As I was looking through the latest entries from the ZDNet website, I became more convinced that, under many circumstances, the opinions expressed there are just a few days late, in the overall scheme of things.

Yesterday, a story, having a byline that I am unfamiliar with, was found detailing the lack of concern, and available help on many websites and with many things relating to the computer industry these days. The writer gives an example of his own experience with the MSN website, and Hotmail in particular.

As an long-time analyst in the IT services business, I have always been focused on analyzing the  performance of vendors’ services staff when you need to call them.  Some still use their own inhouse support personnel for all support issues, but most outsource the “day-to-day” stuff to a third-party, and retain specialist staff inhouse to resolve complex or sensitive issues when they are escalated, such as when customers’ security has been compromised, or when the customer requires specialist attention the outsourcer cannot provide.

Or, as he has now found, the many places put the burden on just about anyone who is tasked with answering the e-mails, since there is no longer any way to contact these people on any sort of personal basis.

It takes less than a reflection backwards of two months when I remember the problem I encountered with Kaspersky Antivirus support – or lack thereof.

As I took part in the Windows 7 Launch Party event, I had (and still have) a number of printed cards that came with the kit, offering a 1 year trial of Kaspersky antivirus solutions for attendees of the launch party. As I had overlooked these when laying out the table at the party, I grabbed one a couple of days later to get the use of it for my Windows 7 install, and check to see if there was any catch with redeeming the coupon for the party attendees. (I was going to send out one with Thank-You notes, to each of my party guests.)

Well, upon visiting the site, I got the automated message that the offer had already been taken advantage of – pretty good, since no one else but my son and I had seen them at this point! (there were specific codes for the offer, an I would assume that they were not all the same)

Well, long story short, I got nowhere with their extremely difficult to maneuver, and tersely worded on-line help. In 3 days I was given a note saying my problem had been handled, which, to this day I find extremely bold of companies like this. They should be meekly asking me if my problems have been handled, not bellowing that I have been taken care of. Especially since, from my perspective, the problem was not at all resolved, simply rejected out of hand.

Suffice it to say I will not be using, nor recommending this product here or to any of my customers anytime in the future. Though my sphere of influence might be small, in the scheme of things, it does them no good. Couple that with others experiencing the same abuse during that time of their own Launch Party events, and both Kaspersky and Microsoft receive a minor black eye over things handled  in this manner.

But returning to the plight of the ZDNet author –

However, what is giving me a major headache is the amount of vendors now relying purely on web-based support for all aspects of their product.  I assumed web-only support was for low-risk, easy-to-resolve activities that can normally be dealt with by the FAQ page. However, this is clearly not the case with many vendors today.

Let’s take the biggest one out there – Microsoft – where I recently had personal experience using its support function for a security compromise with my Hotmail account, which i have been using since 1995 – and being charged around $30/year for quite some time now.

I had a paid Hotmail account for over 7 years, and stopped using the paid services as they seemed to evaporate in much less time than my subscription period.

For the very first time in the electronic life I fell for a phishing scam a few days’ ago – yes, I’m an idiot, but it was one of those very convincing “verify your account to avoid it being closed” ones.  Plus, I picked up the note on my Blackberry, so it was hard to spot that it was a bogus scam.  To cut to the chase, my account was compromised, all my contacts were spammed with the usual “help, I’m stuck in Africa and need $1500 blah blah” story.  All my contacts were deleted, a lot of emails deleted and personal documents deleted.  So while I’ve been going through the pain of canceling all my credit cards, apologizing to all my contacts (some of whom actually did think I was stranded out in Africa), changing my security questions and passwords several times, the hackers were still somehow in my account deleting stuff.

So I’m calling Microsoft support lines and each time being sent to an automated messaging system informing me that “Hotmail support is web-only – please go there and submit a help ticket and we will respond to you within 24 hours”.  I did manage to get some guy on the phone, via a Microsoft support number, who tried to sell me some security software, but no one would help with my compromised security issues and lock the account. I kept getting sent to an automated queue which told me “Hotmail support is web-only”.  I wanted my deleted information restored and some assurances that these hackers still couldn’t get into the account.

Anyhow, I’ve since submitted two help tickets urgently pleading for help – I even got the “reply to this message to verify that your email address is valid” message each time, and, eventually three days’ later I get an email from “Jon” pasting a load of “FAQs” into an email, which did not address the security compromise.   After several back an forths with “Jon”, I finally get the following message:

“Thank you for writing back to Windows Live Technical Support. I appreciate the time and effort that you took in sending us the required information to help you in retrieving your password. I recognize the importance of resolving this matter and I look forward to providing you with the necessary assistance.

“Currently, Windows Live ID only provides e-mail support to help our customers. We believe that to best serve the needs of all our members, our support system should be universally available through e-mail.

“If you are unable to find the specific issue you are having on the site provided, please follow the steps below:”

And I am directed to a Windows Live Community Q&A blog-site where I can post my issue and wait for “someone” to respond.  Now, four days’ later since the hacking (touch-wood), someone may decide to post an answer to my problems on this blog-site.  I have no idea what will transpire, and my hotmail account is now pretty much relegated to collected my daily offers from the Baby Gap and Borders…

Now, you would have thought that you could at least talk to someone when you’re being hacked and violated… even an online chat function would have been something.  Alas, after using the same old email address for 15 years, maybe it’s just time to shut the thing down and use a service where I know I can have some personal assistance for extreme matters such as this.  But are there any?  Is there anyone out there today who’ll support software packages for consumers, or is it only the corporate-accounts that warrant actual people on the line today?  I notice with Gmail, you can access a link entitled “My Account Has Been Compromised” in two simple clicks from ”Help”… hmm wonder if these guys help me out sooner than four days?

This is symptomatic of the entire industry. It might be able to simply pin the problem on greed, but how sad if that is the only problem.  Since this gentleman was paying for extra levels of service, it would be natural to think he might actually get them. But since that is not the case, one must wonder what will happen to the computing ecology when the major concern is money and there are no minor concerns.

The fact that so many places handle customer service this way gives rise to the idea that someone must have written a tome concerning the “proper way to service customers in the computer age”. I don’t think so.

What I have often wondered is why the companies continue to operate in this manner, knowing that they raise the ire of many because of these practices, and if they are totally unreceptive to the idea that rather than forcing many to give up in despair, they might actually give human responses to human problems, rather than the bland and disparaging coldness of the HAL 9000 responses such as “I’m sorry, Dave. I can not do that. Would you like to try again?”

Something that everyone should consider about Google, when wondering why people hold that company in high esteem – they may not be any better than the rest of what is out there, but at this point in time, they have yet to reveal their seamier sides, and have not shown the total lack of respect for the user. (perhaps that should be followed by a “yet“, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now)

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To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

Oscar Wilde

…and it’s getting harder all the time.

sheeple

perhaps the passive groupthink that is so pervasive today is what has allowed the current abuse of the customer to take hold and exist for most of the last decade…