General Tips

Remember the golden rule: an annoyed or frustrated tech is a tech who will be more focused on ending the call than on fixing your problem. It doesn't matter if the call is monitored or not: a pissed-off tech can still be unflinchingly polite but working 100% on getting you to go away.

Sometimes, fixing your problem is the quickest way to get rid of you. But if your problem is complex and you're a rude, irritating pest, forget about it. If you have to seek help from others, the people with the knowledge are the people with the power, not you.

So if you want your telephone tech support experience to go smoothly and produce positive results:

  • Speak your name, username, and account numbers clearly and slowly. Don't just rattle off a string of letters and numbers and expect the tech on the other end to understand you. If the tech asks you to repeat the spelling of your name, for God's sake don't speak even more quickly. This means the tech will have to ask again and already be a bit annoyed with you.

  • Give the tech salient details about your computer and the malfunction it's exhibiting. The basics include your operating system, the amount of RAM you have, the name and version of the software that's been acting up, and any changes you or others have made to your system since it started malfunctioning. Don't just announce "My computer won't work right!" and wait silently for the tech to magically know what kind of computer you have. The more you make the tech drag information out of you, the more annoyed he or she will be.

    By the same token, try not to natter on about a bunch of extraneous stuff: "Well, I got this computer last year and my cousin really said I should get a Mac not a Dell but she wore a red dress at our aunt's wedding and that's just really not done so I figure what does she know and anyway ...." Don't make the tech do verbal archaeology to sort out what's going on.

  • If the tech asks you to try something, or for more information, don't act all huffy and impatient. This is for your benefit, not the tech's.

Special Advice for Staff and Faculty at Universities

You can be a complete asshole, but your tech still has to do his best to help you out.

If you work at a university, be very wary of being a demanding jerk when you request that your call be escalated if the tech support isn't going as you think it should.

I work in the call center at a very large university; most of the techs are pretty jaded because they've run into a phenomenal number of people who have no interest in learning about and taking responsibility for the machines they use. However, we try to rise above and do the best job we can with each call, as long as the customer is willing to work with us. If you, the customer, want to talk to a more advanced tech, or a specific tech, all you need do is ask.

We really can "go the extra mile" here; we don't have quotas and time limits imposed on us like techs in the commercial world. Our bosses won't come down on us if we spend an hour on the phone with an undergrad who got the CoolWebSearch trojan off a porn site.

We are here to help you, and we have to be polite no matter what you say to us, but you do not make our jobs appealing by copping an unpleasant attitude. We're not paid enough to take abuse. If you get rude with us, we won't be in a frame of mind to walk that extra technical mile with you. We will seek ways to get you off the phone instead of seeking ways to solve your problem.

Callers are not anonymous to us; we have access to a truly scary amount of personal information. Maiden names. Social security numbers. Home addresses. Forwarding email accounts. Passwords. Logs of every call and email you've sent to us.

We take pains to keep sensitive personal information secure. But because we're a publicly-funded institution, every ticket you open with us becomes a public record.

Don't think we keep the most 'entertaining' calls to ourselves; the rude and outrageous get printed and posted on a call center Wall of Shame for all to see. There's no editorializing from the tech who logged the exchange; these calls and emails speak for themselves, and they speak volumes about the people who sent them.

But getting your email on the Wall of Shame for 30 or so techs to shake their heads at isn't the worst that can happen if you get downright abusive.

Because remember: if you work for the university ... so do we. We are your coworkers.

One day, an untenured faculty member called up in a profanity-spewing rage about a piece of university-supplied email software. He told the level-one tech who answered the phone, "I want to talk to the shithead who made this piece of crap!"

The tech knew the senior admin who in fact had coded the software in question. He put the instructor on hold, and called up the admin and explained the situation. The admin told him to go ahead and transfer the call over.

The admin answered the phone, "This is the 'shithead'. What can I do for you?"

The instructor backed off the verbal abuse a little, but not nearly enough. The admin sent a letter of complaint about the instructor's unprofessional behavior to his supervisors.

As a result of this little episode, the instructor didn't get tenure. And once you try for and fail to get tenure here, you're pretty much done. He completely wrecked his academic career because he thought he could treat tech support as subhuman lackeys.