2007-10-16 08:25:55
Wandering Tech Support
As I've gone through the paces with many an odd device, I've found more and more often that tech support is the one area where the mono-culture of Windows is the most apparent. Perhaps it's time that the non-Windows community as a whole, do something to provide tech support, to tech support.

If you use a non-windows device, of any kind, I'm sure you know what I mean. Normally everything goes fine, until you run into that tech support call to report a problem with a system *outside* of yours.

OK, first disclaimer. I have done tech support. I know how users can be. I actually fielded a call from my mother once, who was complaining of the TV not turning on. (I love you mom.) After a bit of questioning, I asked if it was plugged in... which we found it wasn't... and solved the problem. These things happen.

The thing I can *not* stand, however, is to get on the phone with a jaded tech support person, and be confronted with the 'you are the problem' mentality that I get so often. I try, to drop a few terms, explain the situation in as much detail as I can, and generally *try* to relate to the person on the other end that I do, in fact, know what I am doing, and do need help from their end. (i.e. something on their side is broke) I have interviewed a number of people in my day for jobs. It is not hard to ask a few questions and quickly get a reading on the BS meter of where the person on the other end is. I wish more tech support people would do this.

The worst though, is the dreaded tech support call with a non standard device. This seems to up the level of the 'you are the problem' issue. Again. When looking at any problem, the first thing you do is look at all outlying factors. What is different from the norm that will help you narrow in on the specific issue at hand? I can see that and will evaluate that way myself in practice. But you mix the previous assumption (the caller is an idiot) with this and you are in for a fun call.

As you may guess, I just had one of those. On my morning coffee run, I sat down at my local Caribou to catch my breath and snag a bit of free WiFi before my bus arrived. Now I knew, from my previous visits when I had little or no time to mess with it, that their WiFi access point was on the fritz. This is not, unfortunately, uncommon. So much so, that I just happen to have the company that provides the wireless access to Caribou Coffee (Wandering WiFi) on speed dial. That's not a slam on them, I just happen to find myself at a number of Caribou's and I also happen to be someone that will actually stop and call someone when I find a problem. (I'm all nice like that) The difference here was that this had been for like a week, and no one had fixed this thing.

So I call, give the store number (on your receipt folks, always, no, I don't memorize this stuff), and explain that the access point is visible, showing full strength, but refusing to connect. (One strike against me, but at least that answers the 'Is your radio on?' question out of the gate.) They start with the killer question. What am I using? Strike two, I'm on my Nokia N800. I proceed to explain that not only have I connected many times before at this location, but I can, in fact, connect to the other visible access point offered by the Lunds in the same building (which is just a simple http proxy, so of no use to me.) This bounces off as he proceeds to state that Linux does have problems with their systems (which is, of course, crap). Strike three, and the game is a foot. In this instance, it finally took me booting an XP machine, launching NetStumbler (another hint that I how a bit about the situation) giving him the channel and DB reading on the access point, and confirming that that XP is in fact giving the *exact* same message. ('Cannot connect', simple enough I thought.) At this point, he rolled the access point a few times and all was well again.

Too many times, I find that this is not so much an issue with the fact that I'm not using Windows, but more an issue with the fact that the person on the other end has *no clue* about my device X, but more so, really doesn't understand the issue, and is following a script. I just happened to derail that at step 'A' (which OS?, choices being Windows 2000, XP, or Vista)

So I propose a solution. We need a resource, for tech support, to bridge the knowledge gap on their end, and bypass the madness. This can apply to any number of problems, but the format is the same. Any issue can be diagnosed by running a number of tests. Is the device plugged in? Is the radio on? Etc. All that needs to happen here, once you identify these steps, is to plug this in the 'script' for the device at hand. Now you can support any number of devices, without having ever *seen* them.

Now, obviously, you may go down the path and realize that it really *is* something wrong with the users machine. That's fine, and I agree, at that point, it's their problem. Again, here, it would be up to the tech person to drill further. If the resource was complete enough, you could actually reduce calls as you can refer the user to said resource and they can go from there. (Granted, if your net access is down, you may have an issue there, but again, your problem)

I think this could work and I think people would use it. The trick, of course is designing it so that new devices can be added easily and issues pooled. I actually see savvy tech people being the stake holders here and adding value to the system as issues arise. A growing database of support. If someone has seen something like this, please let me know, in the meantime, it's been added to my TODO list.

As for adoption, that's simple. I'm turning the table. Tech support people of the world, when someone calls you, do you want to look ignorant because you've never seen my device before? Or do you want to look like the IT god that can solve any issue in record time? I, personally, opt for the latter. We'll see.

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