Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The End

This job was supposed to be a quick stop-gap solution while I looked for something with dignity that paid well and was ethical. It lasted about six months. Now I've got a better job. Yesterday was my last day.

I never did hear any sort of acknowledgement from supervisors that I was leaving. I emailed all the HR staff yesterday to make sure they were planning to send appropriate paperwork, and got a curt note that they would.

Over the course of the six months the job went from harrowing and miserable to just tiring. The first few months, with non-stop calls from customers who were all angry from being on hold, were about as bad a work experience as I've ever had. The last month or so, in which the pace has been relatively slow and a large percentage of the customers actually pleasant, has been pretty decent and occasionally almost fun.

But yesterday was my last day. My first call of the day was someone who had been transferred to me inappropriately and got angry when I explained that I couldn't help them without a paid subscription. In the middle of the day I got a call from someone whose computer was totally destroyed beyond help (not because of us; the damage was done before she first called us) and who then sobbed and wept and demanded that we pay for it; and my last call was an hour and a half long and at the end of it I had to explain to the caller that his problem was that his computer was badly damaged and there was nothing I could do about it.

I told one of my coworkers by chat that I was leaving. He seemed incredulous that anyone could want any other job.

Two last thoughts:

The company I worked for provides white-label tech support for other companies. They seem like a decent enough organization. The ISP they contracted with, however, does not. All my experiences have led me to believe that this company thoroughly despises its customers.

Some of my co-workers were themselves customers of this ISP, and said they think the company provides great value (mostly these are people with extremely, extremely fast internet connections, which I just don't see the need for). For my part, I went into this job thinking they were a terrible company to do business with, and I feel even more certain of that now.

And yet... many of my customers talked about how great this ISP was compared to their previous one (including most of the big players). Far more told me how awful 'we' were. Maybe once you account for the fact that folks who call are already having a problem, this evens out statistically. There is a significant percentage of people who are getting a good experience. But there's also a significant percentage of people who are being very badly failed by their ISP.

Also... this country is filled with interesting people. I talked to a lot of folks from all over the compass points, in just about every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Many of the people I talked to were delightful. Many, of course, were not delightful.

Some calls began with a long silence, followed by a guarded, suspicious, "WHO IS THIS?"... some calls began with a maniacal three-minute-long babble of everything the customer had to say, all in a rush. Some began with the sound of the customer cursing.

The job did not enhance my faith in humanity. It may have actually damaged it a bit.

I'm the sort of person who wants to treat everyone with dignity no matter what, because we're all one and we're all worthy of love. And I still believe that. And I had a lot of very sweet and pleasant customers. But a lot of my callers were so blinded by resentment, or so convinced they already knew everything they needed to know, or so intent on proving a stranger wrong, that they kept themselves from being able to get what they needed. A lot of people didn't seem interested in listening to advice. (Which sort of defies the point of paying for tech support). Some were suspicious and paranoid. Some seemed like they had an amazing amount of anger stored up. I feel bad for these folks, but I also feel bad for their loved ones, neighbors, and coworkers.

Anyhow, thanks for reading. May each of you do work that has some dignity and is for a good cause. Be cautious about viruses, back up your files, and be nice to strangers on the phone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Too Many Questions

Me: "Ma'am, is this computer a wired or a wireless computer?"
Customer (all in a rush): "well, it does have wires but i don't know if they're wireless wires it's plugged in like the other computer and it has wires but i think it's a wireless wire, the computers are connected to each other you know? it's a wired wireless wired computer that's wireless but with a wire."
Me: "Um, okay. Do you know if it's a desktop or a laptop?"
Customer: "Well, it's a squarish sort of box, it's more like a desktop than a laptop but it's square, it's like a rectangle but with sort of even sized shapes and it's not too big or too small but it's sort of square."
Me: "...okay. Do you know if it's connected to a wire that's connected to your wireless router?"
Customer: "Oh I just don't know... do I have to answer all these questions?"


Customer: "Thanks for calling back on the land line. That little Obama phone wasn't cuttin' it."

Which Which

Me: "So we know that the laptop won't work wirelessly, because the desktop computer we're looking at, which is connected with an ethernet cable, isn't working."
Customer: "Well, yeah, I think the desktop computer won't work either."
Me: "So... there's another desktop pc?"
Customer: "No, just the one main computer."
Me: "Isn't the desktop the main computer?"
Customer: "Yes, I carry the laptop around from room to room."
Me: "So which one have we been working on all this time?  I thought it was the desktop."
Customer: "The laptop."
Me (biting tongue): "Well, let's take a look at the desktop then."
Customer: "This is the desktop."
Me: "The computer that we've been looking at: is it the desktop or the laptop."
Customer: "Yes, it is."
Me: "The desktop?"
Customer: "Yes, the laptop."


Me: "Can you open Internet Explorer for me?"
Customer: "What do you want me to do"?


Customer: "Can you spell support for me?"
Me: "sure, that's s-u-p-p-o-r-t".
Customer: "ok, i typed s-u-p-e-r-t".
Me: "that's s-u-p-p-o-r-t, actually."
Customer: "ok, i've got s-u-p-p-e-r-t, is that right?"


Sometimes a customer whose computer is already damaged beyond repair will call back just to vent.

Ticket notes tell me that this customer already cried on the phone extensively while talking to the last tech, who had to explain to her that her computer was completely inoperable due to viruses damaging her Windows installation. Then she called back again, to shout and sob at me.

The worst thing? Her scrabble game... she spent months on her score.
She sobbed "Oh, God... please help me. Why me? Why me?"

And then demanded that I make someone at my company pay for her computer.

Information Deficit

Me: "So, what's the issue that you're calling about?"
Customer: "I don't really know. My son was having trouble with his computer connecting to wifi, but he's not here today. He called Saturday and you told him he needed me to call to verify him on the account. So I called and I guess I verified it."
(I look at ticket... the customer has just purchased $98 worth of tech support, usually associated with virus removal).
"Do you know what's going wrong on that computer?"
Customer: "No, I'm just calling to verify the account."

Last Day

Today's my last day on the job.

I'm pretty happy about that.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Plugging It In

Customer quote (imagine shoutiness, and imagine that I've just politely explained how in order to check on wireless router settings we need a temporary wired connection):


(meek and polite attempt on my part to re-explain why this is necessary. And silently say to myself, why, yes, I think I do understand what wireless means.)


(at this time I'd like to point out, as a public service announcement of sorts, to any men who may not be aware of this.... that being asked to connect an inexpensive cable, is not equivalent to rape.)


Customer: "I've talked to Chad... and Fred... and Mary... and Jeff... and now YOU."


It can be hard to explain to a customer that, yes... it matters that the thing they're calling "an iPad" is actually an off-brand e-reader.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Customer: "What is this thing called... you know... the pluggy thingy?"


Me: "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but from what you're telling me it really sounds like the hard drive in your computer has failed, and that's why your computer won't start."

Customer: "Is this because of my modem?"


A lot of customers hang up.

Cellphones drop calls midway through important sentences. Modems that also handle phone connections fail while we're working on the internet connection, and so the call drops too. Or, sometimes, we reset the modem without checking to make sure the customer's on a different phone. Whoops. And sometimes our phones drop calls mysteriously- they're an elaborate software mishmosh of different programs that work together more or less and sometimes get erratic. Or we screw up transfers, so that customers get dropped that way.

But sometimes customers just hang up. Maybe they fixed it themselves; maybe they just got sick of being on the phone.

The customer I just didn't talk to, for instance, was on hold about 45 seconds, but hung up before the transfer could complete. I tried to call back and couldn't get through. So I don't know what she wanted.

I'll never know.

The Indirect Approach

Me: "Can I have you show me how you log into your email?"
Customer: "What, do you want me to turn off the computer?"

(a little later... while trying to help customer login to her Hotmail account online)

Customer: "See, it doesn't remember my password."
Me: "Okay, why don't you try typing in the last one that worked."
Customer: "Oh, I've never typed one in."
Me (stupefied): "'ve... never typed... in... your password?"
Customer: "No, I just ask them to reset it each time."


Customer: "I was going to try to remove the virus yesterday, but Hotmail told me it'd cost me $195, so I just took more Xanax and went to sleep instead."


Me: "Is this a Windows computer or a Mac computer?"
Customer: "It's a laptop."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bad Call

My last call of the day... a simple wireless network setup. I've done hundreds and hundreds of them.
I solved the immediate connectivity issue, and went to establish a remote connection, as I always do.

The customer ran our remote connection software. His screen went black. The mouse froze.
Nothing could unfreeze his computer. So he restarted it.

After restarting, no video, no display whatsoever. Not just after Windows loaded, but even before: no startup info, no BIOS info, no hardware check info. The screen stays black.

I had him check the monitor cable, turn the computer off, turn it back on. Nothing.
I had him leave the computer unplugged for several minutes, then retry. Nothing.

The thing is, software can't do that. The only thing that could completely hose video like this is a hardware problem: a bad video card, a bad motherboard... maybe bad RAM.

But the customer refused to believe that such a coincidence was even possible. And was understandably convinced that I broke his computer.

And, that's all. There's no real recommendation I can give. As it is I probably said too much: by suggesting that his video card might be to blame I stepped well outside my allowable scope of work. So not only is the customer angry... but there's a good chance I'll be scolded by my supervisor too.

Admitting It

Customer (a mom): "We did have a laptop, but my son broke it."
(in background, teenager voice: "I did not!")
Customer: "All right, all right, I broke it. I admit it... I threw it over my head and it smashed."


I was on the phone for twenty-four minutes trying to guide a customer through checking her internet connections. Finally she said something odd that led me to the truth: instead of connecting one end of the network cable to her wireless router, and the other end to her laptop... she connected one end to her laptop, and the other end to her desktop PC.

Once she corrected this, suddenly it became easy to see what her problem was: her wifi wasn't connected because she'd accidentally turned it off, using the giant 'wifi on/off' button on her laptop.

"Well", she said philosophically. "Now at least I know what that button is for."

A moment later, while reconnecting the network cable to her desktop PC, she accidentally pushed the network card off the motherboard, so now the desktop PC can't get online anymore.

Cheaper Isn't Always Better

Today's heartbreaker of a call:

The guy with a sick kid, who wanted to buy the kid a laptop for school. He wanted to save money, so he bought it used. From someone his neighbor warned him against. But the price sounded good... he got two laptops for only "hundreds of dollars". Then he called me for help getting them online.

Except, when I looked up the make and model of the laptops... they dated back to about 1997, and had no networking capabilities whatsoever. Which makes them, for all intents and purposes, completely useless.

When I asked if he could get his money back, he said, "no, but thank you for telling me the truth about my fucking worthless laptops. Now I can smash them with a hammer."

Monday, May 7, 2012


(Frazzled and frustrated customer):
"WHY AM I HAVING THESE PROBLEMS? My phone works fine, and it's on the internet."
Me: "Is that phone connected to your wireless network?"
Customer: "Yes, the internet's in it."
Me: "Let me rephrase. Does that phone get the internet by connecting to your wireless network? The wireless network in your home?"
Customer: "I told you, the internet is inside this phone."

All the Porn

Customer quote of the day:
"I use my AOL email for all the porn."


Customer: "That password's the one I've been trying all morning. I know it doesn't work."

Me: "Hmmm, well, let's try it one more time....(typing)...(waiting)... Okay, looks like we're connected."

Customer: "What, you mean I just needed to type a capital A instead of a lowercase A?"


Me: "Okay, so the first thing we'll need to do in order to reset your wifi password, is have you plug your laptop into the wireless router with a network cable."


Me: "I understand that, but in order to get those wireless settings set up in the first place we'll need to use a wired connection for a few moments."

Customer: "Gosh DARN I hate this. Why do I even NEED a wireless password?"


Me: "Okay, before we start testing your internet speed we'll want to close out of ĀµTorrent, because it's using a lot of your bandwidth".

Customer: "What does that have to do with anything?"


After a few minutes talking pleasantly to my elderly customer (he talked about his service in World War II) about exactly how we would go about setting up his new wireless router, I asked him to go ahead and plug it in.

"I can't do that!", he hollered. "I'm in a wheelchair!"

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reefer Madness

My last customer had trouble coming up with a wireless router password. Finally he suggested:
"let's put in 'most high', but all one word".

I typed in "mosthigh".

He said "most... thigh? No, no, take out the extra T."

I took out the T. Now it said "moshigh".

He started giggling.

Problem-Solving Skills

Customer (after connecting me remotely to a computer):
"The other computer's the one that's not working".

Me: "Ah, okay. Well, let's talk about that computer. Is the other computer a laptop or a desktop?"

Customer: "A desktop".

Me: "Does it have the ability to connect wirelessly?"

cx: "No. It's not plugged in either."

Me: "That might be why it's not working".


Customer, after revealing complete ignorance of her (complicated and incorrect) network setup:

"How long exactly is this going to take?
...Also, I don't really understand computers. Can you just tell me what to do and not ask so many questions?"

The Breaks

Central command just sent a detailed spreadsheet telling all employees exactly when they're allowed to take breaks.


Customer, typing:
"WHOOPS! I hit a comma by accident....
...I'm no computer specialist."

Remote Control

Near the start of most calls, I try to set up a remote access program to a customer's machine. I do this by asking the customer to go to a website.

Often though, customers assume I can already control their computer from the moment I'm on the phone with them. Like just now: After a couple opening questions at the start of the call, I asked a customer to open Internet Explorer.

She said "Aren't you going to do that for me?"

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Awkward Moments

Customer (on speakerphone): "OK, my mother says you have a very sexy voice".

Me: "Um. Thank you very much."

Customer: "She's totally serious. She's walking over here to talk to you."


Me: "Okay, so I'd like you to type the word 'support'".

Customer: "Support. That's s... p... o..."

Me: "No, support, like s..u..p..p..o..r..t".

Customer: "Damn, I got too many Ps up in here."


In order to help people remotely, I need to connect to a computer. Not a cellphone or an iPad but a laptop or a desktop computer.

Twice today I've had people transferred to me who weren't told this, and have only an iPad in the house.

One of them, upon finding out that I couldn't help her, calmly decided to call back later.

The other flew into a rage and demanded a refund and blamed the "incompetent Indian salesperson", and then demanded to be transferred to someone who could cancel her account with the ISP.

I guess people have different ways of dealing with disappointment.

C'est la vie

Since sending in my resignation letter, I've intentionally begun to err more on the side of being nice to customers at the expense of being a "good employee". I was kind of doing that already, but I'd been trying to stay in scope for paid services and trying not to be too slow in my ticket times. Both of which sometimes necessitate not solving a customer's problems. Or, transferring a customer when it might be better for the customer not to be transferred. So, anyway, during the last couple workdays I've been extra-nice to customers.

The unfortunate truth is, customers aren't extra-nice back. They're just as rude as ever.

Hang up the phone!

When dialing a customer back on his land line, a tiny frail voice is heard.


Then my customer shouts in a deep, hoarse voice, at the top of his lungs:

again, in a tinier voice:




This morning's first customer has a lot of issues.

She wants me to uninstall Internet Explorer.

Also, Mozzarella Foxfire.

And DirectX, which she's heard "can let people get into my computer and do things".

And, she wants me to remove all those extra folders in the Program Files directory, because she has too many folders there.

Lastly, she's concerned about all the errors she gets, and wants me to stop her from getting so many errors.

When I ask what kind of errors, she says "CSS".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I emailed a resignation letter to my supervisor today.

But my supervisor didn't respond.

I asked around, and found out that my supervisor's on vacation.

I emailed my former supervisor, but she now works for a different department and isn't available.

A third supervisor said he'd take care of it.

But I can't help but think that this symbolizes something.

Monday, April 23, 2012


After I read a phone number to a customer too quickly, he growled:
"you have to go SLOW when you talk to us old fucks!"


Me: "Why don't we start by getting me a remote connection to your computer?" 
Customer: "Why don't we start by you telling ME how to do it so you don't CHARGE me?"
Me: "Um, you're already a paying subscriber. Any work I do with you today under that subscription is free."
Customer: "Oh. Well, why don't I just... oh.... Well.... okay."
(A moment later, as I read him a URL to type into the browser):
Customer (reading back partial version of the web address): "... no, that took me to Bearshare."
I can hear his friend in the background calling him a shithead.

A few minutes later, it becomes clear that the reason they don't have an internet connection is that they failed to plug in their modem correctly.

You want to CHARGE me?

My department (really a separate company,, but we're not allowed to say so) does paid tech support, for a major ISP (Comcast) that treats its customers badly.

Comcast employees tend to clear their own phones and get rid of problem callers by shunting callers to us inappropriately: in the afternoon as each time zone closes offices, we get sudden spikes of folks who have no idea they need to pay... often they have no idea they've even been transferred.

"I was just talking to a nice young man named Steven, he said he'd check on something. Why am I talking to you?"

Then I have to look up their account (sometimes a time-consuming process), then explain that I can't help them without a paid support subscription, and transfer them to our sales department. At which point 75% or more of callers will, understandably, throw a fit and start shouting.

Yesterday was an especially bad day for this. I took 22 calls yesterday. About 15 of them were folks who shouldn't have been transferred to me at all. About 13 of them were very angry.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Long Wait

Yesterday, a customer called because of a problem with her computer.

She got a salesperson with poor English comprehension. That salesperson should have set up her tech support subscription, and then transferred her immediately to a tech like me. Yesterday was a slow day, with no hold time, so she should have gotten help immediately.

Instead, the salesperson put her on hold, and then clocked out.

She says she was on hold for over an hour before her phone batteries ran out.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

A coworker reports that his customer just threatened him with "death by 12-gauge".

Sadistic Sabbath

A coworker just got scolded by his customer... for working on a Sunday.

Sadistic Sundays

So far all five of my first five calls today are folks without subscriptions, who didn't know they'd been transferred to paid support. One of the five callers was calm and unruffled by learning that he'd be charged. The others, not so much. So I've been harangued for the awfulness of Comcast four times today.

My last caller shouted at me for a long time with a lot of vigor. Apparently the installer gave her a new wireless router but didn't tell her the password for the wireless network. I explained to her how to find the new password, on the sticker on the bottom of the router. There it was! She read it back to me.

Then she screamed at me at the top of her lungs that the installer was a bad, bad man and should be fired... because he should have written it down for her. And that I was a bad man for wanting to charge money to help her.

A coworker says "Welcome to Sadistic Sundays".

Saturday, April 21, 2012

First Impression

When the call starts, my greeting always starts with "How can I help you today?"

This customer, an elderly man with a wavery speaking voice, responded with a long, loud, squeaky-falsetto, high-pitched giggle ("HEEHEHEHEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEEHEE"), then a loud hissing exhale that sounded like steam escaping...
then a shout, still in unnaturally high falsetto: "FIIIIIIIIIIIX IIIIIIIIIIIIIIT".

...then more giggles.

Thought for the day

"I don't really want to be a hacker, if you know what I mean. Microsoft pops up all these messages, and I don't know if I should click OK or No or Send or Don't Send.... am I getting myself in trouble by clicking on them or by not clicking them?
...Sometimes I'm my own worst enemy".

The Waves

My last customer wanted me to disable the wireless functions on her wireless router, because she was afraid of "the waves", and didn't want "the energy going through the house"..."you know... the EMTs".

EMTs running through the house can be pretty scary I suppose.

Upon closer inspection, it turned out she also wanted her wireless laptop to still have internet, after the wireless was turned off.
She was convinced though that she could just plug it into her other computer, and they'd somehow work together to make up for the lack of a wireless network. She called the other computer the " know, the power tower...the UPC".

Brain Damage

A lot of my customers apologize, sometimes defensively, and usually in the first few seconds of the call, for some sort of disability. Most commonly, this is something like my last call:

"I'm sorry, this is really confusing for me... I'm 77 years old and I have trouble with computers".

I always say cheerfully, something to the effect of, not  a problem, that's what I'm here for! We'll take it slow, etc. And I mean it, I'm not a geek snob. I like folks who aren't tech-literate, as long as they're easy to communicate with otherwise.

But sometimes people say something different, like the fellow who was in the war... or folks who say they have a low IQ... or the person who told me he had serious brain damage.

Usually these are the folks who seem smartest... and are the easiest to talk to.


I have to do a lot of things at once during a call.

I'm constantly typing notes, for instance: pretty much everything  I say, everything the customer says, and everything either of us does, has to be noted, sometimes in a very specific format.

I'm also usually looking things up online pretty constantly: customer account info (via a sluggish and user-unfriendly web database), past work provided for the customer (via a different sluggish and user-unfriendly web database), problem-solving suggestions (via Google, or via any of several internal web resources, each slow to respond).

I'm also constantly checking an instant-messaging service, which has my coworkers' banter, supervisors' instructions, etc. If I need help, I may be typing into that instant-messaging service, and trying to ask questions (in the correct format) and hopefully to get them answered.

During this time, I have to try to talk to the customer and guide them through whatever they're doing, without them knowing that I'm doing anything else. I pride myself on doing a good job with this, and work really hard to be attentive to the customer.

So it's a bad sign, at the end of a successful call, when I've felt particular rapport and connection with a customer, when she says, "Are you multitasking? because you seem distracted."

Mutter Mutter

The glory of speakerphones is that they make all input the same volume.

This feature can have unexpected results.
For instance, a customer who mutters to herself constantly during a call sounds like this:

It also means that the TV in the background will play infomercials about liposuction at exactly the same volume as the conversation you might be trying to have about computer issues. (And, TV shows about crime can be really disturbing... people screaming, gunshots, etc...)

And screeching babies are also a bit of a problem.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If That Really IS Your Name

I have kind of an unusual first name. In fact I don't know anyone else with my name.

It's pretty geographically neutral- to most people's ears it might sound European or Asian or African or whatever. Who knows. I've never met any others. I like this pretty well.

However, in person I'm pretty visibly white. Genetically I come from southern redneck European-derived peasant stock (with, as usual, a little Cherokee somewhere back there). I generally, to my sorrow, do not ever get mistaken for anything much except a scion of all-American redneck Caucasia.

Even my voice sounds pretty all-American. (Though I once was mistaken for a Scotsman by an old lady who I'd said hello to). When I'm on the phone with old people I tend to cultivate a rootsy folksy persona and use my  'farmer's son' voice. This puts most people a bit at ease- I try not to sound intimidating or strange, and try to speak in a mild-nonspecific colloquial dialect.

There's probably a lot of privilege to that ability. I'm aware of this and try to remember it, and I try not to take it for granted.

However, sometimes, with phone support, someone already knows what they believe and cuts right through some of that white privilege, with their own axe-grinding. Like my last customer, who seized the phone from his wife to demand that I tell him where I was really from (a mid-sized North American city). When I told him, and after he'd demanded I spell my name several times, and repeated it back in venomous tones, he insisted:

"I know you're NOT REALLY from [North American City]. Where are you from REALLY, [strangely accented version of my name]? You can't fool ME. I KNOW you're not from there, [strangely/comically accented version of my name]. TELL ME THE TRUTH."

I explained, calmly and patiently, that I am indeed in [North American City], and asked if I could get back to fixing his wireless router. He cut me off and started making fun of what he apparently thought was some sort of foreign accent. Then he demanded to know exactly what part of town I lived in. I didn't answer, so he seized on the change to say "SEE YOU CANT EVEN FAKE IT BECAUSE YOU'VE NEVER BEEN THERE".

I tried to guide him back to the work we were doing (in fact, I'd just guided his wife through a router factory reset and when he interrupted we were just at the point where they'd need my help to ever get their internet connection back. It didn't seem fair to his wife to let this crazy person prevent me from doing that.)



The Customer Is Always Right

A coworker reports that a customer told him he was so angry that he wanted to "grab the nearest convenient object and jam it up his...".


Sometimes customers have a difficult time knowing the difference between the operating system and the internet.

I'll ask them if they're using a Windows or Mac PC, and a large percentage of both Mac and Windows users will say "Google". Because that's what they see in the middle of their web browser.

Or, they'll call in and say "I can't log in to Windows!" when they mean that they forgot their email password.

Just now I asked a customer to look for an icon on her computer desktop, and she explained that she can't see it because of Timeline.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Way It Works

If you build a sufficiently complex phone support structure, beautiful patterns emerge. For instance:
  1. A customer calls because their antivirus program says she's not connected to the internet. She knows that she is connected, because she can see websites and browse the internet. So she calls the phone number listed in the antivirus software.
  2. That phone number directs her to call [giant evil corporation], which is an internet provider which has a business agreement with the antivirus company, instead.
  3. The person who answers doesn't have a very good grasp on English, and thinks the customer is asking for help with her internet connection. So they transfer the customer to a premium-support department.
  4. The premium-support department sales agent convinces the customer to sign up for a $40-plus-$10-per-month service subscription, as the only way to possibly solve her problem. The customer sighs, but really wants to get off the phone, so she agrees.
  5. The customer is transferred to me, the support tech, who listens to the customer's explanation, and realizes that: (a) the problem should be handled by the antivirus company, not the internet provider; (b) the support subscription sold to the customer has nothing to do with her problems and couldn't possibly be any use to her (i.e., under the terms of that subscription, I'm explicitly forbidden to do any work that would help).
  6. I look up the phone number for the antivirus company (whose tech support happens to be operated by the same company I work for, though in a different division), and transfer the customer to that phone number. Since the customer's paid for my time, I stay on the line and wait to talk to the person who answers.
  7. No one answers; that phone line is out of service, but instead has a recorded message advising me to call a different phone number.
  8. I call the new phone number. It has a recorded message telling me to call [giant evil corporation]. 
  9. I call [giant evil corporation]. The agent who answers advises me to call the phone line I used in number 7. I explain that I just called that number, and it's not a useable phone number. The agent insists.
  10. The customer hangs up.
Now, that's customer service.


Customer: "I was trying to download free music. A website told me I should remove something called a 'driver' from my computer, so I did that. Now my computer won't start. Is this because of my wireless internet?"


I've been shifted to a new team. I actually kept my same schedule, but now I work with a new supervisor and an entirely different group of peers. Everyone in the entire company is in the same situation.

After months of close (chat-room) interaction, suddenly I have no idea who anyone is. I'll never meet any of them in person, but it's still an odd feeling.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


From a customer who'd just ended a previous call with one of our techs:
"That guy pissed me off, so I hung up. He had the nerve to say he couldn't help me unless I had a computer in my house. I have a smartphone!"


Me: "I think you should use a password that's more secure than the word 'password'".
Customer: "OK, how about this: this is the password I've used for years. No one ever guessed it.... it's 1234567890."

The Basics

Customer: "The laptop turned off all the sudden! It keeps doing that!"
"Now it won't turn back on!"
"I keep trying and I can't get it to turn on! It just turns off right away. Oh noooooooooo I can't believe this is happening to me."
Me: "Well, this does sound like it might be the sort of problem that would make it hard to get an internet connection."
Customer: "I think maybe the battery's dead, it kept saying low battery before. Should I try plugging it in?"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


A friend forwarded me an email advertising the tech support service I work for.

The tag line is "Turn UUGGGHHH into AAAAHHHHH."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Gates of Hell

My last customer, an elderly lady in a retirement home, who can barely find her start menu, says The Geek Squad upgraded her computer to Windows 8. Windows 8 hasn't yet officially been released... but there it is on her computer.

"They treat me like a goddamn red headed stepchild over there", she said.

"I didn't know I was upgradin' to the gates of hell".


Yet another family falls victim to the tyranny of the diabolical 'wifi on/off' button.
Which does what it says it does.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Back Button

Customer: "I told you I didn't know nothing about computers, how am I supposed to find this 'Back Button'?"


Customer (in contemplative mood):

"I may not have a hacker... maybe it's just me... "
"My son says it's just me... but sometimes when i type something the hackers type back at me, like they're criticizing what I just typed."
"I've had three heart attacks and they say it's the pills that make me see things that aren't there... but i don't know...
I think it's the hackers."

Internet Hackers

People think that "Internet Hackers" can do all sorts of magic... that they lurk in their computer watching them with malice in their evil hearts.

This guy is convinced that an "internet hacker" is "turning my computer off and on" and "changing my account names" so that he can't log in.

Just now he told me "My internet hacker is sending me warnings... he's trying to send me a message... he's scared because he knows I'm onto him...".

When I asked what the message was, he read me an error message created by Windows.


My customer is connected to a wireless network named "thisshitaintfree".


Me: "Ok, let's go ahead and unplug that USB cable now."

(5 minutes of rustling sounds, followed by a loud bang).

Customer: "I unplugged something."


Me: "The username here is set to 'admin'".
Customer: "That's your name, right? Didn't you say your name was admin?".

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Me: "ok, now that Internet Explorer's open, do you see a webpage?"
Customer: "Where would i see that?"

Important Details

I often ask my customers to unplug the power from their wireless router temporarily. I'm always very specific about this, mentioning the brand name of the router and what the plug looks like.

Today, when I asked my customer (a very adorable elderly rabbi) to do this, he unplugged the power from his desktop computer instead.

Some minutes later, when I asked him to check to see if he had internet yet, he was confused. "My computer turned off somehow, do you want me to turn it back on?".

Me: "Yes, please. When did it turn off?"

Customer: "When I pulled out the plug like you said to do".

Tune 'er Up

One of the services my department provides is a "tune-up".

These cost $50 for anyone uninformed enough to purchase one. Most people ask for them as part of an ongoing subscription. Which makes it slightly less ridiculous because the per-tuneup price can drop to $10 or so.


A "tune-up" explicitly does not include any troubleshooting.
And... there are only three possible reasons your computer might need tuning up in the first place:
  1. Your computer has too many crappy programs installed and they're all running at once and starting up with Windows (and/or you have third-party toolbars stacked up in your web browsers). If they're legitimate programs, you can and should uninstall them on your own. It's easy to do.
  2. Your computer has spyware/adware/malware/viruses. You're in trouble.
  3. You've somehow tinkered with your Windows settings and screwed them up. You're in trouble.
Of these, a tuneup can really only help with #1. We cannot do anything about 2 or 3 without upselling the customer to a much, much more expensive package.

In other words, people are just getting help removing software they could remove themselves.

Today I had a caller ask me for two tuneups, one on each of her two computers. Both were new computers, with all settings at default Windows configurations, and both had the usual amount of junkware for that situation: nothing too bad. The customer didn't, however, want me to remove any programs.

Which means that the tune-ups didn't actually do anything at all.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What Not to Do

I asked my current caller to plug in an ethernet cable to her Macbook.
Instead, she jammed in a phone cable and it got stuck. So stuck that she couldn't remove it no matter what.

Just google that

"How do you spell"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shift Bid

They're changing our schedules.

All of us, all 170 or so techs, scattered in our home offices (in my case a closet) throughout North America, working for this dot-com that contracts to support an evil ISP monopoly... we're all getting scrambled into new schedules.

With the new schedules, we get assigned new "teams", meaning we won't work with any of the people we've come to know (know being a little constrained in this case by never seeing each other and only once or twice hearing each other's voices... but still having meaning because sharing a chat room during frustrating work hours still results in a type of knowing each other). We'll also get new supervisors. I've come to like mine, though she's terse and uncommunicative and often absent.

We each bid on our priorities. Our priorities are weighted by our performance metrics. Some folks will get weekends off, others will have their days off split up throughout the week. Some will work 7-5:30, others will work the graveyard shift. Some will get eight-hour shifts, some ten-hour shifts, some two five-hour shifts per day with a five-hour nap in between. All according to the decisions of someone with a large spreadsheet at Central Command.

My metrics are so-so at best. I don't care so much about working weekends. We'll see where I end up.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Youth of America!

Please help your grandparents out with their computers.

Customer Support

My customer called for help getting a screenshot of her screen.

I logged into her computer to help her. She already has a screenshot in a graphics file that another tech helped her take.I opened the file.

It's a screenshot of her computer, with a 'how to take a screenshot' document open.

She immediately started trying to click on the icons within the image.


After some questioning... it turns out she's trying to qualify for a "Mystery Shopper" job offered to her by email. But since she isn't clear on how to open or save files, or even how to change windows, she's having some trouble with their demands.

The "Mystery Shopper" offer consists of getting her to fill out multiple online forms asking for "special offers"... and then sending a screenshot to prove she did. If she does enough of these, they may send her a check.

I warned her that this looks like a fraud, and tried to stop her from submitting that first form- but she continued anyway.

I'm not sure what moral responsibility I have here... I said a couple times that I didn't think it was legitimate, but she didn't seem to listen. the background I hear her son calling her names because she hasn't cooked him lunch.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Send a Signal

A phrase that I hear from customers a lot is "send a signal". I'm not really sure what it means, but customers say it a lot.

My best guess is that it's something Comcast techs say to simplify the explanation of various ways they can check modem diagnostics, or occasionally restart a modem remotely. They say they're "sending a signal" and the customer figures that's something that we can do to fix any problem, whether it's related to the modem or not.

As in, "can't you send a signal to my computer to fix my printer?"

Or, in this case... "My computer won't turn on. When I press the power button nothing happens, and the screen stays dark. You can send a signal to fix that, right?"


My last caller explained that she'd had a stroke, and couldn't walk, and couldn't remember much so I had to say things very slowly. She also said she'd taken her tablet to Best Buy "at least 10 times" and "it worked there".

Nevertheless, after 40+ minutes of careful coaching by phone, I was unable to get her past unlocking the screen. She just kept telling me there were no buttons available to push, even as I described to her exactly what to look for and where to look for it.

Near the end of the call, she moaned "No one can help me... you're the only one who's really tried".

Then I had to explain that I couldn't help her either.

That's All

Me: "Can you tell me anything more about that 'little thing' that you said you saw on the screen?"
Customer: "There's nothing to tell".


Says the customer who has had 5 hours of virus removal work in the last week:

"This computer's been great, hasn't given me any problems".

Sweet Dreams

Last night I dreamt that I was working on a customer's computer remotely, and my remote-software-toolkit had horrible errors, error messages that I understood meant that my software was broken beyond repair, the customer's computer was unstable and about to fail, and my whole system of working was deeply flawed.

All dreams have some symbolic meaning, right? So this one's probably about my childhood or something.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


It's fascinating how people get some junkware installed... an innocent little toolbar... some free games.

And then that stuff brings along its sleazy friends. Adware. Spyware.

The next thing you know, there's a Trojan on here.

Then worms. Then rootkits.

And then the computer's totally wrecked.


Sometimes a long password can be a problem.

For instance, if you've reset your password several times without being able to log in, and so you finally change it to "whatastupidfriggingpainthisis"... but then consistently mistype it without the g, as "whatastupidfrigginpainthisis".


First call of the day: a lady who can't log into facebook because she forgot her password. And is really angry at Comcast about that.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Career Opportunities

A customer, talking about her 3-yr-old grandson:
"At one time I thought he was gonna be a gynecologist, because whenever anyone went to the bathroom he had to go too..."

What's in a Name?

Sometimes folks call me by name. But it's usually the wrong name.

Conferring with my teammates, apparently it's pretty common. Apparently customers tend to call everyone "Kevin".

It seems the ideal tech support name, from a customer's point of view, is Kevin.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with this information, but it's good to know.

You Will Be Assimilated

In theory, our department isn't supposed to have any hold time.

In practice, hold time varies from 5 seconds to 20 minutes.

When the calls stack up faster than we can answer them, we call it "The Queue". Or, "The Q Monster".

The Q Monster doesn't like being mentioned. Any time someone says "how nice that it's a little quieter today", the next thing you know there will be back-to-back calls and customers will be waiting for five or even ten minutes.

When that happens, the customers are very angry. And take it out on us.

Cutting the Cord

In order to help someone work on their wireless router, I have to make sure they're plugged into it. With a wire.

This is firm policy, and it's also common sense. You can't change a wireless setting if you're connected wirelessly; you wind up disconnected and stranded. However, customers rarely understand this.

What's worse, our sales department doesn't always understand this. So they take folks' money, then transfer them to me, where I have to explain that I can't help them until they plug in a network cable. (Usually there are several minutes of them assuring me that they are plugged in, even though the way they say it makes it obvious that they're not).

Some customers act like I'm asking them to go buy a new computer when I gently explain that we need a network cable in order to continue. They get furious, even when I explain that Comcast will give them one for free and that every electronics store, big box store and sometimes even drug or grocery stores will have one for a few bucks.

Today when I went through this, I got someone who totally unloaded all her rage about Comcast and told me just what she thought about the whole company... then demanded a refund.

You can't please everyone. Some days in fact it feels like you can't please anyone.

High-Tech Challenges

First words I heard this morning:

"Can you help me play a VHS tape?"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Specific Problem

If you were a giant corporation with millions of customers, and wanted to have the worst customer support possible.. how would you go about that?

Evidence suggests that the following is a very effective strategy:
  1. Make sure all your services are in different departments.
  2. Make sure those departments have no way of contacting each other.
  3. Make sure customers have no way of contacting any of those departments, but have to click through an elaborate phone tree in which there are many dead ends.
  4. Make sure front-line phone support agents aren't trained in basic customer service skills, and don't really understand which department is which.
  5. Make sure your staffing is minimal enough that every department has a significant hold time, even for direct transfers.
  6. Allow disconnects and hang-ups when a customer doesn't say exactly what the agent wants.

The results? Customers that have long hold times before they can reach a human being, then more long hold times while they're transferred to the wrong department, then more long hold times before they're hung up on. From an evil-corporate-mindset, it's absolutely perfect.

I've had customers reach me, in error, while trying to cancel their account because of the poor customer service they'd previously received. I can't do anything about that. So I have to put them on hold again, so that they can get transferred to someone else... who will hang up on them.

The Main Problem

The main problem with the ISP serving my customers (Comcast) is,

It absolutely does not care one bit about its customers.

It's a giant, giant company that doesn't need you.

So if you should happen to be one of those customers, and call because you have a problem, they don't care.

If you call because you want to cancel your account, they don't care.

In most markets they have the only fast internet around. What are you gonna do, take your business elsewhere?

Just pay up. They don't care.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

There Have Been So Many

My customer, explaining why he has trouble understanding technology:

"I have post-traumatic stress, from one of our wars".

The Gamble

Customers with odd problems. Sometimes I can solve them, sometimes I can't.

When I can't, it becomes stressful. Am I missing something obvious? Am I recommending the right followup/backup plan? Often the next step could cost the customer large amounts of money. And because I'm phone support I have limited amounts of information to go on; in some cases I need to make a quick diagnosis based on mumbled and extremely incoherent comments. Since the customer has already paid money to talk to me, I'm very conscious that asking them to pay for something else is going to seem like a ripoff.

Am I failing a customer? Or am I providing the best service I can?

It's just not always clear.

Working From Home

I have started wearing pajamas lately instead of actually putting on clothes.

I'm afraid I'll lose all my social skills, and forget how to go outside and be around three-dimensional people soon.

I'm getting good at talking to people about their computers.
But, less good at every other kind of interpersonal interaction.


A month or so ago, I was helping an elderly man set up his wifi. Near the end of the process, asking if he had other devices, I learned that his wife's laptop needed to be set up, but he couldn't do it and she wasn't around. I asked whether he felt confident in coaching her through the process, and he said something like:

"My wife and I don't really speak the same language".

Ah, okay. I started to discreetly change the subject, but he elaborated:

"She doesn't speak any English, and I don't speak any Thai. But she sure can cook and she sure is good looking. I'm a lucky guy, if you know what I mean."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Career Change

My customer just quizzed me about where I lived, "because no one from around here could possibly be so patient".

She predicted I must be "from a Northern must live in Maine or something, somewhere quiet by the ocean. You sure can't be from New York. People in New York and New Jersey are too rude and impatient...You must live somewhere calm.

"You should be a minister or a teacher, you're so calm and relaxed and patient. Your job would drive me absolutely crazy."

If Only

"If only you could just solve all the problems in my life. You could be like this mystical figure who goes around and makes things work."

Prank Call from the Afterlife?

My supervisor has warned my team that there's a customer calling repeatedly and being abusive to our staff.

I quote: customer "used language that was very profane including but not limited to sexual preference derogatory terms, eating/sucking male genitalia.  the customer was previously warned to not use abusive language at which point he spouted profanities right and left."

The customer says his name is Luther Vandross.

Quote of the Day

From my favorite customer so far today:

"You probably didn't know you were going to have to talk to a bunch of redneck midgets like us... I don't know if my husband told you, but i am medically a midget. But if I was five feet taller people might not like it if I was rude to them, but since I'm a little tiny lady I can say whatever I want and there's nothing anyone can do about it."


Lately my teammates' attitudes have been bothering me.

Dealing with customers is always a challenge: they tend to be panicky, irrational, poor at communicating, poor at following directions, and prone to sudden moments of irrational behavior. In other words, they're people. But people under stress, dealing with things they don't understand, and who've been put on hold three times and hung up on twice.

Some of my teammates like venting about how stupid their customers are. This bothers me.

I've been noticing in my calls lately, that the stupid tends to recede, exactly when the angry does: as the customer finds that I can and will actually help them, they suddenly start communicating clearly and saying sensible things, no matter how ridiculous and strange they were a moment before.

So when a coworker says something like "there's a cure for stupidity, but bullets are expensive" or "this customer needs a whack with a clue-by-four"... it bothers me.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


For some (BEEEP) reason fire alarms with dying (BEEEP) batteries are a thousand times (BEEEP) more annoying when (BEEEP) you're on the other end of a phone (BEEEP) line. I don't know why that (BEEEP) should (BEEEP) be, but it really (BEEEP) is.

Identity Crisis

My coworkers say that I can't be a geek because I don't know what "Skyrim" is.

(I think it must be some sort of computer game.)

Once in junior high, in the mid-80s, I programmed a text-only adventure game based on Dante's Inferno.

So maybe I'm a combination geek/bookworm.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


If you're going to talk to someone on the phone for tech support, please take a short break from screaming at your kids while you do so.

Or at least hold the phone away from your mouth so that you're not shrieking into someone's ear.

Secret Message

When I remotely connect to someone's computer, the first thing I do is check the system properties set in Windows. Usually this is just a boring set of gibberish: a name that's random, a blank description, and a workgroup that says "MS-Home" or "Workgroup"

This lady's computer, which, as she explained, was set up by her nephew, was like that but with one difference: the description field read "ways shit bitch don't touch".

My customer started chortling. "My nephew musta done that", she said.


I have the mid-afternoon doldrums. The person I just finished talking to is one of those non-talkers. She never volunteers information, and long stretches of silence go by after I ask a question before she mumbles an answer.

Part of the trick of this job is maintaining ownership of the conversation, keeping the call moving in a productive direction. But it's hard when I want to take a nap and so does the person on the other end of the line. It's so quiet... so calm... I wish I could just close my eyes for a moment.

Virus Hunting

Most of the work I do is wireless networking stuff, with a little bit of general helpdesk and occasional virus removals. I'm not all that great of a virus hunter. I'm too conservative and careful, which means I'm slow. And I don't get all that much practice, because I pass off my virus tickets to other folks, who love that work.

When I get stuck with one, I tend to stay on it for hours, asking my coworkers for advice about every file I don't recognize, and fretting about whether I'm doing things in the right order, and worrying about whether I'm about to ruin someone's computer.

I like to tell myself I'm being cautious.

Today at least I was successful. My virus hunt caught the bad guys and eliminated them, then found the damage they'd done, and repaired it. And the customer was happy. So I guess that's what's important.

The Porcelain Computer

Yet another coworker reports a customer talking to them from the toilet.
That's the third time in a week, that I know of.

Do normal people do this?


People get very strange when you ask them to look at what cords or cables might be plugged into their wireless router. It's not all that complicated a topic: most wireless routers have a modem plugged in, and also maybe a computer. We're not talking about some airline-cockpit level of complexity, just a couple network cords going in different directions. But people don't like looking at it and respond strangely.

A broad swath of folks will just confidently say "It's all plugged up", whether it is or not. Often what they mean is "this is a wireless device, so I don't think there should be any wires attached to it", but apparently "plugged up" can mean that.

Others get very stressed out and anxious and beg you not to make them deal with any cables. Unfortunately these are the folks who most need to look at their cables, since inevitably these are the folks who are plugged in completely wrong.

Also, for some reason people feel really compelled to unplug their modem whenever I ask them to do anything. Here's how that exchange typically goes:

Me: "Ok, so it sounds like you've got a modem connected to a wireless router."
Customer: "You say you want me to unplug the router from the modem?"
Me: "No, no, please don't do that. Let's just look at what's plugged in and talk about where the cables are attached"
Customer: "Well, I already unplugged everything and now all the lights are off and the cords are in my hand. What do I do now?"


Helping an elderly lady import photos from her digital camera. They include photos of her tiny dog, her grandkids at Halloween, Christmas photos, and herself posing with celebrity Ron Jeremy.


Me: "You say that Geek Squad reset your router password and didn't tell you what it was?"

Customer: "They told my husband, which is like giving it to the dog next door... it winds up chewed up and buried in the yard somewhere"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some of this, Some of that

Sometimes I get to be the hero: I solve someone's problems when no one else can.
(Often this is because everyone else has been an idiot: folks drop calls and don't dial back, or miss obvious troubleshooting steps, or are rude to customers). I get to be the hero and get gratitude and adoration.

Other times I get people who yell at me and tell me how awful I and my company are. (Usually this is because the company they think I work for really is evil and loathsome, so what can I say? I can't audibly agree and I can't honestly disagree. I cultivate diplomatic silence on that front.)

Either way this is a good exercise in buddhist nonattachment: I try not to take the scorn and rage directed at me personally, and I also try not to take the gratitude and thanks directed at me personally. All of it derives from and depends upon sources outside my control. I'll do the best I can and hope that it works out, but my happiness can't depend on the outcome of my actions.

I do prefer it when people are at least a little polite to me though.

Can We Not Just Keep Figuring Out New Ways to Rip People Off?

I just got a passionate and fairly eloquent speech from a customer about how I'm part of a larger social trend in which everyone gets ripped off more and more efficiently everywhere they turn.

I sort of agree. But the call still ended with her hanging up on me in anger.

Subtle Hint

Just talked to a lady whose wireless network, which she set up for her grandkids, is named "NO SMOKING" and whose passphrase is "NO BABIES".

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Deep Thought

You know how calling a big company for tech support is pretty much the worst thing that you can ever do?

Well, it's like that for the folks on the other end of the line too. Except we're doing that all day.


Yet another of my team-mates reports a customer talking to them from the toilet.

Is it just me, or is this sort of inappropriate?


My last customer began to cry because her browser homepage had changed to Yahoo.

More Anger

All the callers seem hung over and angry today. One just asked for my name, asked me to spell it... then told me, menacingly, "you haven't heard the last of me."

You Must Be Old

Quote of the day, from my first (very angry and abusive) caller: "I don't have a computer. I have a ipad. You must be old. I don't know anyone who uses a computer".

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tech Support Tip

Please, people. If you're having problems with your computer... turn it on.

Where Are You?

Customers are very concerned with finding out if I'm a foreigner or not.

So far I haven't seen too much explicit racism, though coworkers have reported some. But nearly every caller eventually asks "where are you physically located?". Occasionally a naive soul will be surprised that I'm not in their town. But mostly people are delighted that I'm in North America. Sometimes they then explain how hard it is to talk to people in other countries.

I'm not completely unsympathetic to these people; our company, for whom North-American techies are a big selling point, have recently started outsourcing sales staff to India and the Phillipines. And those sales staff are noticeably worse at processing people's orders correctly. And I'm keenly aware that it's hard enough for people to talk about technology when language isn't a barrier.

However, xenophobia is also a big part of this. People are very reassured by me in part because I sound 'American'. As one lady put it: "I know you'll be good because at least you're not one of those people in another country". (My reply: "I hope that's not all I have going for me.")

I have an unusual, unplaceably-foreign-sounding name. Which means that a lot of calls open with a quick interrogation about where I'm at, how my name is spelled, etc. It's pretty annoying. (There are a handful of techs in our department with names that are actually obviously asian; I imagine they find this waaaaaay more irritating than I do).

One lady told me "I know you all are good because you're Amurricuns." I said, "We've got quite a few Canadians on staff". She said, "Well, Canadians are okay. They're just like us".

Or, sometimes, like this morning, after talking to someone for an hour and a half, someone will blurt out "You're in Thailand, right?"


Sometimes people have language problems. Sometimes they have attention-deficit problems.

The guy I'm talking to now is one of those guys who can't complete his words. Clearly his mind is scattered. So when I ask him what he sees on the screen he says an unending "well.. up at the top-dang- it's-um-well, there-now-what did i... dang- i think it says- now- something happened...jeez- now it says...something- disk- now it's a differ-what...dang-um...dang".

I know that this can be solved if I figure out how to calm him down and direct his attention.


I started this gig in late November, had two weeks of training, then started in earnest in early December. My schedule was set up as a four-day, 10-hour-day, work week. But something called 'mandatory overtime' was in place immediately. Mandatory overtime means that I have to work 11 hour days no matter what.

Now, that's still only 44 hours a week. The problem is that we can't disconnect from calls in progress. Since any given support call can last from 5 minutes to 5 hours, and we may get a call 1 minute before the end of the shift... well, let's just say I've worked a lot of 12-hour days. And those last couple hours tend to me very, very difficult: brain's melting, judgement's clouded, language skills compromised. Which means that last couple calls can go on, and on, and on, and on.

About three weeks ago an email went out to all staff promising that 'mandatory' overtime was at an end, and that from then on only 'voluntary' overtime was necessary. But that from then on, volunteering for overtime was mandatory. Which is kind of an interesting use of the word voluntary.

As of late last week, that has ceased to be the case. Suddenly 10-hour days are available again. It's kind of exciting.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Days On, Days Off

On my days off, I try, and sometimes fail, to stay far away from my computer.

My days on are always at least 10 hours long, and usually well over 11. (That's because of a delightful feature known as "Mandatory Overtime", which I may explain some other time). They are very intense workdays. The calls themselves require a great deal of focus, and are nonstop: one call ends and another one begins immediately; I can sneak in a drink from a waterbottle while the phone rings if I'm quick, but eating a banana is usually out of the question. I get two 15 minute breaks and a half-hour lunch. During these times I try to go outside briefly ,because feeling air on my skin is really important.  And I try to look at small things that are far away, so that I can practice focusing my eyes because otherwise they ache and get strained by staring at the computer screen.

Typically near the end of my work week it gets more and more difficult to complete sentences; my brain starts to lose it's ability to form connected words, and also I start to lose my voice. Sometimes at the end of a shift my language skills are so depleted that I can barely talk; during my first month I'd be so tired as to be nearly catatonic and drooling.

On my days off I'd have anxiety attacks and sudden fits of depression. The last couple weeks, my days off have actually felt enjoyable, like weekends, and I've only felt a little depressed at the end of the time off, realizing I'll need to go back on calls again. So things are getting better.

This sort of thing is probably normal for most folks' jobs. Perhaps I've just been lucky in the last decade.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How It Feels Sometimes

About a month ago now, my supervisor had to leave our shared chat room for a couple hours, because one of the techs on my team called in saying he was going to commit suicide and she had to talk him down.

I don't know anything else about this episode, because it was never mentioned again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Awkward Moments

I just had to tell an elderly man that his computer's Windows operating system needed to be reinstalled.

He said "so my computer is old and needs to be replaced... just like me".


Some of the very hardest calls are the ones where the customer won't talk to me.

I ask a question, and get a prolonged silence... then a mumble.

I ask for clarification, and get more silence.

I ask the customer to try pressing a key. Silence. I don't know if they did it, or if they didn't...  or if anything happened afterward.

Often I can tell that the customer is doing something... I just don't know what.

If I ask too many questions, though, they invevitably get angry and/or defensive. At which point they still don't tell me what they see on the screen or whether they just clicked anything or unplugged anything.

Then they get irritated when I don't know exactly what they should do next.

Right now I'm talking to someone like that.

Important Troubleshooting Step

It's amazing how often customers want me to fix their computer, when the computer in question is turned off and/or in another room.

The thing I hear, day in and day out, when I ask someone if their computer can get to the internet:
"You want me to turn it ON?"


One of my teammates reports that a customer just defecated, sitting on a toilet, and then flushed, while on the phone with him.

What Things are Called

Routers are often called "Rooters". But just now I had a lady call hers a "rattler".

Modems are often referred to as "Motors". But, more commonly, customers call it "Your box" or "Your thingy".

Linksys brand routers are almost always called, for some reason, "Linsky" or, less commonly "Linksy", as in "That Linsky rooter".

The Scream

Last week I picked up a call, and the lady on the other end was screaming.

I couldn't understand anything she was saying, because what she was saying, a long rush of garbled, spittly words, was in scream form. It had something to do with Comcast and something to do with "computer", but that was literally all I could get. I couldn't even look up her account to try and find out if our company had ever worked with her before.

(Boring technicality: because folks get transferred over from Comcast's helpdesk, often for the wrong reason and/or without knowing we're a different department (we're not allowed to say we're actually a different company), we have to look folks up in both our own ticketing system, to see if we've ever worked with them, and also in Comcast's database, which is slow as can be. This is always the first thing we have to do, and always takes a minute or two, which can be difficult when a customer is very upset).

She kept screaming words I couldn't understand at me, in a hoarse high-pitched voice. I tried to be calming, and in a couple gaps where she came up for air, I said things like "I'll be happy to help" and "I'm here to help solve your problem". But then before I could make any headway she'd wind up like an old-fashioned siren and start in again. Finally (I think it was only a few minutes total), she literally ran out of voice. I heard her get hoarser and hoarser and hoarser until she was still screaming but only little rasps and squeaks of sound emerged. Then a man took the phone away from her.

"I apologize", he said. "She's a little upset. Here's the deal: her internet got set up three hours ago, and it's not working. We called and they said it'd start working between five and eight pm. It's already five-twenty."

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Mystery

Sometimes a call comes in, and before I can even begin to look up the customer's account, they say something like "It's working!", and hang up.

I will never know what it was.


Sometimes people are very sensitive to wording.

For instance, the difference between "network cable" and "network cord", can mean 20 minutes of extra troubleshooting time. Some people understand one and not the other. A third set of people only know the word  "ethernet". There's also folks who will insist on asking whether you're talking about a yellow cable or a blue one. There's no way of knowing which type of customer you have until you try a few variants and hear them sputter in confusion on the other end.


An elderly lady said to me the other day...
"she had me stick the thing in the hole, and then we got turned on."

Suggestion 2

If you want to troubleshoot your wireless network, it's a good idea to do so from home, not from your girlfriend's house.


If you're calling for tech support involving your computer, it's a good idea to have your computer turned on and available.

Cats hate technology

Sometimes when you can't send/receive email, it's because your cat turned off the power strip and turned off your modem.


Apparently old people play a lot of games on facebook. And get viruses. And get very upset when they can't login to their games.

Quote of the Morning

"I'd rather shoot myself in the eye than pay you guys for tech support"

Customer Quotes 1

(Unless otherwise specified, all customer quotes mentioned in this blog are uttered with total sincerity and no intentional joking on the customer's part).

"Whenever I try to connect to my facepage it gives me netflex"

"I love my Mozzarella Fox"

"I use Google Crime"

"I use Google Chromosome"

"I was just disconnected while talking to the Greek Squad"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Upe Eeple

The worst calls inevitably involve a customer saying "you people". It's not the worst thing (by far) that gets said, but it's always a bad sign of what's to come.


  • "You people broke it, now you have to fix it".
  • "I dont know why you people don't just make it work"
  • "You people just want my money"
  • "I've been on the phone with you people for hours, and you ain't done a goddamn thing"
and, of course, "I hate talking to you people".

Wine is Fine But Whiskey's Quicker

This job makes me drink.

I made it through college without becoming an alcoholic, and I've had a pretty comfortable relationship with booze over the years. I like a beer in the evening, and sometimes two. If I get to a third it's a party. About once every six months I might have four or five. I never get belligerent or anything; I might get extra-jovial and sleepy. I prefer quality beer and alcohol. Sometimes I don't drink at all, which is fine.

But at the end of a shift at this job, I really want to reach for some alcohol as fast as possible.

Why? I work 10-12 hour days. My average call time is somewhere in the 45 minute zone. (It's supposed to be in the 30 minute range, but I've given up on worrying about that). That means I get about 14 calls a day.

The outcomes are getting better, for a variety of reasons, but in any given day there will be at least one person, and usually two or three, who chews me out, either loudly or via quiet shaming. When I started a few months ago the odds were much worse.

I'm in a paid support department (technically a separate company,, and the primary Comcast tech desk transfers folks to us willy-nilly without warning them that it'll cost them money. So Joe or Sally Customer calls in because their internet has stopped working... waits for 15 minutes to talk to someone... then gets a surly person who says "hang on" and then they're suddenly on hold... and after 10 minutes they get me, and I have to explain to them that I can't help them unless they pay $45. This may have happened to you. If it did you probably used some choice obscenities at the person who broke the bad news.

Around the holidays there were a couple weeks when I actually got more calls like that, than the kind I'm supposed to get (folks who've already purchased subscriptions and want tech support). This meant that all day long... a steady stream of invective.

And the worst thing is? They're right to be upset. They should be pissed off. But there's nothing I can do about it.

Us People

When I started this, it was out of desperation. I didn't want to work a call center job, but needed a job, and was at the back of 5 months of no job. The fact that the annual salary for this one wound up being significantly less than half my last job was a bit depressing, but I've never been money-driven. What was worse, was working for an ISP that I actively loathe. (Comcast)

I actually work for a tech support company ( that white-labels its support for other companies. Think big electronics retailers, antivirus software, ISPs. We have to pretend we work for the client company. I didn't find out which one I'd be until I was in training.

Now I say "Thank you for calling Xfinity Signature Support. How can I help you today?" approximately 25 times a day.

This Is Why I Hate Talking To You People

I just got hung up on by a young man who told me "I hate talking to you people, you fucked my account up".

This is pretty normal. I'm phone tech support for a very large internet provider, and most everyone who calls me is angry.

The job isn't much fun. I'm not an extrovert and I hate talking on the phone. I do like people, and I'm a patient person who's good at explaining tricky stuff in layman's terms. But I've been doing this for three months now, and it's pretty consistently unpleasant: back to back calls for 10-12 hours at a time, angry and crying and screaming customers. And, all in the service of a megacorp that seems to actively hate its customers. I'm going to start a blog, just to keep notes about what happens, and to keep myself sane. If you stumble upon this, enjoy. And be nice to strangers over the phone.