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.