The internet has no shortage of technical support workers bitching about the idiocy of their users, but I'd like to discuss it from a somewhat different angle. It's true that the majority of users are idiots. It is also true that "call centers" -- the tier-one, first-level technical support operations for most large corporations -- are staffed by people who barely know what they're doing and are capable of reading from a script, but not much else.
However, such is not the case with small companies. These are the independant shops that sell specialty equipment or services, usually staffed by a handful of people, each of whom must be mentally agile and decisive, as to get anything done each must be something of a jack-of-all-trades.
I am the technical director for one such company, a small VoIP provider. This position gives me unique insight into userland, one that was not possible when working as the rank-and-file for a larger corporation.
For your education and amusement, I present to you some rules of interacting with smaller companies. Many of these are also applicable to large companies, however, and all are derived from basic, sensible rules that you should have gained just from growing up in society. Unfortunately, it seems many people have not -- so listen up.
1. You are capable of solving your own problems!
Yes, it's true -- with the tiniest bit of effort, you can solve most of the problems you encounter, in less time than it would take you to call me. I, and people like me, were not hired because they already had specific knowledge of the products and services, but because we were capable of learning quickly. Oftentimes I will encounter a problem from a user and have no idea what could be causing it. What do I do? I consult the almighty Google. Sooner or later I will find someone who had the same problem and knows how to fix it.
You can do this too. Got an error message? Type it into Google and see what comes up. Want to know how to use a feature? Instead of calling me, why not look in the manual? Don't have a manual? You can probably find one online! The Information Age is an amazing thing, people. Learn it. Use it. Five minutes of effort on your part could probably save you an hour trying to get a hold of me.
2. I am a busy man.
When you contact small companies for support or sales, you are usually going to be interacting with one or two people. Part of my job is to assist users, but I have other responsibilities as well. I am not always going to be available when you phone -- so leave a message and wait. Do not continue to call, leave more messages, email me, email my boss, email other random people in the company, and otherwise make a nuisance of yourself. I am aware that you attempted to reach me and I will get back to you when I get the chance. The more times you attempt to reach me after the initial try, the more irritated you are making the only person who can help you.
3. You are not important.
Actually, that should properly read, "You are not as important as you think you are." It's a harsh thing to have to hear, isn't it? Too bad -- it's the truth. To you, your problem is of the utmost, earth-shattering, paramount importance. To me, you're just one of fifty other people who also have problems, and I have to prioritize things. You might be at the bottom of the stack. You are not going to get special treatment.
Remember -- I am only one man, and I can't be everywhere. I'll address your problem when I have the time, and for the record, pestering me is not going to motivate me to care about you more. It's going to get you relegated to the "asshole" bin, where I put people who demand instant gratification.
4. You are an adult, so act like one.
All the things discussed above are behaviors I'd expect from a five-year-old, who really doesn't understand that he isn't the center of the universe, and doesn't understand why he can't get what he wants, right now. You, presumably, are an adult, a professional, an educated person -- so start acting like it.
This goes for your style of communication, as well. When I read email from you that is replete with misspellings, sentence fragments, incomprehensible gibberish, or belligerant attitudes, I no longer feel like assisting you, because I have reason to believe I'm dealing with an immature moron. To illustrate this, I present a few excerpts from actual emails I have received, unaltered except to strip identifying information. I want to remind everyone that these people are native English speakers.
People, a calm, rational, coherent email goes a long way. I'm not asking for each missive to be at the level of Chaucer. I'm asking you to pretend you're an adult, writing to another adult, on a professional level. Which you are.
The barely-restrained hostility here is not winning him any points. I understand that things go wrong from time to time, and sometimes it can be frustrating. If you have a problem, I'm going to fix it. Letting me know that you're really really mad about it is childish beyond belief. You wouldn't dare say this kind of stuff to my face, so don't think you can get away with it in email.
By the way, if you're wondering what's "pathetic": he is miffed that his problem isn't being addressed and no one has called him back. He wrote this on a Saturday morning, though our website clearly states our support hours are business hours on weekdays only. But because he was a belligerent ass about it, I made him wait a few more days. It could happen to you.
Understand that I am not picking on these people individually, but using them as examples to make a point: You are judged by how you present yourself in words and actions. When you write like a jackass or an idiot, I am going to assume you are a jackass or an idiot.
5. I am not a mind reader.
Actually, I'm becoming pretty good at this, due to the unreliability and incoherency of some users out there, but I shouldn't have to be. When you call me, I expect you to have a brief, concise explanation of the problem, and what exactly happened. "It doesn't work" is not a useful starting point for me to diagnose the issue. Don't tell me "there was some kind of error" -- I need to know what that error was. Gather all the information you can, and then call me.
6. I am not telekinetic.
This is an extension of number five. When you call me, I can be the brains -- god knows I have to be -- but you have to be my eyes and hands. Don't ever call me unless you are physically in front of the device that is having problems -- that means I don't want to hear "I'm in my car right now, but I was having a problem with..." or "It's at the office and I'm at home, but..." You are wasting my time and your own. Piss off.
7. You are only worth so much.
Contrary to popular belief, a small business is in a better position to pick and choose customers than a large business is. We don't have to answer to stockholders or corporate policy written by managers four levels above us. When you call me, you are calling the alpha and the omega, and you are worth only so much to our company.
This is a business decision, plain and simple: As an employee I get paid a certain amount. As a customer, you pay the company a certain amount. When the time you take from me exceeds, in dollars, the amount you have paid us, you are now a negative value.
I am not by any means suggesting that your problem should go unattended, if it is a legitimate problem, even if you've taken more of my time than you're worth. However, if you are the type of user who constantly calls with every little problem or question that pops into your malformed head, I am quickly going to tire of dealing with you, and refuse your calls / terminate your account / call you Matilda until you go away.
Think very carefully before picking up that phone or sending me an email: is this problem really that important, or is it just something you can't be bothered with on my own? There are going to be plenty of actual technical problems that only I can fix for you, but if you're hassling me just because you don't want to expend the effort it takes to think for yourself and figure something out, you're going to get laughed at. And then cancelled.
8. You don't know what the fuck you're talking about.
If you had the first clue as to what was going on, you wouldn't be asking for my help in the first place. I am the professional, paid for my knowledge and expertise. That means when I tell you to do something, you do it, or I will hang up right then and cease supporting you. Do not argue with me about what I'm asking you to do, and do not give me your own analysis of the situation. I will, time permitting, be happy to explain why I'm having you do whatever it is -- but only afterwards.
9. You're a big boy now.
You've reached a point in your life where you shouldn't need people to hold your hand through everything. Sometimes, I am going to give you a solution to your problem -- and I expect you to say "thank you," and then go away. Don't make me wait on the phone for ten minutes listening to you wheeze into the receiver while you click and type and poke at things. I've told you what to do, and that's my responsibility discharged. It is your responsibility to actually implement it.. on your own time. Call me back if there are problems, but don't monopolize my time "just in case".
10. I am not omniscient or omnipotent.
There, I admit it. I'm not perfect. I'm not all-knowing nor am I all-powerful. On occasion, you are going to ask me about an issue and I'm simply not going to have an answer off the top of my head. Tough break, sport, but that's just the way it is. I'm going to have to research the problem, maybe bring some other people in on it, try to replicate the problem using different equipment, analyze logs and error reports -- who knows?
That's life, though. Deal with it, and accept the fact that you're going to have to wait. Don't get pissy at me because I don't have an answer right away, and don't ever call back or email looking for an update. I don't have an update. I don't have an ETA. I don't know what's causing it and I don't know how to fix it yet. Maybe I'd have more time to look into it if I weren't constantly having to answer stupid questions about "updates" from the likes of you. Here's your fuckin' update, jerk: It ain't fucking fixed yet. I'll tell you when it is.
And finally, a bonus:
11. I know when you're lying.
Don't. Ever. Lie. Don't exaggerate. Don't stretch the truth, don't take creative liberties.
You might be able to get away with that crap with your wife or husband or boss or social case worker, but not with me. If you say "I've emailed you five times about this problem and never gotten a response!", righteous with indignation and unholy fury, all I have to do is check mail logs to see that you're full of crap.
If you tell me that something has "never" worked, I have ways of finding out if that's true. If you tell me that you talked to so-and-so and they said such-and-such, I can verify that. Don't tell me you already tried something when you didn't, because I'll know. In fact, I have access to more information than you are even aware exists, so don't bother making shit up. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?
Well, there you have it -- simple rules about how to behave in a modern, civilized, intelligent way. You play by these rules and things will go much smoother for everyone: your problem will get fixed faster, and I won't be forced to the bar every night to drink away the hate.