April 26, 2011

Customer Support

Yay! Another airplane post filled with many subordinate clauses and one sided opinions, with a good topic to do it with. For those of you who do not know, an airplane post is a blog post, which I type up on any European flight. These are usually about topics I care a great deal about, typed up on my iPhone or iPad, as I have nothing better to do. Let us get started with a subordinate clause, customary in an airplane post.

While sitting on a Swiss air flight next to my dad, on the way back from the long weekend, with no more than a few centimetres between me and the seat in front of me, I decided to write about the well known (and hated) customer support services, after my dad had a slight falling out with BT.

To start, have you ever called customer support? I will tell you know, it is easier to go online and trawl through the hundreds of support files for hours at a time than even attempt to make any form of contact with customer support. Let me give you 2 examples: contact by email and contact by phone.

The first, contact by email. I got a WD NAS HDD (Western Digital Network Attached Storage Hard Disk Drive), which I wanted access to across the Internet (FTP). I looked in the manual: nothing. I looked online: nothing. I then decided it was time to email support, so, after an hour of looking for the damn email address, I found it. Do any of you want to guess what happened? The reply: "I am sorry but we do not really offer support for FTP on the drive. It is something that the drive is capable of, but because of the complexity, we do not really provide much assistance. It is recommended to use Mionet, for which I can provide support. The ability to access the drive with FTP is intended for advanced users who will not need much assistance setting this up. I have provided the User Manual: page 119 may assist you."

Ok, let's analyse this closely and carefully. MioNet (WDs terrible Internet access service) is slow, PC only, no media streaming, expensive and ugly. So you can see my reluctance in using it. Assuming that I am not an advanced user, which I think I am, is extremely prejudicial. Just because I cannot fix every piece of tech on the planet does not mean that I am not an advanced user. And finally, do you know what the user guide said? "FTP is intended for advanced users only, please contact support if help is needed"!

The second story: contact over the phone. Our BT HomeHub's wi-fi signal kept breaking down due to the apple TV and AirPort Express in our house. We were sick and tired of it and so we went out and bought a new, expensive, dual band router. Back at home, we were greeted with an "unable to connect to Internet, contact ISP" message. We got the number for BT (over a 118 service) and called them. As is usual with any customer support line, we were welcomed with a computerised voice telling us to push buttons, and as usual with my family, we just slammed the keypad until we got to a real life human, with a real voice and brain, albeit, not a big one. After a good chat, in which we got nowhere with our problem, I passed the phone on to my dad. Following that action, one could have probably heard everything my dad was shouting down the. Phone across the neighbourhood.

We were eventually forced to pay out £30 for a 3 month subscription to BT home IT support, who told us the simple steps in getting the router to work.

I have many, many more intriguing stories to tell, but I want to get on to my next bit.

After these experiences, what have I learned? Companies want to make money on everything they can possibly make money on. I mean, a £30 subscription to IT home support? That is highway robbery! Vodafone are also money greedy. So much so, that they even have a customer retention department. RETENTION! They are so desperate to keep their customers from switching to another network!

Here is another thing to think about. Do you really think that these support people have the brains to solve your problem? That was rhetorical, of corse not! They all put the symptoms into a program and see what result comes out (in the case of Dell, "put a blanket over the screen"). Why don't they make that program, or the answers in that program available for free online? (another rhetorical question) We payed for the product, so we should get free support, right?

Wrong. As I have said before, companies want to take the most amount of money from you. My dad had made an agreement with vodafone's customer retention team, for a better phone tariff, and behold, his phone tariff had not changed when we checked online. Wait, a retention ream you say? Yes, they have a special team there to keep consumers! He will now call them up and, in his customary way, shout at them so he does not have to pay £250 a month for his phone.

To finish on a positive note: there are a few exceptions to the rule. Companies such as Apple excel in customer support, like they do everywhere else. In the US, you can enter the problem online and an apple genius will call you back, knowing exactly what your problem is. The online support files are plentiful and precise, the phone representatives actually know what they are talking about and you get 90 days free telephone support for every apple product, and even after that, it's extremely cheap. I am not just saying this because I like Apple, it's actually true for anyone who has used it before. Even the apple stores with their Genius Bars are extremely helpful. They gave my dad a free iPhone 4 when the home button became unresponsive.

All in all, I shall never understand why companies such as BT and Vodafone, who already have enough cash in their pockets, feel obliged to provide the crappiest customer service ever, but, this is the type of world we live in and unless you learn how to deal with customer service, you will have a hard time with your tech for years to come.