On being … unhelpful

By Ingrid Sapona

This past week I switched my internet, TV, and home phone providers. I had pretty basic services but the monthly fee was crazy high and it seemed every other month one of them went up by $2 or $3 – small increments that sure added up over time! So, when a new company began service in my building, I decided to try it.

The internet change was a simple decision – a much faster service at 55% of the price. Based on price alone, going with the new provider for the TV seemed a simple decision too – again, about a 50% savings. But, the personal video recorders (PVRs) used by the new TV doesn’t have the same features as the old PVR. For example, the number of shows you could record at the same time – and the ability to pause live TV. (When it was introduced, I thought it was stupid. But believe me, it’s something I have come to love – it’s like a wireless remote for locking/unlocking the car. Once you have one, you can’t imagine living without it.)

Anyway – as it happened, when they set up my new system, they left the old one in place. It was my job to contact my old service provider to cancel and return their equipment. They were offering the first month of TV free, so I decided to wait a few days before I cancelled my old TV service. I wanted to make sure I was going to like the new PVR. As with all new tech gadgets, I knew there’d be a learning curve, and I was prepared – more-or-less.

The first surprise was how small the PVR is. My old PVR was about the size of a VCR. The new one is tiny – about the size of a 6 oz. steak. And the remote is unbelievably complicated. It clearly was designed by tech geeks – probably a TEAM of tech geeks – and each of them must have come up with a “cool feature” that they included on the remote. (If you think I’m exaggerating, I would only mention that the back of the remote has a full keyboard. Get the picture?)

The technician who installed the system did the initial TV setup for me and quickly showed me the basics. To record you have to insert a jump drive into the PVR. I had a spare one and so we tried it. We got an error message and he thought it was because I had some files on the jump drive. So, the next day I bought a new one and tried it. I got the same error message. I called tech support and explained the recurring problem. The tech support guy was sure he could fix it.

I did as the tech support guy directed, but I got the same message. He asked me to do it again – so I did – but same message. He asked me to do a few other things and I did. (I got the sense he was testing whether I could follow his directions, but I didn’t say anything – I simply did as I was directed. With those steps the PVR and remote behaved as he expected them to.) So then we did the first thing again but got the same error message.

He then asked me to do something with the jump drive at my computer, and I did. But, when we tried the first thing again and got the usual error message, he mumbled “that can’t be”. Clearly he thought I was doing something different from what he said to do, which is why it wasn’t working. We danced around like this a bit more and then he said: “this has never happened before. Never.” At this point, I lost it. I snarkily replied, “Well, congratulations – today is May 7th and you can no longer say the problem I’m running into has NEVER happened. It has NOW!”

No doubt sensing my irritation, he said he’d need to check something and he would call me back in about a half hour, if that was ok. I said it was and we ended our conversation. Four hours later, when I didn’t hear back from him, I phoned tech support again and I asked for him. When I got him, he apologized for not getting back to me and said the best thing to do would be to reset the device to the factory settings and start over. We did and that fixed the problem.

What that solution didn’t fix, however, was the attitude he had. Indeed, that whole “it can’t be working the way you say it is” seems common among guys I’ve dealt with in tech support roles. I get that it must be a frustrating job – dealing with all sorts of issues and all sorts of people with all different levels of computer and tech savvy. But that’s the nature of the job. And what kind of a response is: “that never happens” or “that can’t be”?

When I’m in a charitable mood, I ignore the innuendo that the problem is me or that I’m doing something wrong. Instead, I chalk it up to the fact that they’re young and inexperienced, which is why maybe they do believe that technology NEVER breaks or that tech gadgets don’t malfunction. If that’s the case, they’re in for a surprise.

Meanwhile, I wish companies would realize that to be helpful, a tech support person doesn’t just need technical/product knowledge – they need a bit of humility too.

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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