A constant since the dawn of time.

This call log was found scrawled on the wall of a cave in Northern Europe:

"Fire support. Me Oog. Who you?"

"Me Larg. Larg mad."

"Oog help Larg. Why Larg mad?"

Larg fire not burn. Fire burn yesterday but not burn today."

"Do Larg have stick and stone?"


"You bang stick and stone together?"

"Ya, bang stick and stone just like yesterday. No burn"

"Sigh...You use same stick and stone as yesterday? Make no change?"

"I use same stick, same stone. Fire burn yesterday but not today."

"Sigh...You no do anything different to stick or stone?"

"Me do one thing different. Rock very hot. Burn Larg hand. Larg dip rock in river to cool off so can hold."

"Sigh...Larg can't dip rock in river, or fire won't burn. Larg must wait for rock dry out."

"But Larg can't hold hot dry rock. Why won't fire work with wet rock?"

"Oog no help wet rock fire"

"Larg mad. Larg beat Oog. Larg beat Oog master."

"Oog master Great Fire Chief. Great Fire Chief say no wet rock fire help."

"Larg no like Great Fire Chief. Larg no like Oog. Larg want wet rock fire to work. Make wet rock fire work!"

"Oog can't make wet rock fire work."

"Larg talk to Great Fire Chief"

"Great Fire Chief no here. Great Fire Chief call back."

"Larg cold now. Talk to Great Fire Chief now!"

"Great Fire Chief call Larg back. Oog can't talk no more."

It's come to my attention that there aren't actually any nodes that explain the mechanics and working conditions of manning a helldesk.

Here goes. I work for a call centre that does outsourced tech support for companies that don't want to keep it in-house. My employer is Stream International, and I support a major PDA (I can't say which, because of a Non-Disclosure Agreement).

Okay so here's what happens behind the scenes when you call a help desk.
You wait in a queue, listening to some bad music for a while. As soon as you're at the head of the line, one of us agents gets a "boom" on our headsets. It's basically just a beep to tell us we got a call. Occasionally, if you've gone through billing because of an out of warranty product or for various other reasons (I can't find any consistancy. It seems pretty arbitrary), we get a "whisper" as well, which is a voice that tells us some information (you warranty status, etcetera). Then we answer with a script that welcomes the customer, tells him where he called, and tells him our name. It's different for each agent, but it's pretty consistant per agent. I usually answer with "Hello and thank you for calling company name. You've reached my name in product name support". Notice how I answer with the company who makes the products name, not my employer? It's important to let the customer think that they're talking to the actual company, not a third party.

After that, we collect your name and phone number, and input it into our logging program (the name of it is WWWCCS. Colliqially it's called Vantive.) The program is written in java, so it's disgustingly slow. While we run a search on that information we ask if you've called before, and if you haven't we stop the search and create a new customer record, and collect some more customer information (address, email, etc.) If you have called before we pull up your customer record, and add a new case. Then we collect some product information such as the serial number. Then we try to help you, logging every troubleshooting step as we go along. If the agent is a good one, he'll calm the customer down if they're stressing out about it. If the customer is being confrontational (yelling about never working with this company again, telling the agent that he doesn't know what he's doing, whatever.) we're still required to offer the same level of support that we would give anyone, but in actuality we don't.

Most call centres work with a 3-tier system where the least experienced agents transfer customers up the line untill the problem is solved. Ours works a bit differently. We have 2 sets of people. The first are the agents. We're the ones that man the phones and talk to the customer. If we don't know something, the customer goes on hold, and we ask the second group of people (the mentors) for help. The customer never knows we talked to anyone else about the problem, just that we were "checking our resources". The mentor almost never talks to the customer. Only if the customer insists to talk to a supervisor will they ever take customer calls, and when that happens the mentors pretend not to know anything about the technical aspects of the product. The mentors hate taking customer calls, and it's rather obvious by how they treat the customer.

At the end of the call, we thank the customer for calling, and leave the call on a good note ("have a good day" or something). Then we hang up, enter a product code into our phone, and then go back to "Ready".

The Truth about Tech Support

I used to think that I was a diamond in the rough when talking to a customer representative. I was the one individual who showed some semblance of a brain, a veritable ray of sunshine piercing the dark and muddy atmosphere of countless neophytes.

It would seem that I have been mistaken. The pain is immediate, a piercing tablet stylus jammed between my teeth and gums, but after some minutes I acclimate, desensitized, to all sense of rejection and betrayal. After a few minutes more, I begin to think it just as well that such mirages fade away.

After all, what stands between me and my tech-helper guru friend? I will be the first to admit a many long night spent whispering bit-mask codes into the microphone, only to be informed that the architecture requires hex code instead of decimal. Oh yes, I remember... I do.

And still, it seems I have no working Linux Box! Configuration promises much nail-biters still to come. I can easily imagine arguments between us, hissed as thinly veiled intimations to my man across the line.

"Never! Never! Shall I ever pay tender to men such as you! Now bugger you off! The line I'll now sever, so go on and shoo!" (I might say at times when I don't feel okay)

And again the handle I hold is slammed right back down. I breathe fumes out my mouth, and must remember to breathe, though that rarely helps much(Though now that I think it, perhaps I have dragged my lament out too much in my rush).

At the end of the day, things boil to facts. I must face the flush truth, that I'm much better off...with a fax.

We sit at gray monitors, listening
to confused Eloi in tusky towers
divergently evolving. Always
there’s a compatibility problem
between the overfocused poets
and the language of machines.

The Eloi cry doom over bright wires,
voices spores. Our minds fuzz mycotic.
No dystopia’s perfect: we have a bitter savior
so we shamble, spidery, pale, seeking ambrosia.
Faith’s no narcotic once you’ve lost humanity,
so we take noon communion in free hot coffee.


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