The New Mantra Of Tech Support: Tell It Like It Is

Fake News written by Ann Oneemuss on Monday, November 11, 2002

from the wake-up-and-smell-the-shrinkwrap dept.

Since the days of the first shrinkwrap licenses, software vendors have faced a troubling dilemma. If they produce high-quality software, then nobody will want to buy upgrades in the future. But if they produce crap, then their technical support lines will be flooded by calls from irate customers bitching about some trivial show-stopping bug, along with calls from newbies wondering if they will go to jail because their computer performed an "illegal operation".

In an effort to stem the tide of calls, but without resorting to improving their software's quality (a move that would prove disastrous for their profit margin), many companies are now training their tech support workers to "tell it like it is."

Microsoft's customer service reps, for instance, are now given permission to admit that their software "sucks". If somebody calls about a bug, they are told, "That bug is on the list of the 1,500 bugs we intentionally inserted into Excel to maximize future upgrade sales. Our programmers could fix that particular bug by inserting one additional line of code, but they may or may not be allowed to do that in the next version, to keep you guessing..."

To those readers who think we are unfairly singling out Microsoft so we can bash them yet again, well, you're right. (See, Humorix tells it like it is, too). But other companies are also adopting the same mentality in order to keep customers from calling back.

If a caller to Eboda, to name an example, complains about gaping bugs that, in any other industry would lead to an immediate product recall, the customer service weasel will now respond, "Well, tough. This ain't the automotive industry -- we've convinced enough government regulators that any attempt to regulate software will cause the entire economy to implode, producing the Great Depression 2.0. We advertise our software's features... we don't advertise whether they work or not. We don't have to. Numerous court precedents have sided with our argument that we are above Product Liability Law. If you don't like it, throw away your computer and become Amish."

Callers to the Bank of North Haverbrook that demand that their online banking website stop using gratuitous Flash and ActiveX applets receive a curt response that goes like, "95% of our customers use Windows. If we ignore the rest, our bottom line will stay the same. Our developers spent thousands of dollars taking courses on Flash development from a prestigious correspondence school and we're going to take full advantage of their skills. We're not going to waste money so they can take more classes on CSS, Java, usability, or other worthless skills that only a few Jakob Nielsen-wannabes care about."

The new attitude is a refreshing change from the old system in which the representative would answer based on the display from their Customer Satisfaction Matrix (i.e., a Magic 8 ball). Callers would receive random and content-free responses such as "Please reboot your machine", "re-install Windows", "upgrade your device drivers", "buy the newest version", or "download the latest Service Pack from our website". While this system had the advantage that tech support workers could be pulled off from the street without any computer knowledge, the big disadvantage is that callers, unsatisfied with the vague answers, would call back numerous times and become more irate each time.

"If we dish out plain English responses to callers, they'll get angry. But they won't have any reason to call back. Eventually, they'll become resigned to the fact that they can't fight the software industry and they'll become nice, docile little lemmings that will play along with whatever we do. This way, we can have our crappy software and eat the profits too," explained one industry veteran who wasn't available for comment and whose quote we just made up.

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