by Gary North
I launched my first Website, www.freebooks.com, in 1996. So, I have had a lot of experience with Web hosting services, customer support technicians, and arcane commands.
Over the years, I began to detect a pattern in tech support responses. If a problem could be solved with one e-mail or phone call, then there was no pattern. But in second, third, and additional contacts, a pattern began to emerge.
I believe that this pattern is in some way genetic. It has to do with synapses and stuff in people's brains. Technicians do not think in the same way that non-technical users do. They have a specific mindset and a specific way of dealing with problems. We users have a different way and a different mindset.
These rival ways have led to different roles in the economy: the division of labor.
Technicians in all fields believe that users ought to be interested in technology and explanations. They become frustrated when they discover that users are interested only in user-friendly results. Technicians cannot guarantee user-friendly results, but they can explain in user-incomprehensible detail why things used to work but then ceased working, and why things will be working Real Soon Now.
THE TEN ASSUMPTIONS
After years of experience, I have concluded that the pattern of response by technical support staff is based on ten assumptions.
If a procedure works at this end, it has to work at the user's end.
If it doesn't work at the user's end, the user must not be following my inherently clear instructions.
When the user insists that he is following my instructions to the letter but the procedure still doesn't work, he thereby proves that he has not understood my instructions, which were clear.
It would do no good to call the user and take him through the procedure, since no matter what I tell him, he will not be able to follow my clear instructions.
It would waste my supervisor's time for me to call and ask if there is a technical problem in between my work station and on-line public access.
A single failed procedure is not an early warning signal of systemic trouble, but is instead a random event that will waste corporate money and my time to investigate further.
A user's repeated complaints about a failed procedure reveal obstinacy on his part.
An individual user has nowhere else to go, and can therefore safely be delayed indefinitely.
The sales staff is peripheral to the support staff.
My salary will continue to be paid irrespective of users' satisfaction with service.
What is missing is the number-one presupposition of the free market: The consumer is sovereign. The consumer possesses money, which is the most marketable commodity. He can more easily find a replacement seller than the sales department can find a replacement customer.
It is said that every high-technology firm requires three people: a salesman, a technician, and a manager who can get the first two even to speak to each other, let alone actually cooperate.
The salesman is on commission. He wants to move the potential user to "yes" as fast as possible.
The technician is on salary. He wants to delay dealing with any user until the technology is perfect.
The sales force wants to move on to find a new user as soon as possible.
The support staff wants to get the user off the phone as soon as possible.
The user just wants the system to work as promised by the salesman.
A RECENT EXPERIENCE
Years ago, I went to a Web hosting company to host my autoresponders. Autoresponders are instant-reply e-letters that go out as soon as someone sends an e-mail to an address. They are great for delivering information cheap and fast. I have written a free course on how to use them in business, which is itself delivered by a sequential autoresponder program.
Recently, the host company joined with another company. My autoresponders still worked the same. No problem.
But then I went on-line to edit an autoresponder letter. Lo and behold, I could not gain access to the Control Panel. I was locked out of my site.
So, I sent an e-letter explaining my problem to the first company's address. No response. No returned letter. I waited a couple of days. I sent a follow-up letter. No response. No returned letter.
Then I sent a letter to the second company's address. I got a response. The language was a bit odd. "We are looking into the matter and will revert back to you ASAP." Revert back?
There was no follow-up.
Two days later, I sent another letter, reminding them. This time, I got a response. I was directed to go to the Control Panel's access address. I was told to type in my new user's ID (8 characters) and a new password (8 characters). I did. No access. I tried again. No access. I used cut-and-paste to make sure that I was entering the information correctly. No access.
I sent back a letter saying I could not get access. I received a reply. The reply said: "The [site address]cpanel is working very fine at our end with the username & password given below." Again, "working very fine" sounded odd. Listed were the same two non- functioning access codes. I tried again. No access.
The technical support staff is located in India. The language was not quite standard English, but the response was standard technician.
I wrote back, explaining that what was "working very fine" at their end was still not working at my end. I asked for a phone call.
A few hours later, I received a call — about an hour after I had sent a copy of the first draft of this essay to the company's American office. I had named names in the first draft. The technician took me through the same steps as before. This time, I was able to log into my control panel.
He insisted that he had done nothing different. I made the same claim.
Anyway, I can now get access. This is good.
If all this sounds familiar, there is a reason.
The structure of rewards determines the nature of the performance. When you pay people a commission to sell, this attracts salesmen. When you pay people a salary to deal with problems, you attract technicians.
The negative institutional sanctions must be consistent with the positive sanctions if the plans for the organization are to be reached. It is usually more difficult to design and impose negative sanctions than positive sanctions. Negative feedback is crucial but is resisted at all levels.
Salesmen must be both encouraged and threatened to sell what the company is selling, not a figment of their imaginations. Technical support staff members also require a two-fold system of sanctions. But the systems of rewards and punishments must be different in both branches of the organization.
The goals are the same: (1) customer satisfaction; (2) minimizing costs. The solutions are different.
Those firms that solve the problem of sanctions are more likely to survive in a world of consumer sovereignty.
The solutions for customer service should begin with a full-scale training program to overcome the ten assumptions of tech support.
June 29, 2006
Copyright © 2006 LewRockwell.com