans, and Adidas sneakers. Not that I need the sneakers or anything, but hey. They’re comfortable. And since customers can’t see me, it doesn’t matter. That’s the beauty of phone support.

There’s more. Our cubicles are 2′ x 4′ desks  with enough room for a fat CRT display, a keyboard and mouse, and a phone. And a really small computer. We have a lot of stuff all over the walls. Mine has a bunch of stuff from management and a stack of papers an inch thick (I’ve weeded it out a bit) from management, and certificates of appreciation. Which is all the appreciation we get. Usually.

We sit in swivel chairs that rest on thinly carpeted concrete floors and talk on headsets connected to our phone systems. The chairs aren’t the best, but not the worst either. And now the most important part, our reason for sitting in this windowless building lit by flourescent lights and underheated in the summer and undercooled in the winter: The customers.

I walk into this building every weekday except wednesday. I toss my lunch into the fridge and (depending on how late I am) rush to my seat. I punch into the phone system, pop on the headset, and get ready for that first call.

<beep> That’d be my first call. “Thank you for calling, Dave speaking. Name and number please.”

The customer is a moron. That’s rule number two of phone support. The customer is always wrong. But the customer must never know this. (see rule number 6: Accept the blame for everything.)

As a side note, rule number one, which I teach the every new agent I work with, is You are the smartest agent on the floor. That’s it. No second-guessing. You. Are. It. There is no one on the floor better able to assist your customer than you. At least that’s how they need to see it. If they don’t believe it, neither will the customer. And if the customer doesn’t believe it, they’ll ask for someone else. A real confidence-booster, to be sure.

But I digress. This customer is in fact, a real live moron. The computer won’t turn on. And I still have to find out if they are eligible for free support. Everyone who has bought a computer within the last ten years seems to think they are. Stupid entitlement complex. Let me explain something right now. You are not entitled to anything unless you have paid for it.

“Can I have the serial number of the product you’re calling about?”

“It’s a simple problem, really.”

“Ok, I still need the serial number.”

“Where can I find it?”

“Ok, what kind of computer is it?”  He told me. I told him where to find the serial number. He told me where to go. (Just kidding. But barely.)

“I can’t find the serial number. Do you really need it?” Yep, absolutely. “I’ve called in a few times before, don’t you have it in your records?”

“Maybe, but I still need you to verify it.” Of course we have it. But I still need to verify it. He found it and told me what it was. I checked eligibility. No date of purchase.

“When did you purchase this computer?”

“At CompUSA.” Didn’t he hear me? I said When, not Where.

“I’m sorry, when?”

“Yesterday.” I logged it, saved it, fought the system and made it work. I told him he was eligible for free phone support and asked did he want to get that extended plan and he said he had already bought the extended plan. He gave me the registration number and I put it in.

“Ok, how can I help you?”

“Are you doing something else there?”

“No. Oh, right, you were calling about your computer not turning on.” Have to get the customer to agree with me about what they’re calling about, or this call could go on forever.”

“Right. I bought this computer for my kids yesterday and, don’t get me wrong, I love this computer. It was working fine last night. But right now it’s not turning on.” A very very short history, as histories go. Most of them take at least a minute or two.

“Ok, but right now it’s not turning on, right?’

“Right. And…” More history. I knew that last one was too short. I try again to reach an agreement where he says yes. By this time he thinks I’m stupid. I, on the other hand, know he’s stupid. Eventually he says “right” and leaves it at that.

“Ok, Have you pressed the power button?”

“There’s a power button on these things?” Yes, you moron. There is always a power button. How do you think you turned it on in the first place?

“Oh, I’m sorry, that was entirely my fault. [see rule number 6: Accept the blame for everything] Now, what I’d like you to do [that’s a filler just fyi] is to press the power button on the back of the computer. Yeah, right on the back.”

“Oh, it’s working! You’re a genius, I’m so stupid.” At least he figured that out. But back to rule 2.5, the customer must never know that they are wrong.

“No, not really, everybody forgets that. I mean, everybody just puts it to sleep…”

“Yeah, I guess so. Well thank you. Thank you very much. …Oh, and while I’ve got you on the phone…” Drat. I just broke rule number 4: never fix a customer’s issue in under ten minutes, or they will say those terrible 7 words “while I’ve got you on the line.”

Fortunately, this one’s easy to fix too: “What’s the CPU speed of my computer?” I look it up and tell him. He thanks me. We end the call nicely.

<Beep> That’d be call number two. “Thank you for calling, Dave speaking. Can I have your name and phone number please?”

“My number’s 123-456-7890.” Drat. Another idiot. I asked for name and phone number, but she only gave me her phone number. This may sound presumptuous, but you can tell a lot about a person’s ability to follow instructions within the first ten seconds. A woman idiot. With a southern accent. What am I going to do with these people?

“And your name?”

“Barbara.” Drat again.

Let me explain something. With no offense to women in general, people from the southern USA, and particularly women named Barbara, I’ve found that women, from the south, particularly those named Barbara, are some of the stupidest people in the world. I’m not sexist or anti-southern-women-named-Barbara. I just don’t like helping them fix their computers. But I have to. It’s my job.

“Can I have the serial number of the product you’re calling about?”

“Ok. Where would that be?” I told her where to find it on the computer.

“Take it easy on me, I’m new to these computers. I’ve used another brand all my life.” I am taking it easy on you. I just told you where to find the serial number.

“Ok, can I have your email address please?” That always elicits one of three responses: Why do you need it, it’s, or what Barbara said:

“My email’s not working right now. Can’t you look me up by my phone number?”

Ok, gotta step out of the story briefly and explain something real quick. People think everyone who is on the phone support team is a genius with mind-reading abilities thrown in to boot. In reality, we’re just normal people. Normal people who hate their jobs, don’t get paid nearly enough, and just happen to have a job where everybody who calls in thinks you’re smarter than they are. Often, we’re not smarter than they are. We’re just very good at acting like it.

“No, I’m sorry, that number didn’t bring up a profile.” I prepared for a verbal pounding. I lean back in my seat and hit the mute button so she doesn’t hear me saying something I would regret her hearing me say. That’s the way it works… She says unkind things about me, I say unkind things about her. The only difference is that I do it with the mute button down. This allows me to seem very patient and understanding while making her feel like the Wicked Witch of the West.

She gave me her email address and I found her profile. She, too, is covered by the extended support plan. I asked for her problem. “I can’t send email.” What is it with southern women named Barbara who can’t figure out how to send mail?

I eventually figured it out: she had created an email address with my company in the mail program without first creating the address with my company. How illogical. How perfectly normal.

Anyway, I fixed her problem. But it took a long, long time. She lauded me for my patience. I laugh, say it’s nothing, and end the call. But it is something. It’s my job.

The day dragged on. I requested a break and had lunch. After lunch, I took more calls. One of which my supervisor listened to. That happens occasionally.  Which gives me an excuse to go into the administrative structure.

The administrative structure of a phone center is insane. Especially one that is part of a chain of phone centers. It works something like this: You report to your supervisor. They report to their supervisors. And the clients. And the head office. Their supervisor reports to the manager, the clients, and the head office. The manager reports to the head office and the clients. All of them.  And the head office.. reports to the stockholders and the clients. And the clients report to their supervisors, who report to their managers, and so on until you get to the top of the corporations, then down to their stockholders. I hate corporate politics. Couldn’t we just have a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker and be done with it?

As a general rule, the supervisors are pretty cool. As long as I’m not getting them in trouble by not meeting project requirements, they mind their business and I mind mine. Everybody goes home happy. Occasionally I deem it necessary to challenge the administrative structure, but not  often, primarily because I hate losing. Sometimes, though, you’ve just gotta do it.

Anyway, I wander over to the supervisor’s desk (which strangely enough, looks exactly like mine.. except with more papers). He tells me how I did on that last call and what I need to do differently. I tell him I know what I’m doing wrong (without seeming rude or ‘duh, I knew that’), like taking too long on calls or whatever. I go back to my desk and make a half-hearted effort to improve. I do, a little, but not a lot. Primarily because I don’t care. If this place was converted back into a grocery store tomorrow, I wouldn’t care. Unless I didn’t get my paycheck.

Back at my desk, I find myself surfing the web. Unfortunately, so does one of the supervisors. Remember what I said about the administrative structure? Well there are so many people above the supervisors that they can’t have this happening because somebody’s going to be very concerned about the rules and they’ll get in trouble, so they tell me to knock it off. I do. Oh well, I’ll have to be more careful next time.

The calls keep pouring in, and so do the customers. It seems everybody wants something. This one guy wanted a new computer. I sent him rolling off to somebody else who has the power to do that. I sure don’t, so why should I deal with him getting mad at me? Besides… They won’t give it to him anyway, and I know it. But I transfer him anyway.

I’m minding my own business, waiting for a call. My shift is halfway over. The longest half of the shift is yet to come. Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough sleep last night… as usual. I’ve had my lunch, now it’s time for a nap. Argh. Stupid phone <beep>ed again. I answered the call, got started with logging. It’s a long call, but not a hard one. Only one thing to do: try to maintain consciousness.

I close my eyes. I’m fighting a losing battle with Sleep. My head leans to one side. I’m still conscious enough to make intelligent-sounding responses like “Yeah, let’s try that” without really knowing what I’m saying.

Some days it gets so bad that I crawl under my desk and near-sleep. Then I’m just barely talking. And then I have to regain consciousness, read over my notes, and realize exactly what stupid thing I just told my customer and correct it. Then back to just-conscious-enough-to-hear-the-customer-and-make-intelligent responses. This continues for the length of the entire call until I decide this call has gone on too long and I resolve it, either by sending it somewhere else who’s better able to help them, or by me fixing their problem. This continues for the next two or three calls or until I regain enough consciousness to function.

I’ve gotten so good I can type with my eyes closed. Seems to work well. In fact, I’m doing it now. I do have to proofread what I write with  eyes closed.. which kind of stinks. But it seems I can type better with my eyes closed then the average person can with them open. That’s life in a phone center.

My coworkers see me as a bit of a genius. I’m not.. I just know where to find stuff and can find it quick. I do have a lot of stuff memorized, though. But I wander again from the topic at hand: my coworkers.

Have you ever wondered who the people are who answer the phones? I know I haven’t. I know them.

The guy on my left is named Mark. He’s a middle-aged gentleman with a few problems and a job here. He used to be in a band. And do any number of other things. He’s a nice guy. Doesn’t know as much about fixing these computers as some people, but significantly more than others. He’s got a special talent for making customers believe whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth. And that nonsense is occasionally pretty interesting. Most of the time he’s right, though.

The character on my left? That’s Rich. He wears a handkerchief as a hat and bears a slight resemblance to a biker, what with the beard and all. But he’s a lot thinner than most bikers I’ve seen on TV. Other than that, he could pass for one. If he wore leather. He’s a decent guy, too. And he also used to be in a band.

Andrew’s the guy behind me. He actually does ride a bike, and could pass for a biker. I’d hope so, anyway. He wasn’t in a band.

Anyhow, we’re coworkers.. a band of brothers. We give each other advice.When (not if) a customer cusses one of us out, we commiserate and talk about how stupid some people can be. We talk about life and whatever.. whenever there’s a break in the calls.

Ah, here come the rookies. I was one once. A long time ago. I’ve been here too long. The rookies just graduated training. Contrary to popular opinion, tech support agents hit the floor in as little as three weeks (not three years, or even three months). We get a crash course in resolving issues. It’s not like college; it’s concentrated training on one single topic. My entire training was four weeks. Four weeks of training and a year of live customer calls.

Any time I get a new agent, I try to teach him or her the rules of support:
1) You are the smartest agent on the floor. There is no one better for the customer to talk to than you.
2) The customer is always wrong.
2.5) The customer must never know this.
3) Get rid of the call as quickly as possible. Either resolve their issue quickly or get them to someone higher up.
4) (forgotten)
5) (forgotten)
6) Accept the blame for everything. i.e., you tell the customer to do something. They do just the opposite. At this time you must apologize, claim responsibility for their mistake and take corrective action.
etc. etc.

Time for posting.
The show must go on.

And speaking of my job, 5:30 finally rolled around. I danced out of the building. Have you ever noticed that leaving work is a lot more fun than getting there? Imagine that…

Posted 1/3/2007 9:36 PM – 1 View – 0 eProps – 0 comments