Tech Support – We’re People Too

Nobody likes calling tech support. There are droves of sites that recount horror stories of dealing with various companies and their failure to provide the help that is wanted and needed. This will probably never change. I, too, really try to avoid calling any tech support line as long as possible. I will beat Google’s search algorithm to a bloody pulp and turn my cable modem into a pile of molten goo in an attempt to fix a problem before I will pick up the phone a press a few numbers. Heck, I have a series of posts on this very blog recounting my experiences with Comcast support and they are not flattering to tech support (though the social media outreach team is a different story).

On the flip side of that coin, I am in tech support at the company I work for. I take the calls and do what I can to help. Having been on both sides of the fence, I think I can safely say that there are a few things you can do to give you much better chances to leave a support call satisfied. Now this may not work every time as every company and every support technician (or engineer or whatever the PC term is this week) are not equal. But the point here is by trying to adhere to a few common courtesies and being a little flexible can greatly increase the chances that you will have a pleasant experience when you pick up the phone to ask for help.

First and foremost, do not assume that you will be stonewalled or that your experience will be a bad one. This will put you in a negative frame of mind and that will come out during your conversation with the support rep. Job or not…that is a person on the other end and they don’t like being verbally abused or mistreated any more than you do. Try to remember that. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish since you are probably frustrated already with whatever problem has driven you to call in the first place but trust me, you don’t want to come off as belligerent.

Next, understand that your problem might be rare or unique in some way so it may take a little while to dig to the bottom of the cause. A good support rep is not going to just give you a quick answer and all but shove you off the call. I can tell you from personal experience that about 30% of the cases I deal with in any given day are unique in some form or fashion. This leads me to asking quite often for very basic information so I can be sure that I am thorough. After all, if you call back because the problem wasn’t as fixed as we thought it was because I missed something, you will, understandably, be less inclined to be patient or nice. Of course there is the exception of the other 70% of the cases I deal with. These are the things I see almost daily and can say with near absolute confidence what the solution is in fairly short order. Don’t confuse that answer with brushing you off. If you have doubts about which it is, then ask if it’s a common problem. I can’t speak for most companies but I can say that the one I work for values honesty with the customer.

Try to understand the support rep’s point of view because he or she is trying to understand yours. Our goal is to get your problem fixed. Our goal is to do it as quickly and as thoroughly as reasonably possible. We want you to get full use of your product/service and we know how frustrating it is when something you need isn’t doing what it is supposed to do. We honestly do understand. We don’t get calls because things are working great, which is fine because that’s the job. Again, I can’t speak for other places but at my job we do it because we like solving problems.

I don’t know how many people notice, but if you are on a support call and your rep engages you in idle conversation while fixing the problem, you will probably leave the call with a positive feeling towards the experience. The chatting about random things gives you a personal connection with the person on the other end of the phone. It doesn’t seem as mechanical and that has a profound effect on the overall experience. I bring this up because if you are feeling overly frustrated by your problem, try initiating some idle chat if the rep has not. This can diffuse the potential for a bad experience rather quickly. It does not mean we won’t take your problem seriously, but it does make the solution finding process more pleasant which makes time seem to pass more quickly. This is a good thing since nobody wants to be on the phone for a long time with support. Well, it usually doesn’t make the top 10 list of things to do at work at any rate.

What brought on this particular post? Oddly, it was not having a bad support call. I had a great one. A call came in mere minutes before quitting time and ran about an hour or so after quitting time. The caller had every right to be really upset about the situation but never once let it show. We had a nice chat while we worked through everything that was going on and tried some different methods to fixing the problem. When we finally exhausted everything I knew to try we finally had to admit defeat and get the replacement process started. Even then the caller was understanding and only stated a desire to get back up and running quickly. I went on and stayed a while after hanging up to make sure the replacement process was fully in motion (at least as far as I can take it) before finally shutting down my computer and heading home. I do this job because I like to solve problems and I like helping people. Being in support lets me do both. Calls like this make the job a real joy. And amazingly, most of the calls we get are nearly this good.

Just remember that you are dealing with a person on the other end of the phone. This person is here to do what they can to help. Try to be nice to them even if you are mad at the situation. At the very least, take a breath if you start venting and apologize. Everyone’s emotions get a little out of sorts from time to time. I called Comcast for the eleventy-hundredth time and ended up griping at the poor lady that answered my call for nearly three minutes. The moment I realized what I was doing, I stopped and took a deep breath. Then I apologized for taking it out on her and explained I was just very frustrated by the problem and she did not deserve that because she personally had been trying to help fix the problem. Even after all of that I would dare say we both left the call on a happy note.

A little courtesy can work wonders.

Why Does Comcast Fail?

Can someone explain how a corporation that has obviously obtained a fair amount of market success could be so stupid as to release this awful “upgrade” to their guide? I’ll be the first to admit that the old system was light-years behind Tivo…but this? Calling this new guide an upgrade is like smashing your mother in the face with a thin slice of lemon wrapped around a Yugo and telling her it’s a filet mignon. So what’s really wrong with it you ask? Where in the world would I begin?

I’ll begin with their inability to tell time. The phone call I received and the notice that came later in the mail said that on Tuesday morning, Ocober 21, I would lose all my saved shows and settings because of this upgrade. When I got home on Tuesday after work, all of my shows were still there and nothing had changes. However, at 1am Wednesday the software install took place. So marketing people, it’s the next day once the clock hits 12:00am. Try to get that straight. I know all this newfangled stuff called “time” is real confusing but let’s do a little research before the next announcement, mmkay?

Let’s talk graphics. Now I know that the visual candy of the program guide really doesn’t affect the functionality of the guide all that much unless you severely tax the woefully underpowered CPUs that are usually installed in these set-top DVRs. HOWEVER, the graphics are reminiscent of 1988’s worst home-brewed ANSI colored interface and the color scheme looks like a reject for the vomit scene of The Exorcist. I really don’t want to look up what shows are coming on now because the overwhelming FAIL makes my eyes bleed and gives my brain a nearly uncontrollable desire to smash me in the face with a thin slice of lemon wrapped around a Yugo until it goes away. Are you getting this down, Comcast? Did you vet the new interface design at all? I mean with people who aren’t legally blind or were the recent recipients of a lobotomy…

DVR functions have been ‘upgraded’ as well…and by upgraded I mean severely hindered to a point of near catatonic uselessness. There was a time very recently that I could be fast forwarding through a part of a recorded show, see the place I want to stop, press the play button, and the unit would know I have only a human reaction time and would jump back a couple of seconds. No need to worry now. Comcast took that highly unwanted feature and tossed it out with yesterday’s lobster dinner leftovers. Because they listen so well to what their customers want, they replaced this with a wonderful new feature that doesn’t try to anticipate human latency. It simply starts playing from the point you press play. This means if you aren’t a precog, you’ll be doing a lot of rewinding at the end of your fast forwarding. Isn’t that just awesome? Seriously, guys, WTF?

Oh yeah, did I mention that the fast forwarding is slower than with the old software? It is much slower. The second level of fast-forward is around the speed of the first level in the old software. It was frustrating enough giving up my beloved Tivo 30-second skip but this just drags things out even more. And lastly in the realm of the DVR problems, I’d say that the way you set up new recordings is unintuitive. No, that’s far too politically correct and sanitized to express my true feelings for the new process. It sucks. It’s stupid and the guy that designed it is an idiot. Why on earth would you take a process that was simple and elegant and then ‘upgrade’ it into a 7 step process that makes no sense whatsoever?

Next there are the browsing options in the channel guide. Gone are the days where you could start typing the name of the show and have an ever narrowing list of results on the right to choose from. Instead we get the all new and improved option to select on the first letter and then scroll through all of the shows starting with that letter until you get to the one you want. Oh, and if the show airs on multiple stations, expect to see multiple entries in the search results. Isn’t that fantastic? Are you excited about this new system? I’m sure you’re just as excited about all of these great new features as I am. And would you like to know how excited I am?

I’m buying an AppleTV this weekend and canceling cable television. Congratulations…you have officially made my television experience Craptastic. I’ll be spending my money on iTunes to get my shows. Lord knows you’ve worked hard enough to drive even loyal customers to anything but your service. You’ve succeeded. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this stinking load that you’ve just dumped on us.

Comcast in the Kiddie Pool

Comcast gets a lot of press and most of it is bad. I still, despite my glowing praises for the Digital Media Outreach, agree with most of what’s said. The service is flaky. The content is mediocre. The price is outrageous. The hardware just plain sucks. But there are even more frustrating problems. Finally, though, I can take one of them off my list.

It seems they have decided to stick a toe into the kiddie pool of the intarweebs. You can at last get an email notification that your bill is ready. I am amazed that one of the largest communication providers in these United States has had the audacity to buck the trend of convenience by not doing what even little mom and pop shops have been doing since 1996. Any third grader with a keyboard can hammer out a quick and dirty script to send a little SMTP message to a specified email address on a specific day of the month.

I won’t get into it too deeply this time since I ranted about this in an earlier post. The long and short of it is this: Comcast has finally started coming out from under its rock and is beginning to offer some of the basic convenience services to its customers that other web enabled companies have offered for no less than 10 years. So if you have Comcast cable or internet service, you can now log into the website and sign up for email notifications for billing.

Sheesh guys, I know corporations move like slugs, but this is downright embarrasing.

A Comcast Summary

For those of you that have been following my Comcast saga, you can jump down to the last paragraph. Newcomers, you are being treated with a brief summary of the previous trials. More in-depth information can be found in the posts tagged Comcast…just hit up the search feature.

The whole thing started about nine or ten months ago with some poor picture problems. I have a 50″ Samsung plasma television and subscribe to Comcast’s HD service complete with DVR. I figured it would be a fairly simple thing to call them up, run through their troubleshooting script, and get a tech to stop by and fix whatever was messed up. I figured wrong.

Over the course all these months I have been calling Comcast almost weekly with the same problem. Standard definition channels are so fuzzy that they look like I’m watching them on my old Zenith television hooked up to rabbit-ears and HD channels giving me the Max Headroom treatment if they come in at all. I have had no less than a dozen techs at my house over this time all trying to figure out what was going on. They ran a new cable to the house and replaced all the cable ends and splitters where the feed comes in. Nothing helped. I replaced the receiver which was constantly locking up on me (thus losing all my saved programs) and that did nothing except maybe make my problems even worse.

So I blogged it. Lo and behold my little blog which got less than twenty hits a day at the time got a response. In less than four hours after posting my first Comcast rant, I got a comment from Melissa with Comcast’s Social Media Outreach group. Thus ensued a series of emails (which are blogged here) and phone calls with the “local leadership” in an effort to fix my ongoing poor service. More techs were sent and more problems just weren’t fixed. But Customer Service was a pleasure to deal with. Every last one of them was helpful and sympathetic. Their techs consistantly sucked. Insert more blog postings, emails, and phone calls.

Eventually I got a response via Twitter from Melissa’s boss, Frank (@comcastcares). He was very excited about my opinion on how his group was helping me get something done but was just as frustrated at their tech’s inability to fix it. More time passed with steadily worsening service. It literally became unwatchable cable. Finally, Melissa ran across my more recent postings (the one’s with Star Wars-esque names) and decided it was time to up the ante. That got me the head of the local support center and a visit from one of his top engineers. Yep, engineer…not tech. He fixed the problem in less than two hours. Turns out when the cable ends were replaced, the one that went to my DVR had some of the ground braiding touching the center conducter wire. Way to go tech guys.

Well, that was about three weeks ago and I am happy to say that I have been credited for service that was nigh unusable and since the engineer’s visit, my service has been really good. I still get occasional pixelation, but I can live with it. Besides, who on Comcast doesn’t have quality drop on HD every now and then? It took every ounce of patience I had to keep them around long enough to get a fix. This was in large part because of my reluctance to give up Food Network and Good Eats. Alton Brown is the only reason I have cable to begin with and my addiction to his show is the only reason Comcast is still getting money from me. So I have to thank AB for giving me a reason to see it through to a finally happy conclusion. I cannot express how much I appreciate everything that Frank and Melissa did for me. That group deserves positive press regardless of whatever the rest of the Company From Hell is doing. So Frank and Melissa, thanks again and keep up the great work. With luck you won’t hear from me any more unless you want to talk about random topics.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Comcast

In the long struggle with my cable service there has always been one thing that has bugged me. Comcast is arguably one of the largest communication companies in the United States. So why are they about the only company in the United States that still doesn’t have an e-bill option? They give me internet and (sometimes) cable television and can even supply me with telephone service. But I can only get my bill via snail mail. Is it really so hard to send me an email?

I would imagine with all the money Comcast makes from the gouging prices standard in the cable industry they could afford a programmer or two to write a couple of scripts to generate a little email to all subscribers that opt-in saying that their bill is ready. I mean, damn, I can view my bill at the site and I can pay it there as well. All I want is a freakin’ email telling me it’s ready to be taken care of. I’m not asking for a full blown html bill with personal information that can be stolen…just a message that says “Your Comcast bill for <date> is ready. Please visit Comcast.com to pay your bill.” I’ve got an eleven year old daughter that could probably write a script to do this.

That being said, I talked to a lady at Comcast today that said they were supposed to roll that very feature out yesterday but had a problem so it will most likely be a couple of weeks to a month before they try it again. So again I ask, what’s so hard about this? I’m making the assumption that billing information is kept in a database. So all you need is a script to run a query for a bill date and opt-in status that then generates the emails for those people and sends them out. You are planning on making a form on the site to opt in to such a thing, right? After all, I know I’m not alone in the people that have never used their Comcast.Net address.

I’m sure they want a fancy html laden beast of a message but I don’t think that people in general give a damn about how pretty it is or how much it looks like the site (which in my opinion is craptastic). Please hire some people to address this guys. I want email notifications of my bills so you can stop killing trees on my behalf. Besides, I use my inbox as a bill reminder system. Only unpaid bill emails stay there. Everything else is filed away. Anything that hits my physical mailbox is usually forgotten unless it comes from Netflix.

** If you’ve been following my service saga, I promise that I’m working on a new update post. I just need to give the latest developments a little time to simmer before I serve them up.

Comcast Episode Three: Revenge of the Box

Another week and still the high signal issues persist. I figured that since the tech that came out Saturday was one that had been there before and managed to get me fixed back then, I would see some satisfaction. I was wrong. While attempting to watch Good Eats last night I got frozen frames, pixelated video, trilling sound…the full Max Headroom treatment…that culminated in a nice box in the middle of the screen once again informing me that I needed to subscribe if I wanted to watch Food Network. Come on guys, it can’t be that hard to fix a signal problem. Continue reading “Comcast Episode Three: Revenge of the Box”

Comcast Episode Two: Attack of the Fuzz

There I was, minding my own business. It had been a long day at work but the week was now over. I had made it to Friday night. Supper was eaten and the dishes put away. All I had to do was relax on the couch with Doctor Who. The episode teaser was intriguing. The Doctor has a daughter?

The show started and I was instantly mesmerized by the images on the 50″ plasma. Say what you will, but I like the way Doctor Who stories are presented. I like the writing. I like the acting. It’s probably my favorite show next to Good Eats (and nobody can top that one). But there was a problem. Max Headroom syndrome was starting again. It was a little spastic, but it was there…probably nothing to worry about. Continue reading “Comcast Episode Two: Attack of the Fuzz”