Wednesday, 24 May 2017

What happened to "the customer is always right"

In my time on this planet I have dealt with a few different companies and a couple governments looking for customer support. Among that group who would you guess has the worst customer support? You'd think the government, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong!

Several years ago my company signed on with a mid-sized partner to provide us with phone services. At the time we thought it would be better to be a big fish in a small pond because we would be the most important customer in their roster and would reap the benefits. Looking back through the egg on our faces I'm sure we wish we could hop in the old DeLorean and go slap ourselves upside the head.

It turns out that, not only were we the big fish in their little pond, we were like Otto in A Fish Out of Water - we just kept growing and growing until we were too big for them to handle. Now most companies, you'd think, would take one of two paths; 1) Admit that they had bitten off more than they could chew and bow out gracefully or 2) Step up to the plate and use some of the profits we paid them to improve - better infrastructure, more knowledgeable staff, etc. Turns out that this company was not like the others.They chose option 3) Take the money and run the contract into the ground no matter what.

As things started going south with calls dropping, bad quality, people not being able to hear each other, etc. our support desk found itself escalating more and more issues to our partner's support desk. At least that is what they called it. In the 3 years of the contract they had gone through 4 or 5 support desk managers ranging from the fairly knowledgeable and helpful to the downright ignorant and rude. At one point they practically auto-replied to us with "not it" whenever we pushed a ticket their way.

For example, one day, the 5th day of outages which they ignored the first day, blamed on us the second, finally located the problem on their end on the third, blamed us again on the fourth and then, with their admission of guilt still hanging out there, stopped troubleshooting altogether. The issue had happened before several times and always had the same solution. Instead of taking the road well-traveled, however, they wanted us to, once again, prove that water is wet and step through a series of extra troubleshooting steps. This after 4 days of no phone service and horrible customer support.

Now, I'm no businessman, but I fail to see the logic of treating your biggest customer like a stray dog that just crapped on your manicured lawn. According to their press we made them profitable where they weren't before. They even listed us as 5 different clients on their otherwise paltry customer list. Which means that when we dropped their services they lost over half their customer list.

We have since moved to another provider who has not once blamed us for their own failures and has, on several occasions, informed us of outages before we learned of them from our end-users. Our old partner still has the claims on their website that so amused me back then. I find particular humour in the sentence which reads "we provide exemplary customer support" and even more in the promise of 24-hour coverage. I never once was able to reach anyone outside of normal business hours on their "24-hour support line." It reminds me of Steven Wright's joke about going to the 7-11 to find the owner locking up. "What are you doing? Your sign says you're opened 24 hours" "Yes, but not in a row."

Maybe things have changed and they are finally living up to their claims, but I somehow doubt it.

UPDATE: I found this posting in my drafts folder recently and decided to see what the old company was doing. They went bankrupt in 2015, meaning they lasted longer than I expected, but came to the same end.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

O'Brien's Law

The term 'observer effect' in Physics refers to the idea that the act of observation changes the phenomenon being observed. Physics being what it is, this effect is usually seen in the microscopic and smaller scale. However, I have discovered a real-world example of this on the macro scale.

Many times in my career I have stepped up to a computer for the purpose of assessment and eventual repair only to discover that it is now working. The user claims it was broken right up until the point I arrived. Usually this is then followed with claims that they are "not crazy" and other things I am not qualified to determine.

I have often referred to this as the "car mechanic" principle, since it follows a similar situation where that annoying thing your car was doing went away once the mechanic got a hold of it. However, in this case the car is usually sitting idle for some time before a mechanic gets to it, so it does not fit the sudden and dare I say miraculous curing of ailing computers simply by arriving on the scene.

Now that I've put it out there, could it be that we IT professionals are somehow possessed of the ability to cure computers simply by a laying of hands? Discuss.

Contrary to the name of this blog, I do not subscribe to any specific religion, so I'll leave the miracles to others. Instead I postulate this:
The act of observation of an IT-related issue, by a qualified IT professional, can sometimes resolve this issue.
I think this should be called O'Brien's Law of  Quantum Observation as it Relates to IT Issues. Discuss.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Average and Retroactive Stupidity

Have you ever had somebody say something so stupid that it sucks the intelligence out of everything else they say? As if you are averaging their intelligence across their comments. Or are you averaging their stupidity?

Tech support from our printer supplier emailed me to say the user complaining about a smell and noise when they print may "have no toner cartridge installed." I don't know about you, but my printer doesn't print at when the toner or ink cartridge is removed. The printers are intelligent enough to know this, apparently some printer techs are not.

Their next suggestion was actually very insightful and under normal circumstances could have been considered brilliant. Since the printer was reporting toner level at 0% they suggested that installing a fresh toner may resolve the "burning smell" issue. Of course! Why didn't we think of that before?

Unfortunately the ballast of the first comment is dragging the second one down so it is no longer 'brilliant' or 'insightful'. Instead we just have a 'good idea'.

A similar effect can be achieved by stating something intelligent followed by something stupid. In IT support we often see this from Cliff Clavin-type users who say things like "I ran out of hard drive space. I need more RAM" In this case the stupidity is retroactive.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

And you are...?

There are times when I have been able to solve a problem from a brief or poorly worded description. Most of that is experience and intuition getting together for an educated stab in the dark, not clairvoyance or omniscience. Judging from some of the work orders I receive, however, a lot of people think it is the latter.

They must think of us as minor deities to think that we can solve an issue from, "I can't log in." Keep in mind that our ticketing system only identifies the location the complaint is coming from, the rest is up to the person submitting the ticket. We even seed the ticket with reminders, "replace with short description of issue" and that sort of thing. Yet, each day we get tickets with such detailed information as "1 computer not working" when the site has 5 computers.

Monday, 1 April 2013

April Fools' Pranks (Repost)

Today you will be bombarded by April Fools pranks from every quarter. Your local newspaper, TV or radio station will run a bogus headline, your favorite website will post something bizarre of some sort (check out Think Geek for their annual too-good-to-be-true April Fools product), your coworkers and/or family will drive you mad with pranks. So, why not fight fire with fire?

A computer is a wonderful canvas to practice retaliatory or even preemptive pranking. Here's a few relatively safe pranks for Windows (sorry Mac users I dropped out after OS9.1):

Dude, where's my icons?
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

Built into Windows is the ability to hide all the icons on the desktop, leaving a nice clean unobstructed view of your desktop wallpaper.

Vista, Win7:

  1. Right-click the desktop and go to Arrange Icons By.
  2. Click on Show Desktop Icons to remove the checkmark next to it.

  1. Right-click the desktop and go to View.
  2. Click on Show Desktop Icons to remove the checkmark next to it.

Dude, where's my taskbar?
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

This prank has two stages:
  1. Moving the taskbar to a different edge of the screen and ...
  2. Hiding it from view.
Vista, Win7:

  1. Right-click the taskbar and make sure Lock the Taskbar is not checked.
  2. Now left-click an empty area of the taskbar and drag it to the left, right or top edge of the screen and release.
  3. Move the cursor to the top edge of the taskbar until the double-ended arrow appears. Left-click and drag downward to reduce the taskbar to
Alternatively, or in addition, you could
  1. Right-click the taskbar and choose properties.
  2. Click the checkbox next to Auto-hide the taskbar and click OK to exit

Vista and Windows 7 will not allow you to minimize the taskbar, you can only move it and auto-hide it.
  1. Right-click the taskbar and make sure Lock the Taskbar is not checked.
  2. Now left-click an empty area of the taskbar and drag it to the left, right or top edge of the screen and release.
  3. Right-click the taskbar and choose properties.
  4. Click the checkbox next to Auto-hide the taskbar.

A picture's worth a good laugh
Difficulty:  ModerateWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  MSPaint or similarRisk: Low-medium

A blank desktop is so boring, why not give your victim something to look at...and click on...repeatedly...with no response from their computer. The risk here is that they will assume their computer is frozen and reboot, potentially losing unsaved work.

XP, Vista, Win7:

  1. Press the Print Screen key in the top right area of the keyboard.
  2. Open MSPaint or other similar program.
  3. Paste the screen shot into the program and save as a BMP or JPG file.
  4. Set the image you just made as the desktop wallpaper (there are several ways of doing this, pick your favorite).
  5. Follow the steps above to hide the desktop icons and taskbar.

Slow and steady
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  MSPaint or similarRisk: Low-medium

I discovered this one while helping a high school computer instructor troubleshoot a computer that would allow him to type his login, but then the keyboard appeared to stop working. Three known-good keyboards and 20 minutes later...

Vista, Win7:

  1. Open the Accessibility Options control panel.
  2. On the Keyboard tab, click the Settings button under the FilterKeys section.
  3. Make sure the Ignore quick keystrokes... radio button is enabled and click the Settings button next to it.
  4. Use the drop-down under SlowKeys to set how long a key must be held down before the computer will register it. The time ranges from 0 to 20 seconds.
  5. Click OK to save your changes.

  1. Open the Ease of Access Center and click on Make the keyboard easier to use.
  2. Click on Set up Filter Keys
  3. Click the check box to Turn on Filter Keys
  4. Click on Set up Repeat Keys and Slow Keys.
  5. Use the drop-down under Avoid accidental keystrokes to set how long a key must be held down to register. The time ranges from 0 to 20 seconds.
  6. Click OK to save your changes.

I know something you do not...
Difficulty:  EasyWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

...I am not left handed. Even not many southpaws know about this setting, so it is perfect for pranking. A simple checkbox will trade the left and right-click buttons of any mouse.

Note: Some mice will have programmable buttons or other options which provide other opportunities for mischief.

XP, Vista, Win7:

  1. Open the Mouse control panel
  2. Click the checkbox to Switch primary and secondary buttons.
  3. Click OK to save your changes.

Like a record, baby
Difficulty:  ModerateWorks On:  Depends on graphics card
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low

There are monitors that can be rotated 90-degrees into 'portrait' mode, perfect for reading documents a page at a time or for playing Pac-Man the way it was meant to be played. Because they exist, graphics card manufacturers include a 'rotate' function in their settings usually with the ability to add a hot-key combination. Only Intel enables these hot-keys by default. Which brings us to the...

Intel on-board graphics:

For a while Dell was exclusively using Intel motherboards with on-board Intel graphics. HP has also used Intel at various points.

Note: The computer has to be unlocked with a user logged in.
  1. Hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys at the same time and press one of the arrow keys. The arrow points to the side of the monitor you want to be the new top.
  2. Ctrl+Alt+Up arrow returns to 0-degree rotation.

You will need to explore the options of the graphics card to see if rotation is possible, assign hot-keys, etc. Look for ATI's CATALYST Control Center, NVIDIA Settings application or...
  1. Right-click a blank area of the desktop and choose Properties.
  2. Click on the Settings tab.
  3. Click the Advanced button and explore.

¡Uno momento! ¡Yo hablo EspaƱol!
Difficulty:  Easy-ModerateWorks On:  XP, Vista, Win7
Tools Needed:  NoneRisk: Low-moderate

There is a vast range of languages to choose from for this prank. For a subtle change try using a French Canadian keyboard layout to change a few keys. If, however, you belong to the 'Go big or go home' school of thought, change the input language to Russian.

Vista, Win7:

  1. Open the Regional and Language Options control panel.
  2. Click the Language tab and then the Details button.
  3. Click the Add button to begin.
  4. Use the Input language drop-down to select a different language. Some input languages will have a name in parentheses, these languages usually have special characters which will be used when typing (eg. the backwards letters of Cyrillic languages).
  5. Use the Keyboard Layout drop-down to changes where certain keys are located.
  6. Click OK to add your selection to the list.
  7. Use the drop-down under Default Input Language to select your prank. This will ensure that the next time they open a program it will change to the new default.
  8. Having multiple languages installed will enable the Language Bar which docks on the taskbar down by the clock by default. You can...
  9. Right-click on it and choose Settings to go in and disable it or just hide the taskbar as above.

  1. Open the Regional and Language control panel.
  2. Click on the Keyboard and Languages tab and then the Change Keyboards... button
  3. Click Add to begin.
  4. Expand a Language, then the Keyboard listing and click the checkbox next to your chosen input language.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Use the drop-down under Default Input Language to select your prank. This will ensure that the next time they open a program it will change to the new default.
  7. Having multiple languages installed will enable the Language Bar which docks on the taskbar down by the clock by default. You can...
  8. Right-click on it and choose Settings to go in and hide it or just hide the taskbar as above.

Additional ideas:

Put a piece of Scotch tape over the optics of an optical mouse.
Physically swap keys on the keyboard. Be warned, some keyboard keys will not come off easily.

Download Intellimouse and use it to calibrate the mouse incorrectly. The program tells you to move the mouse up, but who does it think it is! Move the mouse in any direction you want.

Download the Sysinternals BSOD screensaver by Mark Russinovich. Unfortunately this has not been updated with Windows 7 load screens.
Use remote access tools to create a ghost in the machine by moving the victims mouse or typing when they type. Takes a fair amount of pre-planning.

DISCLAIMER: Computers are ultimately fickle devices which may or may not take kindly to being the instrument of your amusement. Keep this in mind and choose your victims wisely and with a thought to the consequences of a disaster. Practice responsible pranking and if you do try any of the tricks listed above and they get you in trouble, don't mention my name.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Latest not always the greatest

When Apple released iOS6 I decided to take a look at it before I jumped on the bandwagon and boy am I glad.

The list of "over 200" improvements seemed to hold nary a one that would apply to my Wi-Fi only iPad 2. Even worse was the listed loss of Google Maps and replacement with Apple Maps which a series of useless-sounding features. Better to play it safe and check the reviews, I thought.

The negative reviews of Apple Maps have overshadowed the other features, but they have certainly convince me that "sit and wait" was the better choice.

Meanwhile the executives at work are dumping their iPhone 4s and 4Ss for the iPhone5. As they hand them to the IT department to set up we are discovering that they need an upgraded iTunes which requires the latest update to Apple OS which requires the latest OS which requires money. A sound business plan, but a lousy customer experience.

So here I sit, happily typing away in the last iOS while the update counter on the App Store increases by leaps and bounds and realizing that the latest is not always the greatest.