Let Me Help You.

Today was a very busy day at work. Several strong storms passed through the area, knocking power out to thousands of customers. Of course, when the power goes out, technology-based stuff goes out as well, so it keeps it all interesting.

The Network Operations Center I work in provides support for a wide variety of products. We provide support to big corporations with hundreds of telephone lines, customers that are building websites that feature nothing but recipes and the grandma and grandpa that live up in the hills that are exploring the internet with their brand new DSL connection. When a storm is blowing through we get requests from business customers that need their phone lines forwarded to a cell phone as we try to determine what the cause of their outage is: is it power related? Did a crossbox get struck by lightning? Has a house fallen on a Verizon building? It goes on and on. And it can be a little tense, especially with the recent cutbacks at work.

What keeps it more interesting is that we still get the home DSL support requests in the midst of these mini-crises. Now I understand that they may have no idea of what is swirling around them, but if I am to be completely honest here, I sometimes dislike support the home DSL users, especially when they are particularly vague as to what’s going on with their computer or connection. Trouble tickets that read “please help Ruth find her e-mail icon” kind of raises my blood pressure. Nevertheless, I do what I need to do to get the job done, though I usually mutter under my breath a little bit. Okay, maybe out loud too.

What makes troubleshooting computer problems a little challenging is when the user that is having the issue apparently thinks that what the computer does for them is some sort of voodoo or magic and they obviously have absolutely no idea what is going on with the device that they’re typing their credit card numbers into. For example:

1. A woman called on Sunday because she was afraid that “they” were going to get her through her internet connection again. Apparently she had received an e-mail from the King of Idiocia (country name fictious) declaring that she was to receive $15 million dollars if she provided her checking account number. Said user provided this information and found herself quickly relieved of her identity. She has rebuilt her life and is afraid it’s going to happen again. I told her that no one wants to give her money.

2. Another woman with a computer science degree called after what sounded like a very tragic auto accident that resulted in a head injury. She wanted to know what Outlook Express did and if it was important to her. She kept losing her train of thought and asking where I worked.

3. A third customer called because she was trying to play PoGo and a message box kept popping up. She had no idea what the message box said, she didn’t think it was important but what was important was why PoGo wasn’t working.

4. And lastly, a man called at 11:00 p.m. after being without DSL for 1 1/2 days and needed his connection repaired IMMEDIATELY. I’m thinking the wife and kids were in bed and there was pr0n to be had.

Many larger companies opt to outsource their technical support overseas, and aside from some cultural and language barriers, this isn’t an entirely bad thing, however, most breathe a sigh of relief when they realise that I live and work relatively close to them. That being said, I’d like to ask a favour of anyone calling in for technical support and request that you have an idea of the following when you’re calling for a little help from the (hopefully) friendly geek:

1. Please give us some way of identifying you. Your name, mailing address or e-mail address will suffice. Sometimes your name doesn’t appear on the Caller ID and unfortunately my ESP doesn’t work so well over a dead DSL line.

2. Error message pop ups are trying to tell you something important. Don’t click OK, CANCEL or NEXT without knowing what the computer is trying to tell you. I have a hard time when you scream in a hysterical voice “There’s an exclamation point!” and then you click OK before you read the rest of it.

3. Have a general idea of what kind of computer you have. “Windows” doesn’t cut it these days with the various flavours out there. I feel kind of silly asking if there is a “start” button or a “little orb” in the corner. The same goes for your description of the issue: “the ‘puter went broke” sounds like you call your mommy to get your blanky and quite frankly I’m not going to take the matter seriously.

4. Never ask me to read your e-mail to you just because you can’t access your e-mail. I’m not interested in your love affair with the postman. (true story)

5. Turning off the monitor does not equal “shut down your computer”. I have finally stopped telling customers to shut down their computer and tell them now to just yank the plug out of the wall. And this is the honest truth: your computer will not work if the power is off.

6. When I have to tell you that a colon is a “capital semi-colon” or that lowercase letters are the “small capital letters” we have a problem.

7. Ditto when I have to spell out “mail” as “m-a-i-l” when you keep typing “m-a-l-e” to get your e-mail.

These are just a few of the pointers I wish to share with my gentle readers. I could come up with dozens more, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

Happy computing.