The NeverEnding Story… of support



Nobody likes to call into a support line for a large company.  Typically you’re looking at 5-15 minutes of menus and hold music before you can even get in touch with someone, who then, may or may not be able to help you.  Some companies are better than others and calling in for their support isn’t nearly as much of a headache, but recently I was calling into a major software supplier, on behalf of a customer, to find the answer to one simple question:  Does your support team offer support for the version of your software my customer is currently using?

I spent an hour trying to find the answer to this question.  I started with a few brief searches online, but did not find anything readily available.  I could find lots of information about the product, how to buy it, what is does and some answers to common questions, but nothing on whether or not they support the  specific version I was looking for.  So, I figured the easiest thing to do to find my answer was to call the people who would be supporting the product: the technical support team.  I called in and went through several levels of automated menus that would lead me to the right person to talk to: are you a current customer?  Do you already have a support ticket open? Etc.  I then got to the technical support team and asked my question as simply as possible.  They then of course asked me if I was currently a customer and if I already had a support ticket open.  Though I had foolishly assumed that the purpose of answering these automated questions in the beginning was so that the support person could have this information on hand before we talked, thus saving both of us some time and confusion, it isn’t that uncommon in my experience to have to repeat yourself in these situations.  Upon answering the support person’s questions they informed me that I was calling the wrong place and that they would need to transfer me to sales instead.  So, I was transferred to the “right” place to get my question answered.  This was fine with me, as a layperson it is not quite uncommon to make false assumptions about where to find information that you don’t know anything about, so having an expert point me in the right direction was a definite relief.  Finally, I was connected with the appropriate department and asked my question again.  However, this was not the right department and they did not know the answer, they of course told me that I needed to talk to technical support.  So, back again I went and this time I was going to get my answer.  As my hold music turned into methodically irritating beeping, so to did my hopes of getting my question answered turn into a vapid pit of despair.  I had been transferred to a dead line.  “Well, whatever.”  I thought, “I’ll just use this text chat technical support tool like the cool tech savvy person that I am.”  And so I did.  After some discussion I was given the phone number for the technical support line.  Apparently, the chat window technical support is not the same as the phone line technical support, so back to calling I went.  This time however I was pleasantly surprised to find that the support person I was talking to would be able to help me.  He told me all he had to do was to open a ticket for me and send it to the next level tech support; they would know if they could support the older version of the software.  Success!  He then told me I just needed to supply my customer number.  The company sells its products separately from the support service, which personally I think is a good idea if this separation can save customers who don’t need support some money.  I explained to him that I didn’t have one, because the customer didn’t have one.  I explained that they were looking to buy the support package, but first wanted to make sure that the older version of the software they were using could even be supported.  My support friend on the other end of the line then explained to me that in order to ask if they support that version of the software (in order to decide if it would be worth buying the support package) that we would first need to buy the support package and then at that point they could then find out whether or not they support the version of the application we were calling about.  He didn’t find this as amusing as I did, but said if I wasn’t willing to buy the support package required to find out if I should buy the support package that I could always look through their gargantuan labyrinth of free online forums.  Which I did, and found nothing, not to say that it wasn’t there, but it wasn’t there in a way that a normal human being with a computer, mouse, keyboard, 10 fingers and a moderate attention span could find it.
This company and many others could use a bit of an overhaul on the management, organization and design of their support system and probably many other pieces of their organization.  Unfortunately, I think the way they are currently looking at things is preventing them from even seeing the problem.