The $10/hr Dilemma

Everybody who enjoys calling tech support, raise your hand.

No one?

As a long-time IT Director, who came up through the system administration ranks, I dread those situations where the deadline is near, the answer is far, and the only option is to call the company’s support line. Mind you, it’s never my first option – a well-phrased Google query, first sent to the web, then to Google Groups, is far more likely to get an answer quickly. And there are those application manuals, gathering dust – the best ones will have good indexes. Also, decent applications have online support forums, and the best ones let you search without joining first.

What makes me crazy is this: the chances that the $10/hr front line support person answering the phone will know more about the application than I do are slim. This isn’t arrogance, it’s experience. I’ve almost certainly installed more applications in my career than he or she has ever used. And I know, for a fact, that that support person has a script — a series of questions that they have to ask me verifying that I’ve tried all of the things that I’ve already tried.

So my mission, should I be lucky enough to accomplish it, is to bypass all of this. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t – kind of depends on how much independent thought the $10/hr type is willing to apply. Here are my techniques:

  1. Remember that I’m speaking with someone who makes $10/hr (or less, particularly if it’s outsourced to another country) to take all sorts of abuse. I’m patient, polite, gracious. It’s not their fault that I have the problem, whatever the problem is.
  2. Appeal to their intelligence. Experience, which I have the edge on, isn’t intelligence, and salary level isn’t an indicator, either. If the support dude feels like I’m treating him or her respectfully, they’ll be more motivated to really help me.
  3. That said, still be authoritative and a touch arrogant. Let them know that you are not a novice. “I’m IT Director for a national organization and have years of experience with all types of software. I have a specific question about this feature; I have tried all of the standard debugging methods and have been through the manual and support forum. If you are not the person most knowledgeable about this area, can you connect me to someone who can assist me?” Goal here – skip to the higher level tech support, do not pass go, do not collect half an hour of aggravation.

I don’t vary any of this for U.S. based vs. outsourced support. It’s the same job and territory. If anything, based on experience, it does seem to me that the outsourced first-level support is often more knowledgeable than American counterparts, maybe because it’s not an entry level job in India or China, or one with high turnover, as it likely is here.

[This post is a shout out to friends in the NTEN IT Directors Affinity Group, a few of whom made the request]

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