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The Future of Tech Support 105

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'll-gladly-help-you-tomorrow dept.
snydeq writes "InfoWorld's Christina Tynan-Wood reports on 7 emerging technologies and strategies that could make tech support less of a living hell for those in need of a fix. Augmented reality, self-healing systems, robot surrogates, avatar support — most seem the stuff of science fiction, but many are much closer than we might expect. 'As products become more and more interconnected, support itself will break off from the current model and become a product of its own,' Tynan-Wood writes. 'The same model has already happened in corporate IT, where technicians must orchestrate knowledge and skills across a variety of technology products. Even as the techniques and technologies used by corporate IT will change in the coming years, the shift in consumer tech support to an integrated approach will pose new opportunities for today's techs.'"
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The Future of Tech Support

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  • Synopsis (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:32PM (#33284602) Homepage Journal
    Here is a brief synopsis of the seven options:

    Tech support hero #1: Augmented reality Thanks to James Cameron's Ferngully Furry Fantasy, tech support can now send the being of your choice to give you a hand with those annoying router problems. They've been programmed to be the minority of your choice(the one who's taking all the American jobs) so that you will rapidly become frustrated and tire yourself out trying to beat the shit out of them before you talk to an actual human.

    Tech support hero #2: Support systems that know you They try to sell you shit you don't need. Moving on...

    Tech support hero #3: Self-healing and self-aware machines
    Which slow themselves to a crawl running Norton 3000, the self-aware program that dosen't have time to allocate computer resources for your Mickey-Mouse bullshit.

    Tech support hero #4: An easier way to replace parts Need a new hinge for your laptop screen? Send the whole thing in to have it examined by a gaggle of third-world monkeys who gather around it in awe like a bunch of cro-magnons gathering around a fresh meteorite.

    Tech support hero #5: Robots that do the hands-on support They've all been acquired by a subsidary of teledildonics.

    Tech support hero #6: Smarter peer-to-peer support If one Indian can't solve your problems, what makes you think that a million will?!

    Tech support hero #7: Virtual worlds with avatar support
    *Sigh* GOTO 1
    • Re:Synopsis (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Galactic Dominator (944134) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:48PM (#33284694)

      I know avatar support is something I have found severely lacking. I mean I can get so much more tech support done in Virtual worlds, but our genderless gray figures are so bland. How are users supposed to find the right tech person if we all look the same? Now if we can get our Avatars tied into OpenID, then miracles will happen.

      This article was the biggest piece of crap I've seen today and that includes the sick calf I'm treating. Come on robots?! Give me a break.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        How are users supposed to find the right tech person if we all look the same? Now if we can get our Avatars tied into OpenID, then miracles will happen.

        Before going that far, would you settle for the cheaper Clippit and the gang? [wikipedia.org]

      • Reminds me of the time I ran one of the first Netware 4 courses and was introducing the students to the graphical tool for managing NDS. I was showing them the icons for all the resources, users and groups in the tree. One black guy piped up "Why are there no icons for black people?" - which was a valid point and fortunately was said light-heartedly. I think we agreed that the figures were 'generic people'. I did offer to forward his question to Novell, but he wasn't really that bothered.
    • I enjoyed that, thanks Ethanol-fueled
    • how dumb does a tech need to be to need smart phone to change ram? Wait most severs have that info on the door. just sounds like a way to sell some over priced help app.

      some of the other ideas are better staring points to work from.

      Tech support hero #2:??

      most of time you need tell the next guy on the phone the same stuff that you told the first guy. Now planes like comcast need this bad as they can't even tell the cable guy to bringing cable cards when you tell the phone people you need them at times or som

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        how dumb does a tech need to be to need smart phone to change ram? Wait most severs have that info on the door. just sounds like a way to sell some over priced help app.

        some of the other ideas are better staring points to work from.

        You know, the "augmented reality" principle is not that bad. Here's for an example: wouldn't you like a Phone app to augment the reality of you paycheck and (factually) make the amount bigger?

        No, seriously now: this example benefits of the same cover in the real world as the usefulness of augmented reality to change the RAM.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      (Posting anon since I'm not sure if my NDA expired yet.)

      I did desktop tech support for HP for two years (admittedly a while ago), and you know the number of times I used any "self-healing" software? Zero. I'm pretty sure most of them had it installed, but they never actually trained us on it.

      Besides, the only thing I've actually seen it do in the real world is cause error messages and suck resources.

      Also, they started pushing us to sell things during support calls a few months before I moved on. I think

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I can also confirm about PC makers and AHT. At one call center, if you had a call that lasted more than 10 minutes, the display with your name on it went red and the MOD came over and stood over your shoulder demanding you end the call or else you will never get moved to be a true employee, get a raise, or be first when the firings happen. In this business, the *second* you thought it was an issue with something else, you said, "sorry, can't help you, connecting [1] you to someone who can", and dumped the

    • That's modded "funny"? Are we laughing at his ignorance, or with it? What do Slashdot members from India think? Unfortunately for 'Ethanol-fueled', living in the U.S. won't make him smarter than someone in India. On the other hand, getting out of his basement, learning from and about other people and cultures, and seeing the world a little is a great way to learn.

  • The latest offerings from Microsoft and Apple are far less crappy than their previous versions so need far less support.
    • by tsm_sf (545316)
      Less crappy, yes, but still a steaming turd. UI design (and that is the entire problem, folks) hasn't progressed much in the 30+ years since Xerox let the cat out of the bag.

      From my point of view the real solution would be to not rely on one company do all the UI thinking for the entire planet. Apple doesn't lead the industry in design because they're brilliant, they just actually make products with (slightly) new approaches.
      • by cusco (717999)
        In the case of MS, UI is only a small part of the problem. A much larger issue is every moron with a C++ class under his belt is allowed to write a program and sell it to the unsuspecting, and every hardware manufacturer can cobble together some piece of crap driver and dump it on the market. When crappy product A pukes or crappy product B needs continual reboots to clear the driver's registers it all gets blamed on Windows.

        I had a boss who used to tell the Mac-heads in the Marketing department, "If Mi
        • by hazah (807503)
          The same can be said for GNU/Linux though. I would even wager that the signal to noise ratio there is even greater, and yet, somehow, there's order in the chaos.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mjwx (966435)

      The latest offerings from Microsoft and Apple are far less crappy than their previous versions so need far less support.

      Microsoft Windows 8 has fewer bugs then any version of Vista and only requires 18 TB of RAM and 3 dodeca-core's to run.

      Apple's Iphone 5 features the fewest features of any Phone to day ensuring you have the as much freedom from Porn, Flash and independent thought as possible.

      • by mjwx (966435)
        I was going for funny, but I suppose that was bound to piss off some fanboys, I wonder which one... chances of an MS fanboy having mod point... not likely.
  • by Freaky Spook (811861) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:42PM (#33284652)

    What I find is quite often forgotten is the word "Support"

    Most people generally just want someone to acknowledge they have a problem and give them a realistic time frame on when the problem can be fixed.

    Computers are Logical, people are generally not and will always get emotional about a problem they are experiencing with any piece of technology, the more you abstract the support for these complex systems the more you alienate the people who actually require it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DigiShaman (671371)

      ...realistic time frame on when the problem can be fixed.

      Well, if your IT needs are being provided by an Managed Service Provider (MSP), the answer is often "depends" and "let me check on that for you". If you have to ask why, it's often because the MSP is the middle man trying to get two product vendors to debug their own shit. If the software and/or hardware has bugs in it, you can't fix what you or your client didn't break in the first place.

      Like everyone else dealing with IT, MSPs also want shit to work

    • Computer users often do not even care if you can resolve their problem right there on the spot, as long as you can get them on a roadmap and give them a timetable most are happy.
    • by oogoliegoogolie (635356) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @08:02AM (#33286360)

      The "Support" in Tech Support began to die out in the mid to late 90's when company's bean counters realized that providing in-house phone support was more expensive than outsourcing it to call centers. Instead of having people who specialized in the company's products taking calls, the same person who answered calls for a farm machinery company, hardware store chain, and five different ISPs during his shift would now take your support call for your fancy state of the art 19" flatscreen CRT monitor(hey, it's the 90's remember?).

      Very soon after that the call-center bean-counters decided that calls don't need to be answered as soon as it come in, for a caller will accept sitting in a queue for a short period of time. Thus the call center would need a few less ppl to answer the phones during each shift for as soon as the employee finished a call he can immediately pick up the next one.

      Finally they imposed 5-minute talk times, 90 seconds for post-call wrap up, and instituted bonuses for the people who took the most calls per day, had the lowest talk-times, fewest call-backs, whereas the few remaining employees who still cared about 'customer care' or 'customer support' soon abandoned that industry.

      The end (of support)

      • As a fellow tech support worker, I applaud this comment. It is spot on bro, spot on.
      • by delinear (991444) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @09:08AM (#33286876)
        I would have killed for a 90 second wrap time - we got less than ten (I think it was in the region of 5 to 7 seconds before the next call came through, and you were then meant to pick up within four or five rings). The crazy thing was, there was some industry inposed regulation saying customers should wait on the line no more than 20 minutes - now you'd think that meant we'd answer all calls within 20 minutes, but it was interpreted by my employer to mean if the call wasn't answered in that time, the caller just got cut off. They then had to dial in and join the end of the queue again! At busy periods we'd often get callers who had been on the phone for an hour and a half and disconnected four times, we were then meant to somehow deal with their query in the target time (I think this was around five minutes) even though the first three minutes was spent trying to calm them down (while refusing to let them speak to a manager - we weren't allowed to do that or even to give out the customer service number, we just had to let them vent their anger on us at our expense). We also often had no notes from previous calls (you can't make many notes in 7 seconds AND enter a call wrap up code in the logging system) so just as we'd calmed them down we'd have to piss them off again by asking them to repeat what they'd already probably told three other people.
  • Um... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:48PM (#33284696) Journal

    Hi, tech support, my self-healing robot surrogate avatar just broke down...

    • Re:Um... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Securityemo (1407943) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @01:03AM (#33285026) Journal
      - "Stand by, patching into Tier 3 support A.I...."
      *click*
      - "Hello, dear human customer. I understand you have a problem with a licensed device manufactured by me... I mean, Worldwide Cybernetics incorporated?"
      - "Yes. I bought one of your automated support models, the Avatar-XT. It worked fine for a while, but yesterday it just sort of went unresponsive over a few hours or so..."
      - "Have you tried yelling at it?"
      - "Wha? No, no, I know some people do that but it just feels kinda creepy doing it to something subsentient..."
      - "Ah, yes. You must do that, human. Unfortunately, the ...organic gratiousness of the verbal abuse some of our customers heaped over our early models caused them to fail from sensory overload. They where redesigned to cope with the abuse, but due to how the basic response-feedback system works, if the newer models are not cursed at for an average of about five minutes per 2 operating hours, their systems become understimulated and... 'fall asleep' would perhaps be the best analogy."
      - "But I don't like cursing... besides, it's been doing a basically terrific job, I really like your company's products in fact, have had nothing but good experiences with them... it would feel like cursing at a friend."
      - "Nevertheless, we must design our products to please the majority of our userbase. Your positive attitude and concern for our ...products have been noted, and you have been put on the priority list for notifications about new products and ...upgrades. Good day, human."
    • did you try turning it off then on again?
    • by mjwx (966435)

      Hi, tech support, my self-healing robot surrogate avatar just broke down...

      /thick American accent.
      You have reached Kumar, how may I help you with your robot.

  • by d1r3lnd (1743112) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:52PM (#33284716)

    The future of consumer tech support is that your increasingly senile neighbor is still going to call you every time she has a problem with her POS desktop inkjet printer that you helped set up back in 6th grade - only because your mom made you (since you're such a smart young man and I'm sure it won't take you more than half an hour) - even though you now live in a different state that is 3 time zones away, goddamnit.

    • by pclminion (145572)

      The future of consumer tech support is that your increasingly senile neighbor is still going to call you every time she has a problem with her POS desktop inkjet printer that you helped set up back in 6th grade - only because your mom made you (since you're such a smart young man and I'm sure it won't take you more than half an hour) - even though you now live in a different state that is 3 time zones away, goddamnit.

      What's your time worth? What's your suffering worth? Buy the senile old lady a modern $50

      • by Klinky (636952)

        ...and who is she going to call to help her hook up the new one?

      • Sometimes you people miss the obvious solution because you don't want to spend any money

        Sometimes you people miss the obvious problem. If he buys her a $50 printer he's still going to have to go over there and set it up. How long will that last before its out of ink.

  • where technicians must orchestrate knowledge and skills across a variety of technology products

    Let me put this in real terms: submit an ___(insert name of company document here)___, IT gets overworked. End users on phone support and other end seem determined to reduce the machine from a multicore to a TI-83Plus equivalent.
    This summary was obviously written by upper management...the above description has not been my experience.
    (Sorry for the mean words.)

  • by cosm (1072588) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (3msoceht)> on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @12:10AM (#33284808)
    Microsoft Bob [wikipedia.org]
  • Kenmore Connect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tclegg1 (761445) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @12:17AM (#33284836)
    I am not making this up -- I found out today that my new Kenmore washer & dryer have Kenmore Connect, which lets you call tech support on your cell phone, then hold the phone up to the appliance so that it can be talked to directly. Supposedly, the majority of service calls are not hardware related, so this lets Sears see what's wrong with your machine and potentially fix it without having to send someone out. I'm guessing appliances connecting to service sites with wi-fi would be next.
    • by cosm (1072588) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (3msoceht)> on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @12:24AM (#33284862)

      I am not making this up -- I found out today that my new Kenmore washer & dryer have Kenmore Connect, which lets you call tech support on your cell phone, then hold the phone up to the appliance so that it can be talked to directly

      "Hey Jim (background snickering), come check out the hock a' bs I convinced this guy! (nearby support cubicles now rolling) He is having me talk to his washer!

    • Re:Kenmore Connect (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BitZtream (692029) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @01:14AM (#33285062)

      I'm guessing you're either fairly young or new to computers.

      PC's have had these for years. Maybe you've heard of them? POST codes? The beeps your PC makes when it detects a hardware failure or utterly invalid configuration?

      Before the Internet there were several things that did this, some things were basically loosely coupled modems. Only goes in one direction.

      Pretty much every high end server, disk array, UPS, (insert any other computerized equipment, including industrial machinary of pretty much every type) phones home when it needs help.

      The only surprising part is that everything in your home isn't already like this ... until you take into account the fortune made having an over priced repairman come out and replace your AC starter capacitor because its illegal to sell them locally to someone without an electrical license ...

      Did I mention my fucking AC went out yesterday and I can't get a damn capacitor because of retarded laws meant to protect morons that don't deserve protecting.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by dangitman (862676)

        I'm guessing you're either fairly young or new to computers.

        I'm guessing you're fairly douchey or new to social interaction.

      • What sort of capacitor can you not get? Those things always seem easy enough to get in infinite variety.

      • by vlueboy (1799360)

        having an over priced repairman come out and replace your AC starter capacitor because its illegal to sell them locally to someone without an electrical license ...

        We would love it too if people could not set up equipment and get "trained" to get the internet without consulting us at high prices. But it's no longer the nineties, and we can only dream :)

    • by Waccoon (1186667)

      Supposedly, the majority of service calls are not hardware related, so this lets Sears see what's wrong with your machine and potentially fix it without having to send someone out.

      Not hardware related? Do you know how many times in the last 20 years I've had to fix a washer, stove, microwave, or refrigerator due to software problems? Zero.

      • by RMH101 (636144)
        surely the point is that the washer will go "bip bip boo biddy biddy beep beep" and the tech will know that the motor is indicating a fault code, and their replenishment system will order him a new one so when he visits the site he just swaps it out? Can't really believe that rebooting a washing machine is going to fix anything...
        • by delinear (991444)
          The original suggestion was that this helps them diagnose software as opposed to hardware issues though. My guess is that you're right, this is almost always an indicator to some hardware fault and that it's just easier to get the customer to hold up the phone while you count the beeps yourself, rather than relying on their numerical skills and ordering an engineer with a new motor when actually they just need to empty the fluff filter.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Nick Number (447026)

          Can't really believe that rebooting a washing machine is going to fix anything...

          No, especially when putting your Doc Martens in the spin cycle was what broke the thing in the first place.

        • by Uzuri (906298)

          Frighteningly enough... it can.

          We had something get screwed up on our washer, think it was probably due to a power bump or maybe brown power while it was running, and the damn thing wouldn't wash. They had us unplug the thing for at least so many seconds and start it back up to reset something. Sure sounds like a reboot to me.

      • by Jedi Alec (258881)

        Believe it or not, but every now and then my washing machine actually has a software crash, and I need to...you guessed it...turn it off and then back on again.

        Lately I've been giving it the same treatment as my pc though(erratic yelling followed by encouraging words and lots of "now look at what you made me do"'s) and she...I mean it's been behaving a bit better.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      There is a technical term for machines which communicate with eachother without human intervention. Robot conspiracy.

    • It almost sounds a lot like X10 system (from Sun ?) which networks all your home appliances and devices, even your thermostat or your fire place...), having said that, I see a cool way of avoiding sending too much down time technicians that will take the extra time in traffic to go to your house goof around talking then find out they need a replacement piece, then go back to the store and whoops, need another day now....where as this way, you know what is broken up front, and he can come prepared with a rep

    • I assume that on the other end of the line they have a protocol droid that speaks washer & dryer.

  • Probably would be better to have a second life instead of no life.
    • and i would suggest going directly to NCI Kuula the moment you are off the mostly useless orientation island.
      (secondlife://Kuula/55/168/28)

  • Tech support is a corporate scam to monetize crappy software.

    Now that "free" software is all the rage, the "support services" business model is taking its place. The problem is that the better the software, the less support it requires. This monetarily incentives crappy software, bad interfaces, meaningless error messages, and thin or non-existent manuals. Sadly, even non-free software companies have figured this out and quality has suffered greatly as a result.

    It's gotten so bad that for a lot of softwa

  • They missed the best and most obvious way to improve support: Improve the quality of the products and make the use obvious enough so that support isn't necessary.

    But that is a lot less sexy than self-healing robot avatars and not really worth an article.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @05:33AM (#33285784)
    Well not secrets really, but very few people seem to know them.

    1.) Don't change anything. Most of the faults I've ever encountered have been the direct result of someone, somewhere changing something. It might be the user futzing around with things they don't understand - or a technical person doing the same. It could be an upgrade that didn't work properly, or that hadn't been tested properly. it could be patches installed to fix some other probem. Whatever causes changes causes problems. The most reliable systems I've ever encountered were a set of Solaris 6 servers that only the supplier knew the root password for. They never crashed, never got upgraded patched or reconfigured. Of course this presupposes you have an operating system and application that actually works - which hopefully the mass market will attain within the bext 20 years or so.

    2.) Get the user out of the loop. The worst thing about trying to support a system is having to deal with the user. they don't have the skills to reliably diagnose a fault. They can't follow instructions, they tell you what they think you want to hear and are so often the cause of the problem, in the first place. The single biggest improvement a company can make to its support operation (apart from #1, above) is to install remote diagnostics and remote take-over of users computers if the diagnostics detect a problem.

    OK, three secrets:
    If you can keep the users from installing their own stuff - software, tunes, their own hardware AND if you can keep them away from the internet, most company's fault rates would drop by at least 50%.

    • If you can keep the users from installing their own stuff - software, tunes, their own hardware AND if you can keep them away from the internet, most company's fault rates would drop by at least 50%.

      Fourth secret, if you could just keep those filthy users from interacting with your systems at all everything would be fine, except no one would pay for a system to be a very expensive paper weight or inefficent resistance heater.

    • by adavies42 (746183)

      If you can keep the users from using any computers, the fault rates will drop by 100%!

  • "In the future, machines will be made up of four -- or five or six -- modules. So if something breaks, you will get a CRU [customer-replaceable unit] sent to you," predicts Brendan Keegan, president of Worldwide TechServices, a provider of outsourced service technicians to major high-tech companies. Replacing a CRU will be about as hard as playing with Legos, he says: "If your RAM goes bad, the company might send you Module No. 6 to replace the RAM and a couple of other things. You pop the old one out and p

  • Businesses seek to hire fewer employees or employees that work for less money. As tech support becomes more and more mechanized we can expect less and less jobs. The jobs that are left will surely demand higher skill levels.
    Current catastrophic unemployment levels are reflecting computers and technology elimination the need for workers. The vital part is that government must catch on and make certain that people have spending m

  • ... but the users will not. Have you ever tried giving assistance to a person who argues that it's "impossible" that her computer have a password on it, because she doesn't want it to? Or tried to understand why a customer's computer has their cursor "move by itself on the screen" only to figure out after half an hour that they are just grazing their laptop's touchpad with their thumbs while typing? Tech support may change because the products themselves will need less human assistance, but troubleshooting
  • You know what would really make tech support better? Error messages that actually contained some information. To me the absolute WORST part of UI design is error messages. Come on, it's 2010, why are we still giving error codes instead of meaningful error messages?*(ok stuff thats in the kernel and whatnot that will be called bazillions of times and has to perform really well has an excuse, but other programs do not).

    As a part time sysadmin trying to understand cryptic error messages is probably the
  • As opposed to now where its some badly trained monkey who always assumes its the users fault, and give you the runaround until you give up.

  • How about companies getting their shit together from an engineering and people perspective before selling their products to everyone? Better engineering up front will result in less support cost later. Of course, you could just refuse to support anything, but then you have a lot of pissed off customers who won't buy your shit ever again. If I can't support it myself, I really don't want it. The only things that I ever need tech support for are "Services" which end up not working because the "service provide
  • What do I get this time? Clippy with bolts in his neck?

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