RISC World

Tech Support

Aaron with some amusing (but not for him) tech support stories

I have been meaning to write a little article on technical support for some time. The reason I have decided to write one now is that it's Monday afternoon, and already today I have had the full spectrum of tech support requests by phone and e-mail. Firstly I need to point out that the vast majority of technical support requests are genuine queries from customers who have a problem, have read the manual, and cannot find the solution for their difficulty. From the point of view of this article I am not interested in these users, instead I am interested in users that, although normally highly intelligent member of the RISC OS community, are having a "blond day". I should point out that this article is intended to be humorous. As an additional note I should also like to point out that one of the few things that get me through the day is the thought that humans are genetically 50% banana, however sometimes this figure can reach as high as 98%. So lets take a good long look at those who at some point in the day are 98% banana.

Spotting a banana

The important things for any front line tech support person to do is to spot a banana as quickly as possible. Sometimes it may not be immediately apparent, however there are a couple of quick giveaways that can help. Firstly is the customer concerned an "expert"? If they don't claim to be an expert, or start the conversation with "I just use computer, but I don't understand....." then you are 99% likely to be banana free. If the customer claims to be an export then the alarm bells should start ringing. At this point you need to ask what version of Windows they are using, if it's Windows 98, then you quite likely have a banana on your hands. Why? Well anyone who is an "expert" would not be using Windows 98, at the very least they would be using Windows 2000, and most likely Windows XP. The old adage is that a little knowledge is dangerous, in the hands of some bananas it's lethal. So what sort of bananas have I encountered today, and how does one deal with them? Read on and find out...

Mr Errrm.

This is the classic basic banana, they have rung up for technical support on the "...ermmm, thingy that you click on when you errrm. You know when you start the errmm, Virtual RISC errm...". Providing technical support in this situation is extremely difficult, mainly because the customer doesn't know what they are asking. I used to try to guess, but have recently discovered that if you continually reply with "Sorry, I don't understand", they either stop going "" and explain what the problem is, so you can help them, or are unable to explain it and give up and go away; either is fine.

Mr What

A slightly more advanced form of banana, easily identified because they start each sentence with the word "What?". Now an in-experienced tech support person might fall into the gap of repeating the same phrase louder. This is not necessary. The banana has heard you perfectly well, but after years of use the connections between ear, brain and mouth are fused, so that no matter how loudly you speak they will instantly respond with "What?", rather like Pavlovs dogs, but without the charm, and with more saliva. You can, however, call their bluff, after the "What?" simply don't respond. Most times you will then discover that in actual fact they did hear what you said perfectly well and are quite capable of responding in a fashion that indicates the possibility of intelligence. Mr What has to be handled very carefully as the following genuine exchange from early this morning demonstrates.

You need to read the Manual
"The what?"
The manual
"What's it called again?"

This leads us very neatly on to another favourite of mine....

Mr Manual

The following, from the weekend, shows Mr Manual at his best....

"How do I access my USB Zip drive from Acorn?"
Do you mean VirtualAcorn?
"Yes, Acorn."
Right, well you need to make a new HostFS mount that points to the driver letter of the USB zip drive.
"How do I do that."

Yes, that's right, Mr Manual hasn't read the manual. But he's an expert and doesn't have to read the manual, indeed he will often tell you so. "Oh, I never read manuals..." should be a warning sign to anyone who offers technical support. There are a number of ways of dealing with Mr Manual. Firstly you can tell him that his problem is covered in the manual, even if it isn't, and then just continually refer him to the manual after everything he says. Eventually he will go away. This will give the experienced technical support person enough time to emigrate. The other alternative that might work, but is dangerous, is to solve his problem and explain that in future he will need to consult the manual. The inherent danger is that having got you to tell him what the documentation already says, he will come back again and again. Then you will have to find another way of getting rid of him.

I encountered a new variant on Mr Manual last week. This helpful person made a load of suggestions for ways of improving the documentation. I printed out the e-mail and started having a look. I rapidly discovered that all his suggestions were already in the manual. I gave up with his list half way down when he suggested we ought to have a problem solving section.

Mr Jargon

Mr Jargon is one of the most difficult bananas to deal with, and can come in one of two forms, they are both easy to identify. The less common variety says things like "I don't understand all this Jargon...", usually when you have mentioned uncommon terms like CD, Floppy or Network. What this particular Mr Jargon means is that he is not prepared to learn the meaning of any word that has entered the English language since 1900. The best way here is not to back down, and simply say that the the "jargon" you are using is the word for the item in question. If they continue simply point out that "chair" is simply jargon for "something that has a number of legs that is a bit of furniture that you sit on". Eventually this type of Mr jargon will eventually give in, at which point you discover that he does know what most of the words mean once his brain has got up to speed.

The other, more common, type of Mr Jargon, is different. He likes jargon, and uses it at every opportunity, especially if he can just it incorrectly, or in such a way as to cloud his true meaning. He also mixes up words, concepts, confuses companies and products. This afternoon I had a gentlemen asking if "Rcomp" would run on VirtualAcorn. I pointed out that Rcomp was a company. In the end I discovered he meant "Message Pro" (Messenger Pro). This is a godsend to someone manning a technical support line, as you now have the opportunity to pass the buck. I gave him R-Comp's phone number, and then promptly took the dogs out for a walk.

Mr Register

Mr Register is an interesting combination. He combines the inability to read of Mr Manual, with the apparent deafness of Mr What. To explain, in order to activate VirtualRPC-SE a user needs an unlock code. They can e-mail or ring for one. The supplied printed installation guide explains that they need the product ID number shown on screen, and the CD serial number, which is printed on the CD. For the hard of thinking a picture is supplied showing a CD with the position of the serial number marked. This exchange from today shows how Mr Register can make a complete mess of this simple process.

"I would like to register my VirtualAcorn."
I ask for the CD serial number
No that's the product ID number, I need the CD serial number first
"Oh, right that's 300..."
No that's your RISC OS 4 serial number, I need the CD serial number
"Where's that?"
On the CD.

A user also has to read out a Product ID number from the screen, this can also cause Mr Register some degree of difficulty...

Right, what's to Product ID number?
"It's that an 8 or a B?
I don't know I can't see you monitor from here....

From here it's a slippery downhill slope, until the VirtualRPC-SE is unlocked you can't be sure that he has given you any correct details at all.

Mr Chatty

A particular type of banana, they don't actually want any technical support. They can be easily spotted as they usually explain the problem, then say what they think the solution is. They already know that they are right, and just need you to "confirm" it before they go ahead. Actually what they really want is a chat, which in itself is no bad thing. However if you start talking you then cannot get rid of them. Every time you try to end the conversation they will respond "..oh...well just one more thing." As tenacious as Columbo after William Shatner, Mr Chatty can be very difficult to get rid off. However I have found a solution, all of my machines now have a looping sample of a phone ringing. I simply start this going and turn the speakers on. I then apologise but say I have to take a "call on the other line"; problem solved.

Although Mr Chatty is often a very nice person, and I do feel a bit guilty about including him I feel that I have to, mainly due to the very poor timing of his phone calls. If you are about to either go to the toilet, go to the bank, go to the shops and the phone rings 5 minutes beforehand don't answer it, as it will be Mr Chatty.

Finally we finish of with a recent discovery...

Mr Snap

Mr Snap has only appeared in the last few months. Although perfectly normal in all other respects his first instinct when obtaining a new piece of software on CD is to snap the CD in half. How does he achieve this? Well some products ship in DVD style cases, where to release the CD you press the button in the centre of the CD down, the CD then pops free. In order to make this clear DVD style cases come with a moulding that says somthing like "Press centre button to release." Now as I am sure most people realise the same actually applies to CD cases, and indeed has done so for the last 20 years. Mr Snap, on the other hand, prefers to grab the edges of the CD and pull. The CD doesn't move, so he pulls harder, in extreme case he will actually try to lever the CD out of the case. Now if you have every snapped a CD yourself you will know how much force needs to be applied.

Having applied so much force that the CD has broken Mr Snap will either ring up, apologise, and ask for a new CD, in which case he is then excluded from this list. The real hardcore Mr Snap will ring up and complain. He will become very annoyed when he is told he has to return the old broken CD and will have to wait up to two weeks for a replacement; why two weeks? Well every CD is individually numbered and they are generated in batches. I will have to get a one off CD produced with the same serial number, so all the other numbers still tie up. Usually pointing out that he broke it and if he wanted it so urgently why didn't he take more care will force Mr Snap to withdraw.

Mr Tech-Support

You may think that I have exagerated some of the above for comic effect, regrettably I haven't. These are all genuine examples of tech support queries I have had to deal with in the last few weeks, I offer them up because they are funny (with hindsight) and because its always cheering to know that however dim I am (see last issue's editorial) there is always someone else who can have an even bigger "senior moment".

I should point out that the above represents a small minority of technical support calls/e-mails. However what seems to be a worrying trend is that the proportion of noise to sound is rising. Is it that the common level of intelligence in RISC OS users is slipping, I can't believe so. That leaves me with one conclusion, there is only one banana, he's called Mr Tech-Support, and he's the miserable bugger who answers the phone!


P.S. It's Tuesday afternoon and I have just had this conversation...

"I can't read a CD on VirtualAcorn"
Right, what sort of CD is it?
What sort of CD is in the CD-ROM drive?
"Oh, do I need a CD in the drive?"