May I Ask Who's Calling?

When is the last time you had to call tech support? Either your iPod has kicked the bucket, your Guitar Hero (Rock Band, more likely) guitar is no longer working or the public Beta test that is Vista has expired again.

Whatever the issue, if you have contacted technical support in recent history, you likely have been listed in one of the following categories:

Conscious Incompetence (CI)
Individuals who are not competent, but are aware they are not competent and understand the specific areas of deficiency. The incident area can be quickly identified with these customers, since they know where they are deficient, making it easier to isolate the issue.

Unconscious Incompetence (UI)
Individuals who are not competent, are unaware that they are not competent, and do not understand the specific areas of their deficiency. These customers require open-ended questioning to determine their competence level or lack thereof.

Conscious Competence (CC)
These customers are competent and are aware they are competent. Typically, these customers know exactly how and where they need help. They need to be acknowledged for their competencies, and you can ask specific closed-ended questions to pinpoint the issue.

Unconscious Competence (UC)
These individuals are competent but are unaware that they are competent. Typically, these customers understand that there is an issue, but are not clear on what the issue is or if they can fix it. These individuals sometimes know more about a particular subject than the service representative, but they often miss simple and easy troubleshooting steps, before they contact the support center for assistance.

For close to a year and a half now, I have been answering phones for a major publishing company whose online course management systems are used by higher education all over the world. I’ve had the pleasure and pain of speaking to each one of these individuals. They are, at times, kind and gracious, at others acerbic and impatient. Frequently they are harried and rushed. Always, they are wishing they didn’t have to be on the phone with me.

  • Your Favorite Old Aunt (CI)

  • This one is hit or miss. She (this is a rare gender-specific character), invariably, has no idea what’s going on inside this computer of hers, but whatever it is, it’s fantastic. She is just so amazed at what they can do these days. Her only downside is that you’re going to spend the next thirty minutes walking her through the most basic of functions, sprinkled in with stories of her progeny. If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to talk to her twice a day.

  • Hot For Teacher (CI to UI)

  • This is the young and virile-sounding (fe)male teacher that leaves you wondering how old they are and guessing at the color of their hair. They are typically amiable and chatty and talk to you as though you’re meeting up for drinks later with the rest of the group. Their questions are usually simple ones they probably could have figured out on their own but you don’t mind. You’re too busy wondering if it would be wrong to look them up on Facebook or to see if their college has faculty pictures on its Website. You ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with... twice.

  • Ernest Hemingway (CI to UC)

  • This is that cool older instructor that calls the guys “dude” and flirts with the girls. He understands computers enough to know that he has no idea what’s going on. He’s typically patient and understanding. He’s still excited that he’s preparing the youth of today to take over the world tomorrow, which is cute, but he is also savvy enough to know that electronic homework is rarely eaten by the dog.

  • Give Me Back My Abacus (CI to UI)

  • This luddite is not, happy. They never wanted to use this system in the first place and didn’t they say it was going to cause problems? Capable of, at best, grudging thanks, these customers are more frequently bitter and aggravated. No amount of empathy is going to help. Just fix the whatchamacallit so the bosses are happy and these kids will stop bitching and go back to their tiny phones and their portable records.

  • Just Fix It, Scum (UI to UC)

  • It’s broken and it’s your fault. They’ve never had this trouble before, so what did you do to break it? These are the people that cut you off in traffic and then park in handicapped spaces. They are the ones who talk on their cellphones in the movie theater. They take up both the aisle and window seats on the crowded bus. They drive Escalades or think they should. These are frequently students who have reached the instructor line and threaten to speak to your CEO.

  • ESL Charming (CC to UC)

  • This customer grew up somewhere between Mumbai and Jamaica. They do not complain when you ask them to spell the seven consecutive consonants of their last name a second time and are thrilled when you answer their question. You enjoy speaking to this customer so much you have to restrain yourself from unconsciously adopting their accent while talking to them.

  • ESL Chatterbug (CC to UC)

  • This customer’s difficult enunciation is compounded by the machine gun pace. They give you their alphabet soup moniker and are halfway through their problem description before you can decide if the first letter of their name has an umlaut. Asking them to stop and backtrack is an inconvenience. Asking them to repeat themselves is a war crime. Luckily, they have typically hung up on you before you can ask them if they need anything else.

  • The Hypocrite (UI to CI)

  • This customer typically calls in September or January. Their class starts in thirty minutes. How do they make a course? Where do they register as an instructor? They just copied another instructor’s course from last semester, how do they change the dates on all of the assignments? Can you just do it for them? These instructors are least likely to give students an extension on their papers.

  • It’s Not Me, It’s You (UI to UC)

  • Administrators who have teachers complaining that their losing valuable class time and program directors threatening them are rarely in a good mood when the call. Why should the fact that they have their network locked down tighter than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have any affect on your bandwidth-intensive online application? Of course they have Flash! Version 1 isn’t good enough for you?

    There are good callers and there are bad callers. You’d like to say you are able to maintain a consistent level of professionalism and job devotion for all your users, but you wouldn’t be fooling anyone. There are callers you get off the phone with and feel genuinely good about the fact you were able to assist them. There are others that leave you fearing for the Republic. The only constant is that the caller who rings to your phone at 4:55 pm on Friday is never the former, and you are going to wish you’d let it ring.


    megdwyer77 said...

    Only because you have brought me into the wonderful world of tech support...I say this

    HILARIOUS... and painfully true!

    Anonymous said...

    So funny! And even just reading tech support cases, I can point out instructors who fit into many of these categories. :)

    Anonymous said...

    LOl, very neatly summed up. Most instructors are retarded.