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

On being … confirmation

By Ingrid Sapona

One of the things I appreciate most about getting older is that every now and then evidence emerges that confirms something I thought or felt, but that I had no way of proving when it first happened. Interestingly, when the definitive proof surfaces, it usually comes out of nowhere. Given that there’s often a long time between the incident and the confirmation, it’s not that the end result ever changes. But, the confirmation is valuable because it gives me ever more reason to trust my intuition and instinct.

The things it’s happened about often relate to gut instincts or readings I’ve made of others’ behaviours or their reactions in specific situations. They’re often situations where I was left wondering whether I’ve misread something or misunderstood another person’s intention.

The incidents I’m referring to have all ended up being minor, in the scheme of life. (Another great thing about aging, of course, is the perspective that allows one to realize this…) But, at the time they happened, they didn’t feel so minor. Indeed, it’s precisely because they were incidents that I ruminated over for some time that, when the proof appears, even though lots of time may have passed, I connect the dots and I’m finally able to put my mind at rest.

I realize this sounds a bit vague, so maybe an example would help. One situation related to not being hired by a firm I had interned with. It was a yearlong, paid internship – one of about two dozen that this firm had. Because there was nothing negative in the feedback I had been given all year, I was disappointed when I wasn’t hired on.

Though I tried to take it in stride, my mentor’s reaction when I asked if he’d be a reference contributed to my second-guessing. He seemed surprised by my request. Now, on top of feeling that I had misread the feedback I had gotten throughout the year, I wondered if I had completely misread my relationship with my mentor. Did he not feel comfortable as a reference? The prospect of my misinterpreting so many relationships was more troubling than not getting the job offer.

Then, when he asked me to take a seat and he shut the door and asked me why I didn’t want to stay at the firm, I was really confused. I explained that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, it was that I hadn’t been offered a job. Embarrassed, he said he was so sure I would be hired, he never checked the list to see who had been offered positions. So, it seemed I wasn’t the only one who had been wrong about the likelihood the firm would have me back. Anyway, the fact he offered to help me in my job hunt and was more than happy to be a reference, at least helped me feel I hadn’t misread his reaction to me.

Months later, after I had moved on, I had lunch with my mentor and he shared with me some curious comments he found in my HR file. One comment was something like, “well, she wasn’t as self-possessed or know-it-all as we thought she’d be”. Clearly, there were negative preconceptions about me – hurdles I didn’t even know were in my way. My mentor found the source of the innuendo: an HR admin person who somehow felt threatened by me and, before the internship started, had told folks that because of my education and experience, I had a big ego. (He also told me that the admin person had since been let go.) As I said, by the time I got this information, there was nothing I could do with it, but it was satisfying to get proof that I hadn’t misinterpreted the feedback I got, I just didn’t know all that I was up against.

Anyway, that story is ancient history but it, and other situations where my instinct was proved right, came to mind this week because of the news story involving Dr. Heimlich – yes, the namesake of the Heimlich Manoeuvre. He’s 96 and is in an assisted living residence in Cincinnati. Last week a woman sitting at his table at dinner started choking. Dr. Heimlich sprang into action and administered several Heimlich Manoeuvre upward thrusts until the meat she was choking on popped out. While that may not seem particularly newsworthy or surprising – given that he invented the technique in 1974 – what is surprising is that this was the first time he ever did it in a real, life-or-death situation.

Given all the evidence over the past 40 years about the hundreds of people who have used his method and saved someone’s life, I’m sure Dr. Heimlich didn’t have any nagging doubts about the efficacy of the technique. But even so, I can’t help but think that last week’s incident was a cosmic gift to him: first hand confirmation of the value of his life’s work!  

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona