Thursday, November 02, 2006

Coke, Candy and Customer Service Hell

Tonight, I was going to begin a long and winding rant about how Wendy’s is slowly screwing the general public out of countless ounces of Diet Coke on each visit. Buy a 42-ounce Diet Coke and see how much you actually get, or don’t get, as the case may be. We went there after a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and… well, before I get too far ahead of myself, I’ll save it for another day. Plus, I have to collect further evidence before I make an accusing phone call to Dave Thomas’s underlings.

Stay tuned.

Back to today: It’s not Coke that I’m drinking, rather Pepsi, but they’re synonymous to me: wet, caffeinated and carbonated with some sort of caramel flavoring that is sure to rot my teeth, give me Alzheimer’s and eat away at the soft flesh innards of my stomach before I’m 40. And the candy? Well, it is the day after Halloween, and Gnat is disgusted by chocolate (the candy coating of choice in America) so we’ve got gobs of it that I’m forcing myself to eat. I’ll sacrifice my teeth for the sake of Natalie’s and my waistline for Kara’s.

Mmmm… Kit Kat, crisp wafer, chocolaty taste, two sticks so I could share one. That won’t be too likely.

Instead, I have a major bone to pick with the lackadaisical foreigners who run Symantec, the parent company that produces the popular line of Norton computer security software, and I say “foreigners” because of the three people I spoke with and three people I conversed with via “live chat” this evening, not a single one of them spoke (or wrote) English very well and not a single one of them actually live in this country.

We spend good money on products that are supposed to work properly and when they don’t—and they always “don’t”—you call customer service, which means that your phone call is routed as fast as possible 15,000 miles away to some forced labor camp where people are paid pennies to repeat exactly what I tell them… only they add a question mark at the end.

“I’m having connection issues with my ISP,” I say.

They reply: “So, you’re having connection issues with your ISP? Am I correct?”

“Yes, for the love of Ganesha, yes, yes I am.”

It’s called outsourcing, when a company decides that it wants to completely inconvenience its customer base by first forcing us to navigate an impressively designed procession of phone prompts that had me punching in my phone number (with area code) at least three different times—so much so that by the end of the night I could hit any number on the dial from an arm’s reach away without looking at the phone and know by merely the sound that I had indeed hit the right number—and then toss us unwittingly into a Tower of Babel struggle with a remarkable language barrier with people half a world away.

That’s customer service in the 21st Century, where companies go to great lengths to avoid human contact. In fact, I scoured the entire box and all of its contents to find a customer service phone number, and you know what, there isn’t one. Even if you wanted to call someone, you couldn’t. I checked their website with the same results, not so much as a hint of a phone number. Sure there are plenty of ways of contacting them, but they are impersonal and cumbersome, forcing me to type out a laundry list of problems so they can all be repeated back to me.

Why do I bother? Society is going down this path and we’re allowing it, and it is the same old song and dance: If I refuse to be a consumer of certain products, the company has no fear because someone else who doesn’t know any better or doesn’t have the same standards or expectations of service that I do, will take my place. The rich get richer and the dumb get… dumber, all the while, customers get taken for granted, products lose any hopes of satisfying a certain level of quality and the bar get set lower and lower until we are all in the dark ages again.
E. M. Forester wrote the short sci-fi story “The Machine Stops” in 1909, and it was published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review that November. It is about people in danger of becoming unable to live without the technology that mankind created, especially about forgetting that it was he who created it. Forster wanted to impress upon us the value of the direct experience, meaning social interaction—you know, in person. Even in 1909, he was suggesting that humanity was threatened by excessive involvement in activities that isolated people. If you’ve got some free time Click Here and read it, but as you do, exchange the word “Machine” with “Internet” and you’ll see where we’re all headed.

Sidenote: One of the only classes I took with Jason while we were both at Cal Poly was the Science Fiction Literature class where we read this story (and others). It was a fun class, and we all got an A for doing very little… and a half-dozen of us even went over to the professor’s house to listen to the “on tape” version of Roddenbury’s “The Lieutenant,” I think. I’m not 100 percent sure because we never listened to much of it; instead we drank beer and talked about life. Remember the scene in “Animal House” when Boon and Katy (played by Peter Riegert and Karen Allen) went over to Professor Dave Jennings (played by Donald Sutherland) and they ended up smoking pot in his bathtub by candlelight? Well, it was kind of like that; intimate conversations with a professor over beer and low lighting seemed just as odd to me now as it did then, but it ended up being one of the mental milestones of my college career.

Well, the Pepsi is gone now, so let’s get into the meat of the story.

My phone-trek adventure in the Middle East and points beyond started innocently enough about two months ago when I called Symantec to update my 2005 version of Norton Internet Security. I figured the call to be brief: Sign me up for an additional year. Thanks! The Indian woman I spoke with was very nice and she suggested that, for a few dollars more (as it turns out, perhaps she meant only a few rupees more, which meant $30 to me), I could upgrade to Norton Internet Security 2007. She assured me that it was significantly noteworthy product that will revolutionize my security needs, providing my computer with a warm blanket of comfort so it could nestle up against even the most stodgy of Internet atrocities.

I subscribe to the belief that if you do right by your computer, your computer will do right by you, and since I’m always one to check the bolt on the front door before I go to bed and to make sure Elsa is alert for any possible intrusions, I took that nice Indian lady up on her proposal for the upgrade, gave her my American Express number with glee and happily awaited for my new fortress against the ravaging seas of Internet transgressors to arrive in the mail.

I waited…and I waited. Then, why, I waited some more.

Every day, my computer would announce to me in a box I could only describe as urgent that I only had a few short days remaining of complete security, and as that number dwindled down to one, my anxiety mounted. The thieves were at bay, for now, but for just how long? I must secure my network!

Soon, I received a letter in the mail alerting me to the fact that my Norton 2007 was on back order and won’t be arriving for two more weeks at least. Apparently PC World Magazine awarding them a “Best Buy” for July 2006 inundated them with orders and I was going to have to wait some more. Meanwhile, the extension I asked for on my Norton 2005 subscription was beginning to wane. I called on the day that it was to expire and I received two more weeks of protection… albeit, now that the 2007 version was being whisked to my house (probably by Pony Express…and the horse died, so the guy had to walk… and then he got a rock in his shoe, so he had to sit down and dig it out, and when he did, he left his hat behind, and he didn’t notice it until he got to my street, so he had to go back and find it, but there was a snake curled up in it so he had to wait for the snake to find interest in something else… but then…) Sorry about that. Now that the 2007 version was coming, I felt that I couldn’t trust the 2005 version as I had before and that every day some maleficent web hacker was breathing down my IP Address, waiting for me to look away, just for a moment, long enough to conduct nefarious activity in the recesses of my computer’s motherboard.

Let’s pause for a minute and have a Nutrageous bar. I just love it when confectionaries make up words to fit their products. What happens when an individual feels nutrageous? I think that if I were to ever have a vasectomy, I might feel pretty nutrageous. I mean, without the nougat, of course. Well, probably without the nuts too.

Last night, as I swilled a few beers on the neighbor’s porch for an impromptu after-hours Halloween party, one of my neighbors pointed out that my wireless network system was unsecured and had been for a while. I was take aback! I’ve had it up and running since last March, and now I hear that anyone in the neighborhood could not only leach off of my network but could “packet sniff” my connection, meaning they could clip bits of bytes from the network and take a peek at what I was sending or receiving. I might as well spray paint my bank account numbers on my garage door.

Talk about a major security break! I called The Geek Squad, an over-hyped gaggle of IT pinheads and asked them what they were going to do about it. After all, I paid them 160 clams to configure my network and they were to blame for not encrypting my system. They responded, “You didn’t ask us to.” First off, I didn’t know I was supposed to. When I buy a pair of shoes I don’t think I need to ask that the laces be included. Secondly, who in their right mind would want an unsecured network that anyone with a fourth grade education could hack into!?! Out of the goodness of their nerdy hearts, they graciously offered to send someone out and shore up my levees, and I thought, “How nice. Is it going to cost me?” What? Seventy bucks? Thanks for nothing.

So much for those scam artists… and is turns out, encrypting your network was as easy as clicking on “Encrypt.” I wish I had a job where I get paid for clicking a mouse… oh wait. Here it is.


One problem was solved, so I figured I’d tackle the Norton 2007 upgrade, as today was the day the old version finally gave up the ghost and expired. I installed it, followed the directions to the tee and nothing happened. When I got to the “activate product” phase, nothing happened. A prompt instructed me to click “Continue” to continue but when I did, my computer gazed at me with blank dead eyes. Clicking furiously made nary a difference. It was a dead end.

No problem, just give customer service a call and they’ll straighten out the problem with a snap of their fingers and a wave of their magic wand. After all, I paid $60 or $70 for their product, I bolstered their bottom line, I hoisted the flag of profits up the mast of positive earnings. I was a valued customer.

I bypassed the “Auto Fix” pages on their website and skipped the FAQ that rarely had anything to do with my problems and I glazed over the troubleshooting suggestions and went right to “Contact Us,” where I found no satisfying method of contact. There’s email, which would be answered sometime in the next available leap year, and I saw “Live Chat,” which like live bait probably stinks and there was a section that would guide me through whatever problem I might experience, which seemed like a cursory salve that would neither solve my problem but instead make it worse.

Remembering that I had an obscure phone number for tech support written on the CD package of the old 2005 version, I retrieved it from the Giant Repository of Old and Obsolete Software boxes and literature that I’ve been keeping since the dawn of DOS 1.0 and found the box, the CD and the number.

Since I wasn’t one of the chosen few to receive a priority number (they want you to jump through the troubleshooting hoops on their website before they issue one) I punched in a variety of numbers at their phone system prompts and the wait music starts. I would expect tech support music to be calm, soothing, lyrical and melodic, invoking warm and pleasant images of meadows blanched in morning sunlight that glistens the dew on the newly opened chrysanthemums pedals… instead, I’m hearing the soundtrack to “Die Hard,” the part where John McClain is about to fall down the elevator shaft unless he can just reach his fingers…the tips, barely… out onto the edge of the ducting… I was on the edge of my seat.

For 20 minutes. I have the patience of a wooly mammoth sometimes and tonight I had nearly reached the end. Finally, by the sound of her voice, the very same Indian woman who sold me the 2007 version to begin with came on to discover what kind of person would wait 20 solid minutes to speak with an actual person. Astonished that someone was still alive on the other end of the line, she asked about my problem, thinking that my Norton CD must have been delivered in flames. I told her what it was and then I heard furious typing on her end, as if she has only seconds to live unless she typed out the text to Magna Carta. After all that, she comes back on the phone and says, “Oh, you want technical support for activation. I’ll connect you.”

“What? What technical support is this? Am I going to have to wait again? Will it be this long? Can you speed me through.”

With a sly evil grin, “I’m afraid so. Please hold.”

I held. I held. I held until I thought I could hold no longer… and then I held some more. The phone and I, one, 25 whole minutes this time. I didn’t catch his Americanized name—Ricky or Jim, Stan, something we can relate to, hold on to, something familar instead of Apu or Kamir—but he was Indian too. I explained my problem again, and this is where it gets comical: It wasn’t a problem on their end. According to their files and records, my version of Norton 2007 installed successfully and they were happy with its performance.

“But it won’t activate. I can’t start it. I can’t use it.” What good it is? It’s like having someone sell you a brand new car only to say, “Here’s your car, and it should start; well, starting it, that’s your problem.”

They suggested that I sign up for their extended care program, which apparently has two levels of service designed specifically for me and my problem: One, for $40, I could have a personal one-on-one coach me through the process; and Two, for $60, I could have someone remotely take over my computer and solve my issue without me doing anything but opening my wallet.

Those duplicitous bastards.

So it isn’t enough that I buy their product, but now I have to pay to allow it to properly function. It really takes a lot to get me riled, as I am a very understanding person, but I lost it. I asked him what his job was? If he couldn’t solve my problem and activate the software that they sold me right then and there, what good are you doing talking to me. Put on an actual person skilled in the art of solving technical issues that pertains to the activation of this product. The tech rep was very agreeable, assuring me that it was company policy and that he was following the rules as they were taught to him… and this is all he could offer. Of course, he kept repeating the choices, as if they were going to sound any more pleasing to me once I heard them three times.

I couldn’t fathom how it was possible for a company to sell me a product and then no follow through to make sure it works properly on my end.

“I want to speak to somebody else, a manager, your supervisor, anyone who can tell me something different than what you’re telling me right now.”

“You would like to speak to my supervisor?”

Sigh. I was growing impatient. “Yes, yes, I would. That is exactly what I just asked.”

I think he just handed the phone to the guy in the next cubical, who was busy talking down some woman in Decatur, Ill., from jumping off of a bridge because her CD wouldn’t load properly. I’m sure she jumped because I got right on with the new voice, who sounded exactly like Apu Nahasapeemapetilan from The Simpson. He told me the same thing, in which I became incensed and started a rant that took me from one extreme of civility to the other, agreeing that it wasn’t his job to establish Symantec’s policy on satisfying its customers all the way to the other side where I threatened to return the shards of this CD in a shredded envelop if he would be so kind as to provide the address.

Then he told me of a ridiculous option, which until now had gone unmentioned. It was the “Live Chat” I had scoffed at earlier, and it was free. They assured me it was efficient, quick and will solve my activation issues. I think they would have told me that it would remove unwanted hair on the upper lip of my great-grandmother if it would have gotten me off the phone any quicker.

But I wasn't going to let him off that easily. I told him exactly what I thought of his company, he customer service skills, the policies, my future as a customer, and the quality of the products they sold me. He got an ear full and promised to pass along my comments to "the higher ups."

So, I couldn’t believe it. After an hour, in which I actually engaged myself in a unproductive argument with an Indian guy three continents away, I was going to have to sit at my computer and “chat” with someone about what ails my system… when I had just gotten off the phone with three individuals who were completely qualified to satisfy my quandary but wouldn't help me because that service cost extra. Making their product work properly on my computer cost extra!?! What is the world of customer service coming to?

So, the online “Live Chat” was great fun, and it took more than an hour to go through as well, and not because my problem was so daunting, as it turns out, but because they kept repeating everything I wrote and it took about three minutes between each line of dialogue. It was as if I’d write something, hit send, he’d read it, and then take a few bites of a sandwich, maybe wash it down with some Coca-Cola Thumbs Up, a very popular soda in India, before getting back to me...typing with one hand probably.

Here is the transcripts of my three individual chats, with my comments in brackets. Now, I’m not going to say that they weren’t helpful, as my ultimate difficulty was eventually resolved. My problem is the method in which they decided to treat my problem and the fleecing they suggested I should take to solve the difficulty with their products.

“Live Chat” Number One. There were 21 people waiting ahead of me, so I sat there and stared at the wall for 20 minutes until it was my turn.

Saadhana Bhalu:Hi, thank you for contacting Symantec Live Technical Support. My name is Saadhana Bhalu. How may I help you?

Me: I am having activation issues.

Me: It says product configuration is not complete... click "continue" and when I click "continue" nothing happens.

Saadhana Bhalu: I understand from your message that you have issues with activating your product. Am I correct?

Me: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

Saadhana Bhalu: I gather that you get a message stating that the Configuration is incomplete after installing the Norton Internet Security 2007.

Me: Correct

Saadhana Bhalu: Is that correct?

Me: Yes, that is correct.

Saadhana Bhalu: Please note that this issue can occur due to incorrect settings.

Saadhana Bhalu: In order to resolve this issue I suggest you to run Live update and check for the issue.

Saadhana Bhalu: Please follow the steps below:Click on Start. Go to runIn the Run dialog box, type the following: LUALLClick ok

Me: I ran Live Update already

Me: But I'll do it again.

Me: I got this error: LU1846: This update was aborted during its post install processing Click here for more information on this error

Saadhana Bhalu: Please note that this issue occurs if the windows script files are missing or corrupt.

Saadhana Bhalu: In order to resolve this issue you need to reinstall the windows script files.Saadhana Bhalu: Please follow the steps in the below link to reinstall the windows script files (I deleted the link--you dont need to see it).

Me: Okay, downloaded... it is asking me to restart for the downloads to take affect. Aren’t we going to be disconnected? Will I have to wait in the queue again?

Saadhana Bhalu: Please note that once you restart the computer, we will lose this session. Your case history will be logged and any of our agents will be able to assist you further. All our Technicians are trained and will be able to get your issue resolved.

Me: So, I will have to wait in line again or can I get a priority number?

[Five minutes went by so I thought I’d remind him that I was still there, thinking he’d answer my question.]

Me: Should I restart now?

Saadhana Bhalu: I will send you a follow up email within 24 hours. The "From" address of the email will show "Symantec Technical Support." Please reply to this email and let me know the status of the issue.

Me: As soon as I restart, I'm going to contact tech support via the chat to continue to resolve my issue. I don't want to wait 24 hours.

Saadhana Bhalu: Okay.

Saadhana Bhalu: Is there anything else I can help you with?

Me: Since it’s not fixed, yes, there is.

We were disconnected, either by him or some program that senses when the conversation starts to get stale. I restarted and connected again for my second foray. I pictured myself on the Jungle Cruise, floating by the Amazonian ruins with the idols and vines growing up through the rocks… and then I pictured Saadhana Bhalu at a small desk with a phone to his ear, day dreaming about how nice it would be to go home and maybe watch a soccer game or have some curry; instead he has to deal with some American blockhead who doesn’t know his router from a hole in the ground.


The second “Live Chat” was much quicker, not because the issue was resolved, but because Abdul hung up on me for whatever reason. Maybe he got fired for hitting on some 14-year-old girl in Woodland Hills or they found out that he was slowly stealing computers, a piece of wire a day… I like to think that we got cut off because he received a communiqué from his spy agency deep behind the enemy lines at Wal-Mart and needed to spring into action to, once again, save the world as we know it. Yeah, that’s it. Abdul the spy.

Whatever it was, we didn’t get far (but it took me another 20 minutes and 15 people ahead of me in queue to do it):

Abdul Manaf:Hi, thank you for contacting Symantec Live Technical Support. My name is Abdul Manaf. How may I help you?

Me: I'm having activation issues.

Me: Perhaps you can check the log to see what was covered before I was forced to restart

Abdul Manaf: I understand that you are facing an issue with Activation.Am I correct?

[Dear God, grant me patience]

Me: Yes, that is correct

***** Abdul Manaf Has Disconnected

Great, back to the end of the line for me. Progress: bupkis.

The night was beginning to slow down, it seemed, as there were only 11 people ahead of me for my third session of “Live Chat.” This time I chatted with Prathap. That’s right. Prathap. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, no? Why he’s the Cher or Madonna of the IT community, so famous, so celebrated and renowned that he needs only one name… and that name is Prathap.

Prathap:Hi, thank you for contacting Symantec Live Technical Support. My name is Prathap. How may I help you?

Me: I'm having activation issues.

Prathap: I understand that you are not able to Activating the Norton Internet Security 2007 program on the system, am I correct ?

Me: Correct, that is.

Prathap: Do you receive any error messages ?

Me: It says "Product configuration is not complete. To complete configuration, click Continue. When I click "continue" nothing happens. Nothing at all.

Prathap: Okay.

Prathap: So after clicking on the continue button, nothing happens, correct ?

Me: Yep

Me: Not a thing

Prathap: Okay.

[I started to feel a little goofy and I wondered what he would say if I blurted out something non sequitur, as if I had Typing Turrets]

Me: I like cheese.

Prathap: Thank you for providing the information.

Me: Sure, what can we do to solve the problem?

Prathap: Please note that this issue may happen when some Norton services are not loaded in the windows startup properly.

[Then I decided to say something that didn’t make sense]

Me: Okay, running the install CD perfectly

Prathap: In that case in order to resolve the issue, I suggest you please follow the steps provided in the URL Link given below :

[I deleted the URL—nobody wants to see that.]

Prathap: Are you able to view the web link I sent last?

Me: Okay... I downloaded both things and ran them. It has asked me to restart my computer.
This is the third person I've chatted with tonight. Is there any possible way we can continue without restarting my computer!?!

Me: I don't want to wait in line again... or do I?

Prathap: Do not worry, This should take care of your issue. Also please note that once you restart your computer, you will loose the details of this chat session. Your case history has been logged in our system, so that we have all the details of this case. If this step does not resolve your issue, our technicians will be happy to assist you further, please feel free to contact us again at I really hope so. I really, really do.

That’s it, after almost four hours of dealing with a variety of people, my problem was finally fixed, and to be honest with you, I’m not really sure how it ended up that way. I don’t think I did anything to fix it, and I’m sure nobody else did either. It just… got fixed almost all on its own. The miracle of computers.

The end result is that my computer is, once again, practicing safe surf, well protected behind the latex prophylactic that is Norton 2007.

From now on, I’m going to think twice about which company I decide to give my money to. I’m all for providing jobs for people, but why can’t we outsource to Kentucky. I’d rather hear: “Y’all wanna give that thar button a push and we’ll get this humdinger up and runnin’ sooner than Aunt Bessie can brew up some ‘shine.”



Horatio said...

The piece about the machine in Forster's story and the internet worries me a bit, but for different reasons. You compare it and say it's the same. I say nobody's gonna die if they switch of the web, but people believe they will. Very much like at the Millennium. People die in wars, or of hunger, or because they don't have the right drugs (for they don't have a health insurance or just happen not to live in Europe, Japan, the US of A or Australia). In Forster's story, people die because they live in the machine, they need its light and air and food... (the basics, so to speak). Nobody physically lives on the internet. And nobody ever will. The dependence you predict is just a believed one.

Ryan said...

You make an interesting point, but a dependency is a dependency whether physical or mental, actual or believed.

Thanks for commenting.


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