806: Tech Support
Title text: I recently had someone ask me to go get a computer and turn it on so I could restart it. He refused to move further in the script until I said I had done that.
Cueball runs into some problems with his network connection and contacts his Internet service provider's (ISP's) tech support for help. The customer service agent is not very helpful, giving clearly pre-scripted advice that has nothing to do with Cueball's problem. Cueball gives up and asks to speak to someone more knowledgeable about the technology. Noticing the stuffed penguin and the bearded dude with swords — signs of a GNU/Linux geek — the agent transfers him over to an engineer, who immediately recognizes the problem and fixes it. Then she tells him of a secret word (shibboleet) which, if he speaks on the phone, will transfer him to a tech-savvy person able to help him. At this point Cueball wakes up and unfortunately, the incident turns out to be a dream.
Poor customer and technical support is a common complaint of many ISPs. Many ISPs outsource their support staff to foreign countries to reduce costs, and/or they delegate first-tier support to workers with little or no training. Typically, these workers are given general scripts that prompt the customer to try common troubleshooting steps, such as restarting the computer, without any specific knowledge of the customer's complaint. While these scripts may help resolve problems for the average customer, a representative using such a script is usually unprepared to assist someone who has a more advanced problem. Furthermore, these scripts generally assume that the problem is on the customer's end and do not acknowledge problems that occur within the ISP, such as server or line problems.
Customers like Cueball often find it frustrating to deal with representatives reading from scripts. As Randall mentions in the title text, this frustration is magnified when the representative refuses to move on to the next step until the customer has performed the previous one, whether or not it necessary or helpful. In cases like this, it's often necessary to request an escalation to a higher "tier" of support, or to speak to a supervisor who presumably has more knowledge and/or influence, though even that can sometimes be a painful process. Thus, it is easy to see why Cueball would be elated to discover a way to automatically connect with the most helpful technical support representatives whenever he has a problem.
Cueball is running Haiku, an open source operating system which is still in a state of active development, having had no official release as of yet. While low-level tech support operators are given scripts which are predicated on the assumption that many computer problems are actually caused by the actions of clueless end users (as, in fact, they are), it's exceedingly unlikely most of these first-tier operators would have even heard of Haiku, not to mention that their scripts' assumptions would never apply to the sort of person who would be using an experimental OS as opposed to Windows, for instance. (Note that when trying to explain Haiku, Cueball accidentally composes a haiku.)
"Shibboleet" is a portmanteau of "shibboleth" and "leet". A "shibboleth" means any word, custom, or other signifier which is used by members of a group to recognize other members or those who are "in the know" about something. Its use originates in the Hebrew Bible, where the precise pronunciation of this word was used to distinguish Gileadites from Ephramitites. Leet (based on the word "elite") refers to "leet-speak", a practice of character substitution and abbreviation common across the Internet (or "teh 1n73rn3t", as you would say in leet). Thus, "shibboleet" is a shibboleth used to identify someone whose computer-knowledge is "elite."
- [Cueball is on the phone, and holding up some networking hardware.]
- Cueball: ...restart my computer? I know you have a script to follow, but the uplink light on the modem is going off every few hours. The problem is between your office and the modem.
- Cueball: My computer has nothing to do with... okay, whatever, I "restarted my computer."
- Cueball: It's still down, and even if it comes back, it's going to die again in a few hours, because your—
- Cueball: I don't have a start menu. This is a Haiku install, but that's not import—
- Cueball: Haiku? It's an experimental OS that I ... oh, never mind.
- Cueball: I'm sorry, but this won't get fixed until I talk to an engineer. Can you look around for someone wearing cargo pants, maybe a subway map on their wall?
- [The tech support person on the other end is wearing a headset, and looks around.]
- Tech: There's a chick two phones over with a stuffed penguin doll and a poster of some bearded dudes with swords.
- Cueball: Perfect. Can you put her on?
- Tech: Sure.
- [Cueball is now talking to the engineer.]
- Cueball: Hey, so sorry to bother you, but my connection—
- Engineer: Yeah, I see it. Lingering problems from a server move.
- <type type>
- Engineer: Should be fixed now.
- Cueball: Thank you so much.
- Engineer: No problem. Hey, in the future, if you're on any tech support call, you can say the code word "shibboleet" at any point and you'll be automatically transferred to someone who knows a minimum of two programming languages.
- Cueball: Seriously?
- Engineer: Yup. It's a backdoor put in by the geeks who built these phone support systems back in the 1990's.
- Engineer: Don't tell anyone.
- Cueball: Oh my god, this is the greatest—
- [Cueball wakes up.]
- Cueball: Wha—
- Cueball: ... Dammit.
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