My Job: Tech support and/or trying to help both of us not kill ourselves

I worked for an outsourced tech support call center for about six months in 2006-2007, and our biggest client was one of the largest Internet Service Providers in the United States. I can’t say which one due to NDA or privacy or whatever… but since I don’t really give a shit about that, I’ll tell you that it’s in the top ten nationwide, and that it rhymes with “Cocks.”

I’m sure you’ve called tech support at one point or another in your life. A billing issue, maybe your intarnets quit working for a little while, or perhaps you just really wanted to feel what it’s like to contemplate suicide for an hour and a half.

It’s a giant pain in the ass, you never get anywhere, you’re on hold for three years listening to the same 1990s Cisco Systems music looping over and over, and eventually the person gives you a different number to call so you can start the whole process over again.

And yet, we think the same about you.

You’re all a bunch of fuckwits whose sole goal in life seems to be to fuck your day up even more than it already is, in some desperate attempt not to feel as pathetic as you truly are. In doing so, you also fuck our day up.

If you knew anything about how to fix your internet connection, you wouldn’t have called us. So shut the fuck up, listen to our directions, and we’ll get it running for you. Don’t give me no bullshit about how you “already tried that” because I know you either didn’t, or you didn’t do it right.

Most people actually are nice, and the call goes quickly and well. Every tenth call or so is someone who decides to call us and unload their entire shitty marriage’s worth of anger out on us.

– – – – – – –

This customer was very old, and probably legally deaf. I could hear noises in the background that sounded like there was a helicopter taking off in his living room. His internet wasn’t working, so it was meant to be that our lives would cross.

One of the first steps in verifying browser inactivity is to check to make sure his internet is actually broken. The easiest way to do this is to have the customer go to Pepsi’s website: http://www.Pepsi.com. Everyone knows how to spell the word Pepsi, everyone knows what Pepsi is, and very few people ever go to Pepsi’s website.

Think about it: when was the last time you went to Pepsi.com? Never. Why would you? That’s useful, because your internet browser can sometimes view websites you’ve visited recently, even if you completely offline. It’s called a “cache” and it helps your computer run faster. (I guess.) Going to Pepsi.com ensures you can access new websites. An alternative is just to think of any word (cat, dog, plane, cyanide, munchausen, anything) and Google it.

(It wasn’t some sponsor thing though. Our company used to have people go to Coca Cola’s website. Apparently a customer once misspelled Coke, and ended up somewhere very different than anyone intended, at http://www.Cock.com. The company promptly retrained our agents to use Pepsi instead.)

I instructed the elderly gentleman to go to http://www.Pepsi.com, and to let me know when the page loads up. There was silence as I heard his keyboard clicking, and then we awaited the page to load.

A minute or so passes . . .

Me “Sir, has the page loaded?”

Customer “Nope uhhh… nothing’s come up yet. It’s still just white.”

I knew he had done something wrong, because it should either show a bunch of glamorous Pepsi logos, or some sort of message telling him that the page failed. It shouldn’t be blank.

I had him start over, and this time guided him step-by-step in typing Pepsi.com in his address bar.

I discovered the issue.

He didn’t know he was supposed to hit Enter after typing the website.

Alas, after pressing this magic “Enter” button, his intraenet was working again.

I told some of the other techs out on the smoke dock (the social scene), and they weren’t surprised in the least. They all had similar stories and said this was pretty typical. I was still pretty new at that point, so hearing that this is common was worrying to me.

– – – – – – –

Calls are supposed to be an average of 9 minutes and 30 seconds. You get penalized (“talked to”) if your call average is above that threshold, because our call center gets some six-figure bonus for being under 9:30 overall.

This lady’s call easily took 20 minutes just getting her to Pepsi. We didn’t even start fixing anything until after that.

I tried so hard to explain to her what an address bar is. It’s like giving a verbal tutorial on which end of a cup you’re supposed to put water in. Where do you start?

Me “It’s… okay so, at the top of your screen, there’s a long, white, rectangular box that goes from one end of the screen to the other.”

Customer “I… I don’t see it….”

Me “Huge white box thing. You can’t miss it.”

Customer “Where did you say it was again?”

Holy shit.

Me “Okay, what website do you see on the page?”

Customer “Well it’s the… the MSN? The homepage?”

She called it “the MSN.” We’re going to be here a while.

Me “Okay, so at the top, you will see a white bar that has this in it: http://www.msn.com/”

Customer “I don’t see it anywhere….”

Then I suspected that maybe she was telling the truth, and that the address bar was just disabled. Maybe she wasn’t a runaway Amish after all.

I had her go to View, Toolbars, and click Address Bar. An explanation that for you, took a few seconds. For her, several minutes.

Customer “Okay I clicked on it… OH! Something just went away; is that good?”

No. That’s not good.

Me “That thing that went away was your address bar.”

It was there the whole time, which means she’s either an idiot, or has never operated anything more complicated than a pencil.

I got her to get the address bar back, and she still couldn’t find it. It literally just reappeared where before there was nothing, and she can’t see it. She couldn’t find a lit candle in the dark. I’m not even sure she was human.

I decide to try it from a different angle: I had her go to File, Open, (in Internet Explorer) and then type letter by letter, very slowly, the entire “www.pepsi.com”

It worked. I thought this might mean the pain would end.

Customer “Oh, I’m sorry… I meant to say just the… the Outlook Express isn’t working.”

She actually had a working connection during the entire call. And she knew it. She just didn’t explain her problem correctly. She was having a specific issue within Outlook, but just called and said her “internet isn’t working.”

I feel like I need a shot of whiskey just from writing that story. Bash my head into the fucking wall.

– – – – – – –

Don’t get me wrong though; not all the calls were horrible. I joked around with some of them; especially the women that sounded kinda cute. I was 18 years old, so expecting anything else would be naive and ridiculous.

Most coaxial cable cords just go into the cable jack in the wall. This lady’s cable cord went through a small hole in the wall, out the side of the house, and then ran along the outside, up onto the roof. From there, nobody has any idea where it goes except Santa Claus, pigeons, and that one guy in the opposite building with that telescope.

Me “Okay, let’s try resetting the router.”

Me “Okay, let me try something from my end.” (I remove the association file and re-add it back again. I still have no idea what this entails in a technical sense; I’m a fixer, not a network engineer.)

After several minutes of unsuccessful troubleshooting, the only real option was to try unplugging the coaxial cable and plugging it back in. Well, that was impossible.

Me “Okay what I’m going to have you do now is get a ladder from the garage, and go up onto the roof….” Obviously I was kidding.

She thought I was funny, and we started joking about other stuff. I have no idea what; the call was mostly just veiled flirting. I know she asked me what city I lived in at some point. I was not supposed to tell her, but of course I did.

Too bad I lived in North Dakota, and all our customers were in Arizona (including her). Otherwise I might have been able to provide her with some servicing all of her own. The special customer “service package.” Providing her with a “home installation.” Plug my 6-inch cord into her Virtual Access Gate.

Vag. It spells V.A.G. That’s the joke.

I’m talking about vaginas.

– – – – – – –

One call still makes me laugh to this day. A lady called in because she wanted her internet disconnected (an unusual request) but just for the night (even more unusual).

I was curious, but I didn’t really ask because, hey, it’s your internet. You’re paying for it; so you can do whatever you want with it.

I told her I’ll see what I can do. She proceeded to tell me why she wanted it done, all on her own. I didn’t NEED to ask.

She explained that her boyfriend likes to lock himself in a room at night and look at “adult sites.”

It took every ounce of willpower not to start laughing. It was just so unexpected. Where do you even start with this one?

Customer “I just want to teach him a lesson.”

Me “Well… umm… yeah I guess I can just temporarily delete the file that controls the association between our network and your modem. And then, when you want it back on, just call us again, and whoever you talk to will see the issue right away because it’s one of the main screens that we look at.”

I even put a note on the account explaining it all to the next tech.

Customer “Well thanks! Have a good day!”

Me “Oh, you too, ma’am, thank you for calling!”

Customer “Bye bye!”

– – – – – – –

The job never ceased to surprise me. Upon opening the account of a customer that called in, there was a note at the bottom.

“Customer is blind”

Oh what the fuck. A blind person? Why me? Are you fucking kidding me?

I could see it now: “Okay so unplug the cord that looks like a…. I mean… uhh…. it feels like a….”

Hopefully the comment was just some previous techie leaving an unprofessional note on the account as a passive-aggressive insult. Like “Ayyo this bitch is blind she couldn’t find her mouse if it bit her on da ass, nah mean.”

No, she was actually, literally blind.

I still almost don’t believe what happened next.

She was one of my best customers. I remember this call specifically because she followed instructions very well. There were no issues with her blindness at all. And I wasn’t treating her like a child retard or anything; the only thing I did differently was use directional descriptions instead of colors (“third light from the top” instead of “orange light” for example).

She was by far more prompt and cooperative than any other caller I’d experienced. Callers that had — you know — sight. The ability to visibly see and recognize things in their environment using their eyes. We fixed her internet problem in probably ~5 minutes or so.

– – – – – – –

Then there’s the people who, for some unjust reason, think we’re the Best Buy Geek Squad, a one-stop shop here to fix any and every problem on your computer.

No. We are not your personal repairmen.

When you call tech support for Microsoft, the person you are talking to is trained on everything there is to know about Microsoft, but probably does not know jack-shit about Adobe Photoshop, because it isn’t his job to fix your Adobe program. It’s his job to fix your Microsoft program.

Say you have the oh-so-fictional “Cocks Communications” for your Internet Service Provider. You pay them money, they let you use the Internet. If your Internet breaks down, you can call their tech support line and get someone to help you.

Alternatively, if your Internet breaks down and you call the Microsoft hotline, they are going to tell you that it isn’t their job to fix your Internet. It’s their job to fix Microsoft programs. Would you call “Cocks” when Microsoft Word isn’t working? Go to Taco Bell to complain about the Big Mac you just ordered?

Lady calls in because she wants to install Java on her computer. In a nutshell, Java is a program that helps your web browser view websites that use videos and other complicated computer shit. I say “in a nutshell” like I actually understand it beyond what I just said, but I don’t.

She wanted Java installed on her computer, so she calls the company that allows her to access the internet?

I basically politely directed her to “www.java.com” and sent her on her way.

Customer “…You can’t help me?”

Me “Well… I can’t download it to your computer….”

You can lead a horse to water….

I gave her the website to go to. All she has to do is click a button and the installation guide would baby-step her through the rest of the process. But I can’t DO that for her; I don’t understand what she wants from me. I cannot physically click on the Download link for her, nor can I troubleshoot Java.

I’m not sure if I was even supposed to direct her to Java’s homepage, as it falls outside the area of our expertise and our company could possibly get in trouble if Java somehow screwed up her computer and she blamed us for it.

Customer “Okay? So you’re just not gonna help me at all?”

Me “Ma’am, there’s nothing I could do sitting here at my desk to download a program to your computer and install it.”

Customer “Ugh, whatever. Just forget it. Goodbye.”

Me “Well, thank you for calling—”

Customer “You didn’t help me at all.”

She hung up. I rolled my eyes and moved on with my day.

– – – – – – –

There was this one guy… I honestly don’t remember everything we talked about, but there’s a file on one of my old computers, or a notebook, or something somewhere, with all the info I wrote down that evening when I got home. As soon as I find it, the whole thing deserves its own blog entry.

I don’t remember his internet problem, but it didn’t matter for long. We somehow got on the subject of his crazy ex-girlfriend who was wrongly setting him up for some monstrous legal bullshit, trying to take his son away from him, trying to ruin his life from the ground up, and just being a huge c-bitch in general.

Throughout the previous year, I’d been involved in having to threaten legal action against an ex who wouldn’t stay out of my life, so being kindred spirits in the struggle against crazy, I gave him my personal email address and told him to contact me. Unfortunately I never did hear from him after we hung up the call.

[EDIT: Years later I eventually found my notes for the writeup of the story, buried deep in the bowels of some ancient backup hard drive of mine. Click here for the full thing.]

– – – – – – –

Guy was in his 50’s, and while his computer was restarting, he decided to strike up a conversation with me.

Customer “Say, do you ever watch a show called The O’Reilly Factor? On Fox?”

HELL no. That blubbering idiot was always one of the worst on Fox, and that’s saying something. They fired him, they fired Glenn Beck, and it’s hopefully only a matter of time before Sean Hannity gets the boot as well. Worthless. He’s not even worth the amount of hate I felt for Antonin Scalia or Roger Ailes, two people who I was jubilant to see kick the bucket. Rot in hell Scalia, you piece of shit.

Okay, uhh, anyway, back to the call.

So how do I put this diplomatically…?

Me “Umm… I guess I’m more of a Jon Stewart fan. The Daily Show.”

Which is a way of saying “fuck no, I watch the guy who makes FUN OF Bill O’Reilly.”

Guy “Yeah I’ve seen his show, he’s got a pretty good program. Well, Bill O’Reilly is always looking for new listeners. He likes young guys like you.”

I swear on the Qur’an, he said those exact words to me.

Me “Well, I guess I’ll give it a watch or two.”

Fuck you.

Guy “Alright. You won’t be disappointed.”

?????????????

– – – – – – –

My all-time favorite call was the ‘outage outrage.’

[Sigh]

*pours a drink*

See, sometimes entire electrical systems break down. Sometimes you’ll get several entire city blocks with no internet. And of course they all call us. Which makes sense. I’m not even being sarcastic. We are the people to call in this instance!

But there’s nothing we can do for them. There’s an outage. Whether the network was pre-scheduled for maintenance, or it went down after a storm, there is nothing I can do sitting at my desk. It’s a physical issue, not a software issue. Some wire out there in the IRL world was cut, or some switch is turned off when it isn’t supposed to be, and now 2,000 people in Scottsdale have no internet.

So we just feed them the unsatisfying party line of “You are in a current outage area blah blah blah technicians are working on it as we speak” and provide them an estimated time of repair. If there is one. And usually, there isn’t.

Lady called in, and one of the first things she wanted was a refund credit to her account for the days her internet is out. If she wasn’t getting internet for those days, she shouldn’t have to pay her bill for those days.

She is absolutely right, legally and morally, and we do have the tools necessary to assign credit to a customer’s account! I happily give her one.

One of my beefs with my company is that we were not allowed to offer a credit to any customer who called about an outage; they had to request it themselves. Otherwise I’d have automatically given one to anyone whose internet was down due to the outage.

Anyway.

Customer “So when is this shit going to be fixed?”

Me “Currently we do not have an estimated time of repair, but technicians are working on the issue as we speak and trying to get the problem resolved as quickly as possible.”

Customer “Yeah, I’m sure they are. I am losing major money because I’m not able to run my business that I run from home over the internet, and YOU can’t even tell me when it’s going to be fixed.”

Fine. If you really want to play it this way. Go ahead and blame me. Make it personal. That’ll certainly get your internet fixed more quickly.

Or…

Me “Ma’am, it actually states in the Terms And Conditions contract that you signed that customers are not allowed to do any sort of business activity on a Residential Internet Account, and that such activities are only allowed on our Business Internet Accounts.”

Customer “Are you threatening me?”

Me “No, ma’am, I am not threatening you. I’m simply inform—”

Customer “OH WELL GOOD I can sleep tonight.”

Me “I’m still in the process of giving you a credit on your account—”

Her “I call you because my internet isn’t working, and you start threatening me. That’s great customer service.”

Momentary pause . . .

Me [very calmly] “Ma’am—”

She hung up on me.

I immediately told my manager every detail about the call, so when he looks at the stats later, he knows why I got hung up on. He applauded my calling her out on the Business/Residential difference after she started getting hostile.

An exact quote from my conversation with him:

“Bitch was probably drunk.”