Looking over some old entries today from 2012 and ran across this one. While it doesn’t apply quite as much to my present position as it did when I was basically the only technical support available at CNIC, it still resonates…
Signs of I.T. Burnout
- You wake up in the morning and think of 50 different excuses to call in sick because you just can’t face another day of it.
- You no longer even feel the need to pretend to be cheerful and nice when talking to end users. You answer them with the fewest amount of words possible and possibly a grunt thrown in for good measure.
- When you sit at your desk and stare through your monitor thinking of all the other things you would rather be doing, and one of them is having a urinary catheter put in.
- You stop hearing what people are saying to you and just think about how much you would enjoy smashing them in the face with your keyboard—repeatedly—just so you can go back to staring through your monitor.
- It feels funny when you smile.
I’m so there.
Having been on both sides of the Tech Support fence, I can pretty safely say that the state of technical support from most major vendors these days is so abysmal that an actual good support experience is almost shockingly noteworthy. I try to do my best, but there are days where I simply don’t give a fuck. I’ve already been called out for having an attitude, but thankfully the number of “You ROCK!” nominations that keep coming in for me from my end users offsets any stray comment my boss receives. And on the other side of the fence, businesses in general have begun to recognize that the grand support-offshoring experiment that started in the late 1990s has well and truly failed. But even before the trend really got underway, tech support was hardly a glamorous experience, either for the customer or the poor phone monkey stuffed into minuscule cube, earning a hair above minimum wage.
The story is the same for customer-facing and internal help desks alike: no one likes calling them, and no one likes working them. It’s a common bit of conventional wisdom that the average time it takes for a newly hired tech support worker to go from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to suicidal and burnt-out is about 18 months; the job can be notoriously hard on the psyche and the soul. It’s the very definition of Sysiphean—no matter how many times you answer the customers’ questions, there will always be more customers with the exact same questions.
Repetitive tasks with no relief can be psychologically stressful. This leads to a feeling of resentment on the part of a lot of support staff, who can come to regard customers as unendingly, unerringly stupid; conversely, when confronted with a sighing, obviously annoyed Nick Burns-ish creature groaning at them, the immediate response of most customers is mistrust, reticence to comply with directions, and sometimes outright anger.
Non-IT users need to learn their computer/device better. I see too many people who still don’t know the difference between Windows and Office. Granted computers etc. are getting easier to use, but end users need to at least try to learn some basic terminology besides “The Internet isn’t working.”
How to do this? First, make the technology easier. Apple does this the best. (And my experience with Apple Tech Support has been, without fail, exemplary.) Facebook is right behind them. Google has some good consumer offerings as well and is catching up rapidly while still keeping higher end functionality. I’ve personally had to deal with software that requires a process that has no documentation, takes 2 hours to install and required manual intervention by a person for most of that time. Only one question… WHY? If you can’t answer that succinctly in a few words, or it sounds like “we don’t have the resources to invest in that yet,” you are doing it wrong. I’m talking to you, McKesson.
Second, pay tech support people more and give them some respect! Customer service is hard. Programmers can’t do it and neither can engineers. They think they can, but it requires training just like any other position. We have to stop treating customer service like sweat shop labor. That’s how we got the support outsourcing started because some bozo thought we could just put warm bodies on the phone to do what a computer could not. Tech Support staff are the E.R. physicians of the 21st century, yet they’re still treated like janitors. Even after your system crashes and we’re called upon to get it working again, we’re never given the respect that little bit of saving-your-ass deserves; more often than not, we’re blamed for the calamity. I’m all for putting the right person in the position, be they Indian or American, but pick people who have skills, respect them and pay them, and eventually you’ll have good people wanting to go into these positions.
Finally, the best tech support has people who can think critically and logically. It’s sad, but we are losing our ability to do that in the United States. Increase investment in public schools and increase time spent on logical problem solving in general. Customer service is about solving someone’s problem, not just smiling and making the customer feel good about themselves. Yeah, I want the person to be friendly and personable, but if they can’t take two seconds to think about my problem and make a decision… any decision, then the first two points aren’t going to help at all.
After the 6,437,193rd time I’ve worked through your exact problem, I have an idea or two about what might be wrong. When I ask you to reboot, check a setting, or rename a backup file and restart the program, it’s because these steps fix the problem most of the time. You may be honest, but approximately 56% of the callers will lie about trying a simple reboot, and the other 44% won’t even have considered doing that before calling in the problem.
Speaking of lying, when I go to a PC and see a half dozen toolbars covering 25% of their browser and ask, “How did all this get installed?” the answer will be, “I don’t know. It just showed up.”
When I walk you three three procedures and have you check to see if the problem is fixed after each one, it’s not that I’m an idiot (correlation does not imply causation). Rather, it’s because your particular problem sometimes has multiple causes, and if your system is partially hosed, we can avoid some of the steps. When it’s completely munged, though, we must go through the steps to fix the little problems before the big problem goes away.
I am the entire unofficial “Help Desk” for my company and to be perfectly honest, while I still try to provide good, friendly customer support to my users, I’m rapidly coming to loathe every aspect of my job. I’ve been at this company for a little over a year, but I’ve been doing Tech Support work as my sole source of income since 1997. For the ten years prior to that, it was secondary to my primary job function, so I’m certainly no stranger to the scene. My phone ringing has become like the calling of some satanic beast, here to rip out another chunk of my soul, so I finally reached the point where I turned the ringer off. I figure if it’s a real problem, they’ll (a) leave a message, (b) send me an email, or (c) come to my desk. What I learned early on is that with most problems, if you don’t immediately run to hold the user’s hand, 90% of the time they’ll figure it out on their own or the problem will spontaneously go away on its own.
I’m looking for a way out of here, but I’ve been at this long enough to know that in this field the basic story line and personalities I have to deal with on a daily basis will stay the same no matter where I go; only the faces will change. The only saving grace to this job is that I get here a half hour before most everyone else, which means I get some time in the morning without having to see or hear from anyone and I beat the traffic going home in the afternoon. It’s also insanely easy to get to from our new apartment, regardless of the weather.
A good number of the users at my company admit to being computer illiterate and they have no patience for the time it may take to troubleshoot a problem. They seem to have this idea that my job is simply a matter or pressing a button or tapping a key and everything in their world that breaks will be put back together in a heartbeat. But it’s not like many real problems—problems that might require I invest a few brain cells in solving them—ever come up.
Most of my day is spent:
- unlocking accounts (Turn OFF your CAPS LOCK KEY, you MONKEYS!)
- resetting passwords (You were out for a week and you’ve forgotten it? Is it really THAT hard to remember? You’ve been typing it EVERY day for the last three months!)
- telling people what the URL is to our web mail system
- walking them through the steps to get their email to their smartphone. (Most of these people shouldn’t be allowed to have one)
- Troubleshooting or requesting service for printers (I hate printers. Why are we still printing SO DAMN MUCH?!)
- showing people how to reduce their mailbox size when they have gone over the limit (they never remember to empty the deleted items folder)
- creating PST files in Outlook so they can horde every single personal cat-video, inspirational message, and Obama-is-a-communist-Kenyan-ursurper email they have received from the beginning of time
I guess you get the idea.
Terminology is also big problem with my users. They can’t tell the difference between a desktop computer and a laptop that is attached to a docking station. They don’t know the difference between a computer and a monitor (your mean the TV thing?) Before I created a spreadsheet with all the hard information I would ever need to get from my users, if I asked a user for his/her computer name, I can guarantee that I’d either their employee ID, log in name, email address, the computer service tag, the model of the computer or “It’s a Dell. Does that help?”
When I ask for their Windows password, 9 times of of 10 I’ll get, “Is that the one I use first thing in the morning to log in?”
They refer to their web browser as “The Internet” and Windows as “The Windows.” Try getting a user to tell the difference between Windows XP and Windows 7. It’s like trying to teach a newborn how to drive a dump truck. Same goes for Office; there’s no hope when it comes to that. Hell, most of my users can’t even figure out how to create shortcuts on their desktop or task bar.
And they’re terrified of trying anything on their own!
They don’t know what it means when I ask them for a folder path or drive path to whatever calamity they have gotten themselves into. They only know it as the “R” drive or “P” driver or “I” drive.
The company I work for is in the medical insurance business and therefore rakes in vast amounts of cash. But no matter how much myself, or the two I.T. Directors I’ve now had the pleasure of working for have pleaded with the holders of the purse strings, it’s only very recently that they started providing basic, strictly voluntary Excel training to the staff. Until that point, they just gave these people a computer and said go to work! So whenever someone new gets hired I can almost guarantee at least 3-4 calls a day from this person, just trying to help them navigate the scary magic box on their desk.
In conclusion, Tech Support is Hell. It has been my observation over these past fifteen years that a good majority of the people who work in the field are tortured souls, and very few of us actually like this job after the initial rush wears off. Users are, for the most part, incompetent, and I often wonder how companies manage to stay in business considering this staggering level of willful stupidity. It’s 2012, for chrissake! Personal computers have been a part of corporate life for the last thirty years, and yet there are workers in their 20s who still view them as some sort of incomprehensible technology that landed from another planet. The bottom line is that American businesses need to put more focus on training their employees on how to use the thing they spend 99% of their work day in front of.