I was reading an article recently on InfoWorld concerning the topic of Technical Support; the article was about how many people are frustrated with the current level of technical support that they are receiving. As a computer expert, network administrator, and a technical support person having worked in the computer industry for over twenty years, I am always interested in how people perceive those of us who live to help others with their computer needs.
It is easy to read this article, glance over the numbers, skim through the text, and move on to the next article. With that said, I think there are some things to slow down and ponder concerning this article. For one the type of support offered in today’s marketplace. Second, how effective is the support in which we are offering our clients. Third, one must look at ways in which we can change these perceptions.
According to the article: “The universal truth of tech support: Frustration.” 94% of consumers surveyed considered themselves tech savvy, with 62 percent noting a high level of dependency on their computers. The main areas of concern are:
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What I found more interesting is that 66 percent said they relied mostly on their own knowledge for technical support. Those who have called Technical Support, 41 percent are not “highly satisfied” with the service offered to them. Add to this that most consumers do not have a high level of confidence that they can pick up a phone and get their problem resolved. Researchers found that according to the computer user, that the computer makers/manufactures are not providing the level of tech support that they expect. This is a shift from when computer use was on the rise and most people felt happy with their tech support.
So I have to ask, what has changed? Why are most people not happy with their tech support? Finally, what can be change to help this perception?
In looking at the computer industry over the course of the last two decades, a lot has changed. When I began my computer career offering home users technical support, home computing was in its infancy. People were lucky to have one computer in their house that the entire family had to share; now everyone in the house has their own computer and everyone is sharing files, resources, etc back and forth. Secondly, computers were mostly isolated; when I started, there was no Internet. The closest thing to the Internet was dial up bulletin boards where people shared information and very occasionally files. Most viruses that infected your computer were from using a diskette that had a virus. Terms like Phishing, Spam, Firewalls, Malware, Spyware, and such were not a part of our daily vocabulary. Now with everyone connected to everyone it is surprising that the world has controlled viruses as much as we do with the latest software.
In thinking back about how most people was introduced into the computer world, it was usually from a local computer installation specialist, aka me. Where I would sit down with the family and find out what their specific needs were for a computer and I would custom build the system and install all of the software for them. Because I was doing a custom build it was easy for me to know what hardware and software compatibilities there might be, and I could help direct my clients to the best software that would cause the least amount of issues for their computer. Having built, installed, and delivered the computer technical support was easier than it is today. Because I was not worried about connectivity issues, and spam, spyware and malware this left only viruses or true software issues to contend with when they called. Because I built the system and knew it well, I could offer good technical support.
So where did it all go wrong?
I see several distinct issues that might have attributed to where the perception of technical support is in today’s market place. The first contribution would be the rise in mass computer manufacturing. Not that I am trying to speak poorly about the big companies, but I must say that mass production always has some flaws, issues. Not trying to say that custom computers do not have flaws, but I think that the support relationship is not there anymore. Whereas I would talk to my clients and build what they need, the larger companies cannot connect in the same way, and this has lead to a consumer disconnect with the client.
Another aspect is the way in which problems have been resolved by tech support for some has frustrated many computer users. What I am referring to is the tech support asking you to place the recovery CD into the CD tray and rebuild the computer system back to factory default erasing all your data, pictures of aunt Martha, and all of your software that you have installed requiring you to start from scratch. This in my opinion is not true tech support.
Prices of computer equipment have certainly helped to advance this issue of technical support. We all love the lower prices of computers these days. We love getting a Netbook for under $300.00 or a full computer system for $400.00. The price that we pay when doing so is tech support that has been outsourced to a company in another country where the overall price of tech support is low enough to allow that computer manufacture to offer 24×7 technical support coverage.
Let us flash forward to today’s computing model. Most computers are connected to the Internet all the time, with a growing number of laptops, Net books, etc being connected via Wi-Fi. This lends to increased exposure to things like viruses, malware, spyware, etc. What I find extremely interesting is that according to the survey in this article, 94 percent of the consumers felt they were computer savvy. If that is the case then why were 92 percent unaware that they had spyware on their computers? Why did 40+ percent not have anti-virus software installed? Therefore, this leads me to believe that the 94 percent that consider them selves’ well-informed and savvy computer users, most likely means that these people are comfortable with their computers and with the software installed.
Being able to use your computer is a good thing, but confusing that with knowing how to fix your computer is a completely new subject. When I look at the three main items that people are frustrated with concerning their computers, my first thought about these is that they are due to spyware, malware or viruses. Over the last five to seven years every time someone has brought a system to me that is running slow, and having issues connecting to the Internet or office systems I have been able to trace this back to a virus, malware, spyware, etc. What I think people are missing is that this is not a software issue. This is not a problem with the computer; this is a problem with not protecting your computer from malicious software with the intent of harming your computer.
As for technical support, yes I will agree that technical support needs to be a little better. However, I also have to ask the questions about expectations. You have purchased a computer and two years later, you are having issues with that computer so you call technical support and the first person you talk to (most likely a level 1 tech) tries a few things and says that you need to talk to a level 2 tech. From an initial glance of the computer, you have installed programs and hardware. Your tech support person now has to determine what you have installed, find out if that new software or hardware might be causing the issue. They have to determine this without saying outright that the family tree software that you installed is junk and causing all of your issues. They have to determine what is causing your issue when you have not scanned for spyware or malware. You are getting more and more frustrated because of the amount of time that all this work is taking.
Now I can understand part of your frustration as we saw by the survey 62 percent of us are highly dependant on our computers, even more so in an office environment. This frustration is somewhat understandable. However, can you also understand some of the variables that the tech support person has to figuring out the issue and providing a solution. I am not trying to defend just the tech support person. I do think that the tech support offered needs a bit of a boost.
I would agree that having to call someone in a foreign country where it is hard to understand them due to their accent is not a fun call. Nor is it all that better on their end when we talk in slang and do not use proper English. Therefore, the street is two ways. One way to raise the perception of technical support would be to bring about some of the personal connection that was once part of the computer buying experience. This is hard when we deal with a global perspective, but I think it can be accomplished by taking a few minutes to communicate with the end user. The frustrations that I have had are mostly due to the person not wanting to listen; they seemed rushed to hurry me along the process. This only builds anxiety. I think that they should ask a few general questions, and slow the process down. I do not think that the tech support person that cleared the most calls per hour is the best tech support person. The one that makes me feel that they will; “get to the bottom” of the issue no matter how long it takes will be the tech support person that I want to talk to and deal with on a regular basis. Knowing that the tech support individual has a number of different factors to contend with, I think that the level of tech support is quite good, making it personal, not so much anymore.
The final battle might just be about perception. We do not want to call someone who we fear we will not understand due to language barriers and accents. We are already anxious due to out reliance on our computer. We are fearful that we will not be able to provide the information needed to correct the problem. Finally, we are concerned that the issue will not be fully resolved. The items prior my friends are perception issues. They have nothing to do with the true support provided. Technically these companies are working with a wide variety of variables and find a solution to your “unique” problem or situation. This does not equate to quality, time, or speed of service, these items are all about how we feel about the service received.
Therefore, the big companies that offer overseas technical support need to change this perception. They need to make the customer feel like they matter and that they are not just a number on a screen. For people to feel like they are getting value, they need to feel that they are getting personal care.