Do Help Desks and Phone Support Really Help or Support?

I admit I am of two minds on this. I have never worked on a help desk, but I have answered phones. Answering questions, on the phone and in person, has taught me that a lot of people are totally clueless about at least one product in their household or office. They are so clueless, they don’t know how to ask the questions to get the answers they need.

Then again, to be honest, there have been many times I have called a company seeking help, only to learn the answer was right in front of me. Sometimes, I am sorry to say, I was the one who was clueless. Many times, however, I just did not see the connection that the help desk tech thought was so obvious. I did wonder then, as I wonder now, about instructions that are written in such a way that hundreds (if not thousands) of people call would call a help desk (or some other form of corporation help) about the same problem. All of those people can’t be clueless, can they? Could part of the problem be the way the “help” is structured?

Telephone, and to some extent, computer support tends to be tiered. The help at each tier, or level, tends to be scripted. If a customer seeking help calls a company, that call (or PC message) will go first to a low-level support person. That person has a script of answers or responses. If the question can’t be answered by that person, then the question, and the caller, go to the next level of help, and a more detailed script. If a customer has patience, and knows enough about the problem to confound the average help desk tech, the customer may eventually get to talk to a person who actually understands the product and might actually be able to help the customer.

The scenario outlined here is similar to getting help from an automated phone system. A caller may have to go through several layers of menus before the system allows the caller to talk to a human being, assuming of course, that such an option is even available.

Both of these systems have their uses. Automation allows people to acquire information they might not want others to know. One does not need, in fact, one probably doesn’t want, someone else to report on a bank balance – or worse, on an overdraft.
Humans, however, are social creatures. Almost by definition, we prefer to speak to other humans. Many of us get frustrated when we can not discuss a situation with another human. Many of our questions don’t easily fit into the scripted menus that were written long before we discovered our “problem”. Humans also want to have lower prices on the products they buy.
Automatic phone systems, and most “help desk” systems were created so companies could cut costs. That may have happened when the system was new, but I wonder if anyone has ever done a study to investigate whether those savings outweigh the irritated customers who get angry with the company – and may take their business elsewhere?

I recently encountered a problem with a flash drive. I tried a few solutions. I then asked my company’s network administrator about the problem. He worked on the problem for at least an hour, and couldn’t discover the root of the problem. I agreed to contact the company who made the flash drive.

I took time and effort to create a message that would explain, in detail, what happened and what the results of each action were. The response I received told me to do what had already been unsuccessfully done. The response was, in other words, no help. Many people recognize this kind of scenario.

Was the help desk automated and a computer scanned the message? If that was the case, someone needs to reprogram the scanning program.

Was the message read by a person? Then why did the person not notice that the first suggestion had already been tried?
The solution to this problem is still “under investigation”. There are now at least two questions: 1) What is wrong with the flash drive and 2) how do questions get answered by this particular company? While I want to know the answer to the first question, the answer to the second question may be more important.

Does the company value each customer and want to provide a real service, or does the company just want to do the minimum required? The company may believe it has a good system – but has the company asked customers for their opinions?

After episode with the flash drive described above, I received a survey asking for my opinions on the response received. I was still to irritated to respond. I have yet to respond to the survey. Sometimes, people respond only when they are angry. Do companies get a lot of complaints, but decide that the non responders are “happy” with the service? This company might believe that I was satisfied, since I didn’t respond. Their attitude might be that “only unhappy customers respond”. That way, the company sees the complaints as being few. Maybe this happens. I don’t know.

I do know that I have heard many people complain about poor service. Many people have said they have complained. Yet complaints still continue. If happy people don’t comment, and unhappy people comment, then there seems to be more unhappy people than happy. Obviously, everybody is not unhappy with the same company, but the complaints seem to be similar. I can’t help but wonder if the complaints of others are being treated in the same manner as my question about the flash drive.

Is anybody really listening?

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