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.