Of cut cables and the sad state of tech support

A certain tech company that I rely on for my phone lines was recently in the area where my business is located updating their fiber lines. In the process, they happened to cut the lines that provide my office with our phone system and backup Internet. 

Three days later, it happened again.

Both times when I called into support, I got a lesson in frustration showing how tech support never gets any better. (It’s like the old skit comedian Lily Tomlin did where she portrayed “Ernestine the Operator” for a large phone company She would often say in a nasally voice, “We’re the phone company, we don’t have to care.” That’s what this felt like.)

Over the course of several hours, I dialed several toll-free numbers in search of the department I needed. I dialed, explained the issue, was told the number I called wasn’t the right one, and had to start all over. I finally got the right department, and I could see the company had tried several fixes (such as attempting to reboot the router) without success. They then sent out a technician who discovered one of their own service teams had damaged the cable.

Telemetry that tells a company there is a problem is clearly a good thing. But too often, it also leaves the customer in the dark. Until I finally got to the right person, I had no idea the vendor already knew something was wrong with my phone system.

Let’s face it: many of us would like to have an extremely knowledgeable person come to our businesses with every tool available, the ability to diagnose any tech issue, and knowledge about what to do. The reality is that it takes time, experience, and communication skills even the best tech support personnel don’t always have. (Even tech manuals can’t keep up with changes; too often, they now offer a QR code or a link to an online manual for updated information.)

A lot of vendors now seem to think chatbots are the answer. While they might work for generic questions, they’re rarely detailed enough to handle issues correctly. And the growing use of artificial intelligence means even more vendors are likely to increase their use of chatbots for the basics of tech support.

But tech support can often be used as a feedback channel where a vendor can find out about (and fix) bugs or even make enhancements to a product — assuming they can cull through the often useless remarks they get. A good feedback item will detail the problem, highlight the customer impact and ideally include a screen shot or recording of the bug so the person handling the report can quickly understand the issue and find the right person or process to get things working again.

Many times, I’ve lamented that I’m unsure who or what feedback is being gathered and from whom. Software vendors will often announce upcoming changes and say they used a certain venue to gather the data underlying their decision — only to backtrack once they get pushback online from social media. Case in point: a recent decision by Microsoft to unveil a host of changes in Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 23481. Specifically, the company said it planned to remove a handful of old settings under Folder Options in File Explorer — part of an effort to clean up a variety of settings.

As Microsoft noted, many are legacy settings that Windows 11 users don’t need or know about. The company noted that the following settings wouldn’t be exposed, but could be accessed via registry keys:

  • Hide Folder Merge conflict.
  • Always show icons, never thumbnails.
  • Display file icon on thumbnails.
  • Display file type information on Folder tips.
  • Hide protected OS files.
  • Show drive letters.
  • Show popup description for Folder and Desktop items.
  • Show encrypted or compressed NTFS files in color.
  • Use sharing wizard.

In less than a week, Microsoft did a complete turnaround and announced it was pulling back on the changes because of feedback it received. “As is normal for the Dev Channel, we will often try things out and get feedback and adjust based on the feedback we receive,” the company explained. And yet, only a few days earlier, it had argued the features weren’t being used regularly. Maybe so many users have blocked Windows telemetry that Microsoft isn’t getting good information about how we use our hardware.

Will feedback and tech support get better or worse with the addition of AI? It’s too soon to tell. Until then, remember that if you do use vendor feedback channels to report issues, give exact information about what isn’t working or what you don’t like, and try to add images or recordings about the problem. If you use social media, make sure your complaints are complete. And finally, when calling or contacting a vendor, try to find the online location where you can see whether your issue is already being handled so you don’t spend four hours and countless 1-800 calls trying to track down support for a problem that’s already being addressed.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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