ISP support staff are in a class of their own

IN JAPAN, friends of mine who visit the country regularly tell me, the attitude towards customers is summed up in one line: “The customer is always right [1].” When it comes to the men and women who man the support desks at Australia’s ISPs, the reverse seems to be the case.

There is no other way one can account for their attitude. The one overriding aim they have is to disclaim responsibility. The customer is asked to jump through numerous hoops and a great many customers are not able to do so.

The first test the support person puts one through is the “power-cycle the modem” test. I’ve never been able to figure out why one needs to do this. I can understand if one is asked to reboot (a more earthy term which means the same thing) a Windows box in order to restore it to its “normal” state of functioning.

But one has to go through this switching on and off of the modem before the support person will deign to continue the conversation.

Then we come to the more difficult tests. You are asked to test the modem by switching over to another modem. How many customers keep a spare modem at home? Well, says the support person, you have to do it to rule out the possibility that your modem is at fault. You know, modems don’t last forever.

If, by chance, you are among the minority who do keep a spare modem, why then you are asked to switch ADSL filters. The support person is just warming up.

Let’s assume that you are also one among the rare minority who keep a spare modem and spare ADSL filter at home. You do the switch and the problem still remains. What then?

OK, says Mr/Ms Support, disconnect all devices from your telephone line and see if the problem persists. And then there are a plethora of questions: do you have a fax machine on your line? what about any other device?

It goes on. After 15 or 20 minutes, finally the support person finds a loophole. Can you test the sync speeds at your end and let me know? comes the query. How many people know how to do that? What is sync speed?

Or there is another question: can you see what percentage of packets are being dropped? Either of these questions is enough to discourage even the hardiest – except for the 1 percent of nerds who know what this means.

At the end of it, you are left wondering why this is called “support.” One often pays top dollar for this kind of service.

[1] One of those friends adds a correction: “It is more correct to say The customer is God. It follows from this that the customer is always right. However, it’s important to note that in Japan the matter of right and wrong is besides the point. It’s more basic than that even, and operates at the level of obligation that starts with the standard greeting that one receives when entering any store in Japan: Irasshaimase!”