Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Who are they talking to?

There are occasions when even the tech-savvy have to call a technical support line. You would think that we would have an advantage, speaking the same language and what not, but that depends on what type of person answers the phone. Speaking to other support lines I have discovered them staffed by basically two different types of people: Techs and Agents. There are, of course, other words that can used to describe them, but I'm trying to keep this blog rated PG.

Technicians, or Techs, are knowledgeable individuals who are experienced in their field of support. They are able to interact with the customer by listening to a description of the issue, ask pertinent questions and guide the customer to actions which either resolve the problem or provide information on what will. Techs know their subject or know where to go to fill in the gap (usually Google), so it is tough to throw them off their game. The best techs will exude an air of confidence even when they are completely stymied by an issue. A conversation with a tech may be frustrating, but in the end they have done their best to resolve your problem by bringing to bear all their knowledge and experience.

An Agent, on the other hand, could be replaced by a voice recognition system and some BASIC programming. They start the call by reading a script. Once you have presented your problem they take a moment to look up another script which guides them through various questions and procedures to try in an effort to resolve your issue. Deviation from the script puts them into a tail spin from which there may be no recovery until they give you some pointless task to get you off their phone and/or escalate to a next-level technician. In a way it's like calling a telemarketer and about as fun.

As you can imagine, an IT tech calling another IT tech is usually a quick, painless call that leaves both parties satisfied. An IT tech calling an Agent is a special little hell somewhat akin to having dental surgery without anesthetic while they pump Yoko Ono to you through headphones with no foam ear covers.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Who are you talking to?

The idea that you can profile your callers as one of several different archetypes is not, by any means, an original one. This list started when a co-worker told me he had just completed one of the longest 'Columbo calls' of his life. The concept was so fitting that I started looking for more common customer types. The six I have decided on so far:

The Columbo - Named after Peter Falk's Lieutenant Columbo character whose interrogation style always ended with "just one more thing." Likewise, a Columbo customer starts with a single issue, but once that issue has been resolved and the call is about to end, they always seem to come up with "just one more thing." This is not to be confused with a Bob Wiley that keeps you on the phone for companionship.

The Bob Wiley - Named after Bill Murray's character in What About Bob, this caller will make small talk to fill the little silences while you work on their issue, which at face value doesn't seem that bad. It is afterward that the Bob Wiley's show their true colors. They crave human contact and now that they have got you on the line, they won't let go. Most support lines dictate that the customer has to end the call, if that describes your company, kick back and enjoy your chat with Bob.

The Jehovah's Witness - This type of customer is not calling to have you figure out what they need to resolve their issue. They already know the answers and just need you to come around to their way of thinking. This type of caller will not take 'no' for an answer, but instead will keep pushing for the resolution they feel is correct. Unfortunately, they usually only become evident when policy is in direct conflict with their desired result. Like their namesakes they have no qualms about escalating to a higher power. By the end you just want to tell them to get off your porch.

The Grandpa Simpson - To quote Abe Simpson- "I'm old. Gimme, gimme, gimme." This type of customer feels that for some reason, be it age, brand loyalty or just delusions of gandeur, they deserve more from you and/or the company you represent. Oftentimes their expectations are ridiculously out of proportion to their actual contributions. For example, a customer that wants a free upgrade to a more powerful computer because they spent $1000 on your company's products last year.

The Scrooge - A Scrooge customer is one that does everything with a view to saving money. They may trim down computer specs to ludicrous amounts just to save a buck and/or argue about every single line item in an invoice. They have been known to become confused and frustrated when they cannot install software because they ordered a computer without a DVD-ROM. And it's your fault, somehow.

The Cliff Clavin - Know nothing know-it-all. The kind of customer that claims they know what they're doing and will become upset if you ask them to repeat steps they claim to have completed or 'talk down' to them in laymans' terms. They typically have some certification and/or years of experience that will tempt you into treating them as a peer, but when push comes to shove they will need to be hand-held through basic procedures. Example: An A+ certified tech that doesn't know how to force a hard-shutdown.

The list is subject to change as I come up with better examples/names or new archetypes become apparent.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

It's like spelunking, but with less echoes...

Occasionally I come across an item being used for IT support that has been borrowed from other disciplines or places that you wouldn't expect.

This past weekend I was working on one of my computers, a task which is made up of crawling into the dark area under my desk to dis- and later reconnect the tower. The disconnect part is easy, but getting the color-coded audio cables into the right jacks is not something that can be done by feel.

At one point I found myself reaching for a flashlight that I could hold in my teeth so I had both hands free. Unfortunately, the first one I found was a 3 D-cell Maglite, a little too heavy to try holding that way. The next one was the right size, a little 9-LED model, but the aluminum case starts to irritate after a few moments. I decided I needed to find an alternative method of holding a flashlight.

Lee Valley sells a clamp for the little LED flashlight, but I don't have a metallic surface under my desk to stick it to, other than my computer. I'm not sure I should mix rare-earth magnets with hard drives. How about somehow sticking the flashlight to the under-side of the desk? Oh, the on/off button is at the back of the flashlight, so pressing it upward into a blob of poster-tac or old chewing gum would just turn it off. Maybe I could hold the Maglite between my head and shoulder like a phone. That lasted until I relaxed my grip and the flashlight fell in, causing me to jump and hit my head on the underside of my desk. Not fun.

Crawling around in the cave under my desk and wishing for some form of protection for my head, in case something else dropped into, I found myself envisioning a miner's helmet. That is when I remembered. Not two feet away was my head lamp, originally purchased for camping so I could set up the tent in all degrees of gloom, but just as handy for a little home-office spelunking. With that on my head there was no longer any danger to my...lap and I was able to quickly reconnect the myriad of cables it seems my computer requires to run.
Best of all, the back of my head is protected by the battery pack, so I don't have to worry about any sudden, unplanned, upward movements of my head.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

What do you feed a tiny electric horse?

I realize that there are a number of non-tech-savvy individuals out there that can use their computers, but don't really understand how they work. To listen to some of them you would think the computer is some magical device that they expect to work all the time, like a genie they have trapped in a plastic case. That would explain why they're so ticked off when the damned thing stops granting their wishes.

I try to keep this in mind and provide a sympathetic ear when they contact the support desk to complain about everything from their screen resolution to the number of seconds it took their computer to open Facebook. Most of the time I think I even succeed.

There is one comment, however, that always confuses me:

"My Internet is down and I can't get to any web sites.
Oh yeah, my email isn't working either."

How do they think their email gets to their computers if not by the Internet? Do they not realize that the 'e' stands for electronic. Maybe these are the same people that called their ISP in the middle of hurricane Katrina to complain that they couldn't get online to check the weather reports or that call their computer's manufacturer to troubleshoot their inability to power on their desktop computer during a blackout. No matter how often I hear it (which is lots) I cannot wrap my head around it. I do, however, have a theory:

Tiny Pony Express riders

Riding the power lines of the world like the dusty trails of centuries ago. Trading stories and singing songs around a virtual campfire in a routing hub, dodging roving gangs of malware, risking their miniature lives to deliver you friend requests and ads for Viagra. I bet the little buggers even stop off at porn sites, their own tiny brothels. No wonder some email takes so long to be delivered.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

One reason to get cable...

I haven't had cable for years and not really regretted it. Whenever I start to feel that I'm missing out and should sign up for one of the deals that Shaw or Telus are advertising, another reality TV show is released and the feeling passes.

Unfortunately that means not having easy access to The IT Crowd. A co-worker sent me this earlier today, further proof of the power and universality of Reboot.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Reboot is life!

I don't know where it started. The first time I encountered it was a Dilbert comic. Now, I throw it out half jokingly when people are asking for suggestions on how to solve a problem. I've worked with people that abused it; used it as an excuse to get the customer off their phone. I've even heard self-proclaimed computer illiterates shout it out from the other room, "Have you tried rebooting?"

When I wrote down the suggestion for a Tech Talk segment (which films this Friday) I had a chuckle over the choice of phrase. "The Power of the Reboot" sounds like the title to an evangelical sermon (and provided inspiration for naming this blog), but the more I've thought about it over the past couple of weeks, the more convinced I've become that a simple reboot is one of the most powerful tools we can use.

Think of it as the snake oil of IT support. Step right up and get your Reboot! You won't believe the wondrous, the fantastical, the near miraculous workings of this simple task. Have a problem sending email? Reboot! Is your printer not printing? Reboot! Internet not connecting? Reboot!

In fact, why stop with computers and other electronics? Reboot everything! My oven sometimes makes a high-pitched whine when I first turn it on. You know how I stop it? I turn off the oven, wait a few seconds and turn it back on. I actually reboot my oven!

What else can we turn off and back on? Cars! Next time your car is acting funny try this: Shutdown your car, wait 30 seconds to a minute for the parts to stop moving and then start it back up again. Just make sure you're not in traffic at the time.

Now that I think about it, it doesn't even have to be something that can be power-cycled. Rebooting has already made it into popular culture. We reboot entire movie and TV series now! Granted, that has more to do with running out of new ideas then recovering from an issue. Or maybe lack of material is the issue...

Joking aside for a moment, rebooting makes sense for a computer that is being left running 24/7/365. System resources are used and not completely released, so a reboot provides a clean starting point. Now that sounds familiar... Think about it. Every night your body enters a sleep state, during which time your brain uses dreams to process old data and thus reclaim resources and provide you with a clean starting point in the morning. So, you could say that, in a way, Reboot Is Life!

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go reboot.

Monday, 7 March 2011

In the Beginning...

First, you should know that this is not an attempt to marry religion to technical support.

I have been looking for a blog-worthy topic now for some time, but have never felt the driving need to publish my thoughts on anything. There simply has not been anything that has put a fire in my belly, as it were, until now.

The company I work for has created a 'TV' show that is streamed to all our branches across the country. Recently my boss has decided to throw IT's hat into the ring and host a monthly segment called Behind the Wires. As a former drama student I was tagged to host a portion of this show called Tech Talk. While writing down ideas for the next show I inadvertently struck gold.

The simple phrase 'the power of reboot' at first caused a chuckle and visions of a gospel preacher-like tirade on the next Tech Talk. Since then the idea has blossomed into something I think I can blog about - my observations of computers and their users from my perspective on an IT helpdesk.

I'm still fuzzy on the exact shape this blog will take, but I have at least taken the first big step in its creation.

Stay tuned...