February 20, 2005

Tech Support in Retrograde

Mercury, the messenger of the gods, is in charge of all things that have to do with communication, electronics and transportation. And Mercury is set to turn retrograde for the next three weeks.

During this time, it’s challenging at best to get where you want to go or reach who you want to contact and dealing with computers can be an absolute nightmare. Fortunately, there’s a purpose for everything.

Right now, you’re being asked to review, repair, redo, revamp and look things over for a second time until Mercury goes direct. In the meantime, concentrate on fixing what’s broken, giving something a second shot and being especially diligent at troubleshooting.

From an Online Astrological Site

I have been shamed into entering the 21st century. Shamed! “You are a Web designer and you don’t have broadband at home? Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

I really never saw a strong need for it, given its price point. I was paying a whopping $6.95/month for dialup. But with my friends’ strong admonitions (you know who you are) and my need for a faster home connection to establish a VPN hookup to my work’s servers, I was forced to reconsider.

Cable was too expensive and they added fees for every computer you wanted to connect. After copious research I settled on Verizon DSL. It was the cheapest and they had been supporting Mac OS X for a while. When it comes to being the first Mac person in my neighborhood to walk into a PC-based world, the vanguard I am not.

When my DSL modem arrived last week I was pleasantly surprised to see it was also a wireless router. Connecting the other computers in the house should theoretically be a breeze (and I wouldn’t have to buy an Airport Basestation).

To those of my readers who are already in a fog by my use of acronyms and words like VPN and router, wait there’s more. I understand your desire for clarity. And this is the point of this tale.

I always cringe when getting a new tech gizmo. I want it. I’ve even convinced myself of its necessity. By the time I am ready to get it I REALLY WANT IT BAD. But I don’t look forward to setting it up. There are mine fields out there. I face them every day at work. But I get paid to face them and I am amongst coworkers who either know more than me or at least understand the situation. At home I am alone. I face the mercy of the tech gods or, more accurately, the gizmo’s Tech Support Staff.

Verizon supplies you with a CD that outlines how to set up your system: the hardware and an interactive set of instructions for setting up your online Verizon account. Connecting the hardware seemed easy. The instructions were clear. I was ready for the final step before broadband nirvana: “Setting Up Your Account.” The program tried to establish a connection with my network, but it bombed. I broke out in a small but perceptible cold sweat. After repeated attempts (and a quick check of the wiring) I called Verizon Tech Support.

Like many companies, Verizon has a voice system that makes it sound like you’re talking to a real person. “Welcome to Verizon DSL Techical Support. I’m going to ask you a few questions. Just say your answer in a normal voice. Ready to begin?” They sound human, but when you answer you don’t: “Y-E-S, I A-M R-E-A-D-Y” I stated flatly, slowly, and most clearly (to say nothing of loudly). You can always tell a person immersed in this type of system. It’s pretty funny to hear others talk like robots. The ironies of modern technology.

I finally got connected to Harris (his real name because he deserves to be recognized). Harris understood my problem immediately. The CD setup doesn’t work on Macs. “Well, why am I told to use it then?” “As a Mac person,” he stated, “you know that when PC applications are ported over to the Mac, they often aren’t, um, very functional. But I’m going to walk you through setting up your account over the phone. We’ll do it together. Then I’ll set up your laptop for wireless.”

In a matter of minutes (MINUTES!), he took me through the whole procedure. He obviously knew the Mac well and he immediately understood that I knew it well so he adjusted his instructions and pace to my technical level. I was in heaven. Someone who knew exactly what they were doing and recognized my abilities. We were a great team. This is unheard of in phone technical support. I was so pleased I asked Harris to connect me with his supervisor. I wanted to let the company know what a gem he was.

David his floor supervisor thanked me for my effusive compliments and told me this would go into Harris’ record. He would now be eligible for a promotion. A promotion. So typical. Within minutes he’ll be gone to that big supervisor black hole in the sky and I’ll never talk to Harris again. Just give him a fat raise and keep him where he belongs: with the people.

And with that, my luck ran out. Yesterday, I had to call technical support once again. I was trying to set up my email connection. Now that my ISP is Verizon, I need to go through their outgoing email server whenever I send mail. I have my own email address so I don’t need to get mail from them. I only need to send mail. I set up a new account in Entourage, the Mac email program that comes with Microsoft Office. Something wasn’t working. I kept getting an error message from Verizon’s server.

This is the problem setting up new gizmos. It’s not just the gizmo; it’s its effect on other parts of your system. Getting DSL means reconfiguring this little doohickey or that. You forget all the little things you had to do the last time you set this up. Everyday processes like sending email become laborious. Every seemingly simple step leads to a brick wall.

This new Verizon support specialist informed me the company doesn’t support Entourage. I told him it didn’t really matter which program I was using I was just trying to set up an email account and I needed to run by the steps. Setting up an email account in any program is basically the same. You need to input some personal information and some information supplied by your ISP. It’s pretty straightforward but I was obviously missing a step.

He would hear nothing of this plan. “You will have to call Apple.” Well, I knew that wasn’t even close to the right answer. This guy didn’t “get it” (let’s call him “George” —a pseudonym that will sufficiently mask his identity, yet expand the meaning of this parable into other contemporary realms). I was trying to solve a problem. I knew the landscape in setting up an email account but I was just missing something. It didn’t matter which email program we were using. But he wasn’t seeing the larger picture. He was wedded to what he had specifically been trained for. He wasn’t able to problem-solve in a more universal sense.

When this happens I am exasperated. But if I want to get what I need, I must speak in their language. A few years back, I fell out of my loft and was rushed to the hospital. I was in excruciating pain and after hours of waiting I was brought into X-ray. The technician told me to stand so he could photograph my ribs. I stood up and knew immediately I was going to throw up. I immediately passed this information on to him. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” he quipped. “Go ahead.”

But I didn’t want to. In fact, I didn’t want to at all costs. I wanted to lay back down as gently and as quickly as I could. NOT tossing it was my primary objective. I had to think fast. I even forgot the pain I was in. I had to find some way to get him to put me back on the gurney as quickly as possible. So instead I said “I’m going to faint.” Apparently, throwing up was okay but fainting was not. He immediately put me back down. I spoke in terms he understood and that netted me exactly what I needed.

And so it was imperative I find another way to talk to George about setting up this email account. I took a new approach: Well, if you don’t support Entourage, which email program do you support?” “Apple Mail” he said. “Great, take me through the steps.”

And, in doing so, I discovered I had forgotten to input my Verizon userid and password so the email server would know I had permission to send mail through them. Once I understood that, I found the place in Entourage for that information and all was well.

It’s a pleasure, no it’s utterly blissful when you come upon someone who can see the big picture —a good problem solver who can adjust to new input. I asked to speak to George’s supervisor. I was connected to Harris.

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