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Call Center Scams

The further adventures of being put on hold By Stephen Schleicher
A week or so ago, I wrote about my frustrations with faulty computers, peripherals, and how much I hate dealing with call center tech support. Things havent improved much, but at least tech support is getting what it deserves.

If you need a refresher of what has happened, here is a quick rundown. I decided to upgrade Lain (my Sony Laptop) from WinME to Windows 2000, a task that should have been easy, and according to the sticker attached to the device, it fully supports the 2000 OS. After the upgrade, my D-Link wireless LAN card stopped responding. The tech support "gurus," and I do use that term loosely, said it was Sonys fault and Sony said it was D-Link. The vicious cycle kept going, one blaming the other, and with each tech person I talked to, it became apparent that no one had an answer card to help me. In fact, one Sony tech actually told me I would have to do a search on the Internet to find the answer, as he couldnt help. This lead me to my big conclusion that the people hired to fill the tech support positions, have little to know computer-training experience, and you are better off letting a six-year-old try to solve your problems.


Have you ever wondered why tech support tries to get you off the phone as quickly as possible without really helping you? Simple. Money.

Tech support costs companies like Sony and D-Link a huge sum every year. In fact, a single tech support call can often cause the profits made from the sale of a product to be wiped out. The company is hoping the consumer will seldom need to change the configuration of the product thus making it work like it did when it shipped from the factory. You and I are not like that, we like to tinker, we like to add, we like to expand, and we like to upgrade our product to make it better - something more than it was originally. In an ideal world, products would never need tech support, as the product would work no matter what was added or removed. But this isnt an ideal world, and a company that spends too long trying to track down all the bugs in their product before shipping, is a company that will never have anything to sell. So the company offers tech support.

A large number of companies do not handle tech support internally, they farm the jobs out to call centers and pay them per call. The city that the Digital Media Net Central Division is located has such a call center, handling a variety of clients, including a well known $oftware O$ manufacturer, who recently released a new game station. In between writing about changes in the industry, reviewing new and fantastic products, and ranting about how much I hate tech support, I teach a couple classes at the local university. This semester in my Interactive Systems Design course I have several students who work part time at the call center. Out of curiosity, I asked if they had a time limit that they were supposed to adhere to when dealing with customers. Their answer? Eight minutes. In eight minutes, the tech support person is supposed to ask you your name, get your system information, find out what your problem is, flip through their file-o-facts, recite the answer, and get you off the phone. If they cant do it in eight minutes, the call center company doesnt get paid. Money is the reason why tech support rushes you through a solution. Of course, if their first answer doesnt solve your problem, you get to call back (possibly multiple times) and get rushed through another eight-minute fix. The large company is offering tech support, and the call center is getting paid. You and I, on the other hand, get more and more frustrated.

Which brings me up to my latest rant about the morons at tech support. In order to try and solve my PCMCIA/D-Link problem, I returned Lain to her WinME state with a system image disc provided by Sony, thinking that would "reset" the system. As Murphys Law would have it, this solution only proved that there was something definitely wrong with the PCMCIA slots on my laptop. Which meant I got to call tech support one more time. Fortunately it had been a week and the taste of bile had gone away, so I was ready to deal with tech unsupport once more. After fifteen minutes on hold (something that is not counted against the call center), I was run through a couple very quick and scripted solutions, which I knew before the person on the other end of the phone walked me through them, would not work.

In an effort to get me off the phone as quickly as possible he gave me an event number and told me to call the Sony 900 number and they would be able to fix my problem. If you have never had to call a 900 tech support number, here is the scam; they charge you to tell you what you already know is wrong. Here is how the large company pays for the call center tech support. In the case of Sony, the per minute charge is around $2.00, or you can pay a flat rate of $49.99. Always choose the flat rate. I was on hold for over an hour that would have cost me $60.00 just to listen to The Girl from Ipanema over and over again. You may think that the company doesnt charge you for being on hold, but it does. Hence the flat rate option.

Just when I was ready to puncture my eardrums with a sharp metal object to keep from having to listen to that melody one more time, I surprised to hear a voice on the other end ask me for my event number. Thinking that something positive was about to happen, I cheerfully gave him the event number. Boy was I wrong. His first answer when I explained my problem (for at least the third time that evening) was, "Huh, Ive never heard of that before... you sure it is not a problem with your D-Link?" I calmly explained my story again, telling him that I had called both D-Link and Sony several times over the past week (and in Sonys case four times).

His response?

"Well sir, I have no record that you have ever called us with a problem with your computer before."

It is at this point when dealing with tech support that you must follow rule #697 in the Guidebook to Technical Misadventures- Lose your temper. If you drop the phrase, "people should be fired" a couple times, tech support attitude changes very quickly and they are more than willing to put down the answer card and listen to you.

Now I am not saying yelling, screaming, and cursing is an appropriate way to handle situations, but sometimes, just sometimes, something snaps in your noodle and you have to tell a company what you really think of their tech support. Luckily most tech support people know not to argue back, and this one was no exception. He transferred me to yet another operative (I forget, am I up to level three tech support yet), where I explained my situation yet again. I think I was getting tired at this point, I had been put on hold for another ten minutes and the adrenaline was wearing off. If you trying to keep a running total of what this call would have cost me per minute, I was well over $100.00.

The third person I talked to at Sony tech support listened to my problem and finally found a solution - my PCMCIA slots need to be replaced.

"Just fax us a copy of your sales receipt, and well ship you a packing box next day air so we can get your system up and running again."

Luckily I always keep major receipts for just such an emergency and since this computer is under a one-year warranty, parts and labor for repair are free.

And because they couldnt solve my problem over the phone, Sony is refunding the $49.99 flat fee. Of course they have to turn the refund into the 900 number company, who then has to credit my phone company, who then has to make the adjustment on phone bill, which will take between 60 and 90 days. Sony isnt losing any money on this deal. By keeping my money (and all the other souls who called in that two hour time period) for 90 days, they will more than make enough interest to offset my refund.

So right away I faxed off copies of my receipt as well as the event number and all of the other info requested and waited anxiously for the shipping package to arrive by next day air.

A week later it did.

Lain was packed up and shipped off yesterday, Sony picked up the tab for that one and even pre addressed the labels. I made sure to get a tracking number from FedEx so I could make sure my package made it to San Diego, California safely. I looked up the tracking number today... the package was delivered to Virginia. Guess Im going to be dealing with more tech support people in the very near future.

I dont mean to ramble on, but for all you large companies out there who are concerned about making the customer happy, and want to keep your profit margin per product up, there is one simple thing you can do - make your products work the way you say they work. That way we wont be wasting your time and money with phone calls, and more importantly, you are not wasting ours.

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Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
corporate events.

Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.

He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (www.digitalmedianet.com), where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Appleā??s Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.

He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadnā??t even invented the word e-commerce.

And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at schleicher@mindspring.com

Related Keywords:call center, tech support, sony, d-link, laptop, computers, digital webcast, stephen schleicher

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