Among the most popular of the current crop of horror/slasher films is Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series, featuring the unctuous and disturbing Freddy Krueger, a homicidal maniac with fingers so sharp that he always makes his point–usually to the bloody and painful dismay of his adversaries.
Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Freddy, though, is that he makes his entrance into this world via our dreams. While we lie peacefully slumbering, the slavering Freddy can do his worst to us and anyone around us, thus making staying awake literally a matter of life and death. Red Bull, anyone?
And you know, it’s a little like that in another all-too-real realm of life: tech support. These days, making a call to a company’s tech support line is a lot like falling asleep while Freddy Krueger is in town–you never know if you’ll end up resting peacefully or screaming for escape from a bloody nightmare.
Of course, I realize that technology products–whether by design or accident–have their flaws, and we certainly need someone to call on when our technology sneezes or freezes. It’s what happens when we start conversing with the person on the other end, however, that has me at wit’s end.
For example, a few months back, I had an issue with my ISP and I called their tech support line. (Yes, even I, the Tech Guru, must sometimes humble myself and call on others for help. As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”) After the usual automated sorting nonsense, I got to speak with a gentleman who sported a heavy south Asian accent of some kind. He was a bit difficult to understand, but that was of no concern to me initially, since all I really cared about was resolving my problem, so I went ahead and described what was happening.
As I spoke and he suggested fixes (which, sadly, did not work), it became clear to me that he was reading his answers from a script of some sort. Again, that was really not a problem, because one of those fixes might actually work. But when I got to a question that wasn’t on his script, he was rendered instantly helpless. In fact, it was obvious that his grasp of the English language was limited to the questions already on his script. I tried to lighten the atmosphere with a joke, but alas, he did not comprehend our American brand of humor. All he could do was mumble incoherently.
My frustration must have been palpable. He may have been frustrated, too, but there was no way for me to discern that, at least not on the phone.
After what seemed like hours of struggling, I abruptly thanked him for his time and went off on my own to try and find a solution. At that moment, however, I realized that my pulse was racing and I had a cold sweat going on. I was angry, dag blast it, and although I wanted to be understanding about the tech support guy’s predicament, I was in no mood to be sympathetic!
The next day, still unable to solve the problem, I reluctantly called the tech support line again. This time, I got a native English speaker. I was able to easily explain what I had done so far, and he was just as easily able to work through the problem without reading a canned answer. Wow, what a relief!
But hold on. Before you go thinking I’m just ranting about tech support people who can’t speak English, let me relate another experience I had with my satellite TV provider’s tech helpdesk. Here, too, the tech guy was picking answers from a menu. The problem, however, was that even though this person sounded like a native English speaker, he just spoke English badly. In fact, he spoke so rapidly and in such a garbled manner that I eventually gave up there, too. Again, I had to keep calling back until I finally got someone who didn’t sound like a cattle auctioneer with marbles in his mouth.
So here’s my advice to any company that runs a tech helpdesk of any kind. First, if most of your customers speak English, hire a native English speaker who speaks reasonably coherently and also knows something about how to fix problems. Second, further train that speaker to enunciate clearly and to speak at a pace that most adults can readily understand.
Oh, I know that will probably cost more than outsourcing the function to Dublin, New Delhi, Karachi or some other place where labor is inexpensive, but believe me, your customers will thank you for it. In fact, I would be willing to pay more for tech support if a company could guarantee a fluent English speaker with some knowledge who knew how to converse in a civil manner.
It’s time for tech companies to start treating their customers with some respect and consideration. With all that goes on in this dangerous and busy world, the last thing we need is another nightmare.